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Conquering the Subaltern:The MGR Way II

Besides MGR’s absolute control over the different aspects of production of his songs, one factor which aided his mission more than what MGR could bargain was the remarkable ability of T M Soundarajan, who sang majority of MGR’s songs, to typecast his voice for MGR. Interestingly, TMS also created a distinctive voice to match Sivaji Ganesan’s screen personae. Sivaji and MGR rode like colossus in the Tamil film industry for nearly 25 years since early 1950s.

In effect, TMS sang in three voices. One for MGR, one for Sivaji and one for himself and others. In effect, there was no way for any MGR fan to not believe the make believe act of TMS to lend a distinctive aural character to aid MGR’s screen personae. The same can be said of TMS’s ability to provide a distinctive aural character to Sivaji as well. In a brilliant manipulation of his voice, TMS could endear himself remarkably well to the fans of both MGR and Sivaji.

The resultant effect was not lost on the fans of MGR and Sivaji as they were drawn in deeper and deeper in the vortex of the aural make believe worlds TMS provided them song after song. MGR fans believed what they heard was MGR’s voice (they were wrong) and Sivaji’s fans believed they were hearing Sivaji’s voice (again they were tricked). Only MGR, Sivaji and TMS knew how indespensible they were to each other in this aural politics of Tamil cinema. Without any one of them, this aural politics would not have succeeded. MGR’s songs carried his message through the surrogate throat of TMS. Without TMS, MGR’s attempts to conquer the subaltern film fans would not have succeeded. There is more to Tamil politics than the widely held explicit relationship between the politics of Tamil Nadu and Tamil cinema. The successive line up of CMs drawn from Tamil cinema is but only one of the deceptive facade of the nexus between cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu. We would be missing the real innards such as the significance of the diverse ways in which the subaltern political consciousness was whipped up by DMK and his party actors if we fall prey to the deceptive logic of cause and effect model.

2 comments

1 Kishore Budha { 03.31.07 at 3:27 am }

This is a continuation of your earlier post about the ethical responsibility of audiences.

“We would be missing the real innards such as the significance of the diverse ways in which the subaltern political consciousness was whipped up by DMK and his party actors if we fall prey to the deceptive logic of cause and effect model.”

Could you elaborate on this point please?

2 Ravi { 03.31.07 at 11:45 pm }

Hi Kishore,Thanks for the opportunity to elaborate.

I meant by the deceptive logic of cause and effect model, the widely held assumption that because of the kind of cinema DMK made, it captured the mind of the subaltern in Tami Nadu.

Firstly, DMK did not make any films. Only its members and sympathisers were making the films which acquired the label, DMK films.

Secondly,the party did not have any actors on its pay roll. Those who acted on a long term basis in the films produced by DMK’s members were known as party actors.

Thirdly, the diverse ways in which the subaltern political consciousness was whipped up by DMK and his party actors include whatever was orchestrated outside the frames of the supposedly political cinema of DMK. These were integral to the larger political movement of DMK as the party espousing the cause of Dravidian social movement of Periyar EV Ramasamy.

One of the ways which greatly boosted the credibility of DMK’s message to the subaltern was the real life encounters of party actors like MGR. In these encounters, MGR was consciously involved in extending the good samaritan roles of the characters he did in his films. The subaltern was made to see no distinction between the MGR he saw in films and the MGR who was giving a deep hug to him besides showering other kind gestures. Further, the subaltern was made to relive time and again his encounters with the message of MGR whenever he listned to the message of MGR in his songs.

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