“I am Sivaji, MGR and Rajini too”
Appropriation of what does not belong to one is akin to stealing. Appropriation of material and non-material things that belong to others is punishable in law in our real lives. We cannot also masquerade using others’ identities. Stars of Tamil cinema love to appropriate and masquerade to win the hearts of subalterns by invoking the name of a long dead superstar of yesteryears, MGR, in different forms and twists. Recently, there was a talk of Vijayakanth (founder leader of DMDK party) seeking to name his 150th film as ‘Karuppu MGR’ (‘Black MGR’). To the ageing fans of MGR, this coinage may seem to be an anachronism as they loved MGR not only for his good samaritan roles and gestures, but also for his fair and pinkish complexion. Tamils seem to love what is not black, on screen and off screen. I am a Tamil and I know for sure the ‘colour syndrome’ which has come to afflict the psyche of average Tamils. Remember the film song “Karupputhan enaku pudicha colouru” (“Black is my favourite colour”) which was making waves a few years back. This song became popular, I think, more for what it sought to assuage in the psyche of the average Tamil. In Sivaji:The Boss, Rajini asks his mother, “Mother, why you delivered me as a black.” In the film, Rajini gets rejected by his heroine for being black and goes to ridiculous extent to transform himself as a fair skinned person. One famous song features the alien-like Rajini, the Rajini who is as unreal as any Indian with a caucausian complexion can be, as fair as a bleaching powder.
The burden of being a ‘black’ complexioned person reverberates on screen and off screen in many contexts in the cultural politics of Tamil Nadu.
It was probably inconceivable for the fans of the past to accept somebody who was like them. They wanted their super stars to be unlike them. The first superstar, MKT, was not one among the ordinary mortals, at least for his fans. He was as magical as his voice in all his dimensions. MGR took the magical qualities of his screen and real life personae to unprecedented heights. He also became a prisoner of his assiduously cultivated screen image over the years. Pictures of his face without his typical headgear and a bald headed MGR started staring at his fans only after his hospitalisation in USA. I am not sure how many of his fans mistook him for somebody.
Sivaji Ganesan cultivated his magical qualities as superstar not by invoking the charms of ‘colour’ (read fair complexion), as he did not have that advantage, but by his multi-faceted and impeccable acting reportire. He became magical by breaking the myths of conventional stardom. In his films, he smoked, drank and indulged in whatever wrongs and rights his characters were supposed to do. MGR stayed clear of drinks, cigarattes and all the downsides of average mortals. He succeeded to turn himself as the god for his fans as he succeeded in transforming himself as an adorable alien. He was not one among us. He was fair, hated vices like smoking and drinking, loved only good thoughts and deeds, never harmed women, fought for the rights and livelihood of subaltern. To do all this, he had to be different from us. So went the logic of the the average Tamil psyche that lit camphor and did poojas before the screen images of MGR.
The current Tamil superstar, Rajinikanth, only seems to know the history of such traditions in ‘alienmaking’ too well. Like Vijaykanth, Rajinikanth does not have the ‘colour’ advantage MGR had. Both sport the complexion of the average Tamil. They have succeeded despite this, like Sivaji, probably because of their native talents or other factors of their times. But they are yet to transform themselves as aliens or gods, as MGR did. But surely they seem to be desperate to become what MGR became, an adorable alien and a god for the subalterns.
When Vijaykanth seeks to be ‘black MGR’ in his 15oth film and Rajini seeks to masquerade as hi-tech MGR in Sivaji:The Boss, we are struck by the logic that there are no shortcuts to become aliens or gods. Skillful appropriations of what transformed an ordinary mortal a god in his own life time can not work in the temporal contexts of the subalterns (Rajinikanth’s fans) who continue to practice the same rituals as MGR fans did, but before the screen image of a different superstar who does not want to be content with one godly image, but wants to be a three-in one god, a trimurthi. In Sivaji, he declares emphatically throughout the film, begining with the title and till the very end, “I am Sivaji, MGR and Rajini Too.” Only the subalterns can decide whether there is any space for a trimurthi, who is more a soaring reflection of an ambitious alien in the making.