NTR, MGR and The State of Subaltern Trance
At the outset, let me record my thanks to Kishore for stirring my thoughts once again on an interesting trajectory. The cultures of adulation woven by NTR and MGR have their similarities and differences. The culture of adulation created by NTR is rooted in the mythical/puranic roles played by him. There was no social movement backing him or revving up simultaneously the culture of adulation along desired lines as in the case of MGR and his fans. Unlike NTR, MGR never donned roles other than what got defined by the ideology of the party that was promoting him. The DMK’s vision of film content, stars and their combined effect on masses was following an unwritten road map. I think outside Nazi Germany, this is probably the only case in political film propaganda where one finds a method, purpose and realization of the set goals. Mythical/puranic roles were unthinkable for the atheist party actors in Tamil Nadu as the exit of Sivaji Ganesan from DMK proved. DMK had three party-sponsored actors during the period late 1940s – 1970. The first was K R Ramasamy. When he became popular, he could not comply with the demands of the party. The party leadership found an alternative in Sivaji Ganesan, a 28 yr old theater person struggling to make ends meet. He was found in an emaciated condition, fed healthy food for a month and made to enact his debut performance in the film Parasakthi (1952). After a string of successful films, he too became a burden for the party as he started to mind the interests of his career more than that of the party. His foray into the world of puranic/mythical cinema and his visit to Tirupathi temple was the last straw in the relationship with the party. This was the opportune time for a struggling actor like MGR, who was associated with the Congress party, to become the third and the last party actor.The filmic incarnations of NTR and MGR, coupled with the peculiar cultural contexts in which these incarnations were enacted, caused the birth of an unprecedented kind of film spectatorship. In the process of cultural adulation, such a stage represents a level that is not only higher, but too complex to understand on the basis of general notions of the cinema/stars/society interface. The higher level clearly belongs to higher mortals like NTR and MGR. The level one belongs to all and sundry.
The primary level (we can call it level one) is where the subalternity of film spectatorship is born. Be it a setting in Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu, I think, the subaltern only sees a ray of hope when he clutches on a relationship with his stars in a state of consciousness that is not Real, that is more a playground of the unconscious. In this state of trance, the subaltern can not see through the falsified state of the images on the screen. His vision does not belong to him and does not obey his cognitive and other faculties. The devotee who enters the mode of trance in seeking to be the mirror state of the God he/she came to worship eventually utters words that seek to connect the unseen (God) with the seen (issues before the fellow members in the community). The context of the subaltern film fan is no different from that of the devotee in a state of trance. The state of trance is what gives birth to the subaltern. The state of trance is when the subaltern is invoked powerfully for what he/she is not socially worth because of the forced/material conditions of ignorance, illiteracy and poverty. The state of trance is when the subaltern fan is enamored by what is blinding him as an irresistable duality of the ideologically centered industrial apparatus and the social/religious masquerade of its stars.