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Rereleases in the Age of Late Modernity: Examining the Rerelease of Karnan Through the Prism of Anthony Giddens

Among the most notable events in Tamil film industry in the recent past, the rerelease of Sivaji Ganesan’s famous mythological Karnan (1964) in the month of March raised curious expectations about its fate at the box office.

Karnan Rerelease Poster In Chennai

During the same month, on March 18, 2012, the rerelease of MGR’s Nadodi Mannan also dominated the film sections of Tamil newspapers and posters across the state. The posters of Karnan in June 2012 inform us that the film is fast edging towards its 100th day (on June 23, 2012) mark in nearly 72 theatres across the state. It is already well known among fans of MGR that their icon’s films are regular fixtures in theatres in subaltern neighbourhoods across Tamil Nadu. The rereleases of MGR’s films never raised eyebrows as they have been seen not as discontinuities in the ongoing popular culture welded around MGR. But the rerelease of Karnan raised eyebrows for the single reason that Sivaji Ganesan’s films are widely believed to cater to “class” audiences, meaning middle class members of Tamil society and they in themselves can not constitute the commercial framework for a rerelease.The rerelease of Karnan is attributed to the deep impact the film made in the psyche of the film’s fan, Ms Shanti Chockalingam of Divya films, in her yesteryears and the motivation the film provided to her in planning for the tedious task of digitally remastering the sound and visuals at a cost of Rs.40 lakhs. The love of this fan provided the forum for tens and thousands of Sivaji’s fans to make Karnan a box office success, according to mainstream media’s coverage of the film’s success. It is said that the film grossed more than a couple of crores across the state.

This note on Karnan’s rerelease wants to examine its success through Anthony Giddens’ notion of “Ontological Security”(1991). “Ontological Insecurity” is the feature of late modernity and is the target of what we as members of this age struggle to counter with our cultivation of “Ontological Security.” According to Giddens,”Ontological Security” refers to a “sense of continuity and order in the events” (Giddens 1991:243) in our lives.

What fuels the success of rerelease of Sivaji’s Karnan and MGR’s countless number of releases are two kinds of audiences, die hard fans of these stars and the members of general audience who get hooked to these rereleases in an unplanned and yet deeply conscious and selective manner.

What sustains the attraction of rereleases in the eyes of both the groups are their abiding desire to cultivate a sense of “ontological security” (Giddens,1991). As products of the age of late modernity, both the audience groups require a grounding in “ontological security” to tide over their manifold crises the age of late modernity makes possible. The foremost among them are the crises of identity. The crises of identity are of different hues and they range from the social to the cultural in a web of relationships that have implications for the crises of their offsprings, partners, parents, friends and siblings as well. In Gidden’s logic, the crises of identity are made possible by the climate of risks the age of late modernity portends and what it makes possible through certain counter forces, the numerous expert systems, which seek to retrieve us from our crises.

To illustrate how this might be working in the context of the psyche of MGR fans, we can look at the crisis of identity a fan of deceased super star such as MGR is faced with. The absence of MGR from their physical world fuels an identity crisis in the minds of MGR fans in the face of their contemporary life struggles, current political scenarios, state policies, rise of new film stars and their fan clubs, who project these as different clones of MGR. This is probably a plausible explanation for their craving for their access to their “ontological security” through repeated and regular attempts to access their icon’s films.

MGR's Nadodi Mannan (Vagabond King) Rerelease Poster in March 2012

On the other hand, the fans of Sivaji Ganesan, being members of a largely non-subaltern class have a different crisis of identity unfolding before them, a crisis of cultural values and identity, as evidenced by their presence with their families, particularly children, in the theatres which are screening Karnan. They are probably trying to reach out to their cultural alter ego in Sivaji’s portrayals of middle class and mythological virtues and try to nurture the same in the minds of their children.I could also see a good number of women of middle and elderly ages walking into the theatres screening Karnan with their children.Many were seen whispering the relationships between the mythological characters to the generation that is groomed by the anime characters on children’s channels.To them Karnan probably provides the expert system for their children to escape from the “cultural risks” of the current crop of films and the television fare sourced from abroad. Karnan probably provides them the “ontological security” to be in touch with the cultural identity of their own past in the company of their children and grand children.

In both instances, what makes Giddens’ “ontological security” a plausible theoretical framework is the crises of identity fans of yesteryears’ stars are trying to manage through the rereleases of films such as Karnan and Nadodi Mannan. Films and their stars, past and present, have not been thought of as expert systems by scholars so far in the contexts of the cravings for “ontological security” the age of late modernity cause. But I feel strongly that there is a need for looking at rereleases such as Karnan, not in euphoric terms as its producers and fans would love to relate, but as an exemplar of the ongoing work of safety valves of the age of late modernity (such as films, both new and old) which seek to protect us from the busting of the dams of crises in our individual and collective psyches.

Reference: Giddens, Anthony (1991),Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age,Stanford University Press.,

1 comment

1 D.Raja Ganesan { 11.08.12 at 10:39 am }

A very perceptive historical-sociocultural and philosophical analysis. Characterisation of the MGR [Nadodi Mannan] and Sivaji [Karnan] as means of coping with ontological anxiety is meaningful. In fact, the concepts of ontological anxiety and security seems to be promising for analysing the success of contemporary and re-run titles.

The author may find the book ‘Identity and Anxiety’ edited by Vidich and Stein, [seventies?]available in the social sciences annexe of the Madras University Library giving more insights for analysis not only of films but primarily the human psyche.

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