Interrogating the popular in cinema

  • B. Kolappan
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V.M.S. Subagunarajan
V.M.S. Subagunarajan

Movies are an obsession in this State, and every film’s arrival is a social event. Yet, popular cinema as a phenomenon is not fully understood in its social and political contexts, some industry watchers say, especially in a State where film personalities continue to dominate the political space. Dismissing the mindset that anything popular does not merit critical evaluation, V.M.S. Subagunarajan, editor of Kaatchippizhai , a film magazine, said his objective is “to critically evaluate the dynamics of the political, psychological and seductive elements” of popular cinema.

“Though I am closely associated with many film societies and had plenty of opportunity to watch world cinema, I do not have an aversion to popular Tamil cinema. In fact, I retain a great interest in popular cinema and launched the magazine for the purpose,” he said. The almost 3-year-old monthly magazine has a limited circulation of around 3,000 copies and is sold through newsagents.

“It is not a profit-making venture. The magazine remains a fodder for those who seek a career in the film world, especially young film directors,” said Subagunarajan. Apart from reviewing films from various angles, the magazine has plenty of well-researched and highly-opinionated articles demolishing hitherto held opinions while offering fresh insights and taking to new heights the discourse on cinema.

A thorough analysis of how Maniratnam and his films, particularly ‘Roja,’ cash in on the sentiments of patriotism and the reasons attributed to the demand for separatism in Jammu and Kashmir, can be cited as a case in point. The author of the article talks about films such as ‘Battle of Algiers’, a film on the Algerian freedom movement and ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ that deals with the Irish War of Independence, and takes the reader on a journey through similar such legendary movies. The magazine carries series such as detailed stories on the heroines of yesteryear and people who actually work behind the scene. The interview with driver Kaliappan is a classic instance, reminding readers of similar characters in Ashokamitran’s novel Karaintha Nizhalgal .

Subagunarajan, a central government employee, who took voluntary retirement sometime ago to pursue his passion, said it was problematic evaluating a Tamil film or any Indian film with a Hollywood movie as a benchmark. “I cannot understand why an Indian film should be judged by comparing it with western genres. We are not applying the same yardstick when it comes to other art forms.  Bharthanatyam performance is compared either with Kuchipudi or Mohiniattam and the art form as a whole is never criticised for not including elements of other forms,” he said.

Subagunarajan also stated that the argument of classicism in art form being superior was politically incorrect. “Classicism is achieved only by purging certain elements of an art form. Remove the comedy and the song and dance sequence and ‘Aadukalam’ will match any Hollywood movie,” he said. When asked why songs and dance should be part of a film when in real life, romance is devoid of these elements, he said, “I have people telling me that a song in a particular scene would be of great value. Of course, there are songs that fill the missing gaps in films.”

Over the past three years, Kaatchippizhai , a film magazine, has been enriching the discourse on popular cinema. B. Kolappan finds out more




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