Literary Review

Kollywood kaleidoscope

Reel World — On location in Kollywood; Anand Pandian, Penguin, Rs. 499.  

Anand Pandian’s Reel World: On location in Kollywood is a fascinating peep into the Tamil film industry. Pandian teaches anthropology at Johns Hopkins University and his is an outsider’s perspective on possibly one of the most chaotic industries in which the reel and real mesh seamlessly. Pandian, though, is not a total outsider. Born to immigrant parents, he grew up in Los Angeles and has been exposed to Tamil films and songs, has done field work in Tamil Nadu’s villages, and has studied the Kallar community.

Reel World is about the making of several Tamil movies that Pandian chose to be a part of and the trips he made between 2007 and late 2012. He looks at the processes of film-making with a mostly objective eye and academic vigour. However, this is not a dry or pedantic work explaining the cultural aspects of filmmaking. Pandian tells his stories very well and with great style. His prose takes different forms and shapes to bring the episodes to life. The chapters are titled ‘Dreams’, ‘Hope’, ‘Space’, ‘Art’, ‘Love’, ‘Desire’, and so on. What Pandian attempts to do is to capture various moments of creation as they are happening.

It is fortuitous that Pandian has covered post-millennium Tamil cinema. The industry is swarming with young men who have come from small towns and are influenced by world cinema. And they want to make films of international quality based in their familiar milieus.

The age of the average filmgoer has dropped steeply. The audience mostly consists of men in their 20s. Tamil films are no longer made for women. They are, as Pandian says, made by men for men with a lot of violence running through them. The industry is in a state of flux. “There are no systematic forms of audience research that the Tamil film industry relies upon: no market surveys, test screenings, quantitative exit polls. Instead, at every stage, these films are by individuals, who take their own feelings — however flighty and unpredictable — as proxies for the likely reactions of their eventual audiences.”

Pandian met director Mysskin in 2009, while he was planning his underappreciated Yuddham Sei (Wage War). Mysskin’s films have a strange, dream-like quality to them and the director himself told Pandian that he always wanted to make dreams, not movies. Over the next few months, Pandian saw, felt, and heard Yuddham Sei evolving.

From ‘Dreams’ we segue into ‘Hope’. Pandian was a fly on the wall in producer G. Dhananjayan’s office. He heard many hopefuls narrate their stories to Dhanjayan. He saw their hopes come crashing down. As Pandian sees it, the producer also lives on the hope that the films he chooses will turn out to be box-office hits.

‘Love’ is tracked in Vishal’s film Malaikkottai and Sarathkumar’s film, Nam Nadu. The romance is captured in exotic locations in Switzerland and U.A.E. At the end of it, Pandian says, “both Malaikkottai and Nam Naadu are steeped, like so many Tamil films, in a belligerent masculinity, a temperament portrayed as both the bane and salvation of vulnerable women.”

‘Desire’ is what Pandian describes when he is watching director Selvaraghavan work on an ill-fated film that never gets completed. Pandian sees the tension mounting between the actress (who is supposed to be the reason why his wife left him) and the director. Finally everything quietly crumbles. The entire chapter is a single sentence with no breaks.

This book is about the epiphanies, the eureka moments and also the hard work behind creation. However, everything is ephemeral. Nothing quite remains the same. Dhananjayan, who made more flops than hits, is no longer in production. Selvaraghavan, who was the master of delirious desire, has been on a downward spiral. Tamil films largely remain the same, but have also seen some spectacular changes. Black comedy is being appreciated. Heroine-centric films are making a tentative entry. What will Pandian make of post-2012 Tamil cinema?

Sushila Ravindranath is a Chennai-based journalist who has been followed ing Tamil cinema films all her life.

Reel World — On location in Kollywood; Anand Pandian, Penguin, Rs. 499.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 11:41:48 AM |

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