Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Some tales of the Underdog in Tamil Cinema.


     Underdog is a term used to refer to the underprivileged section of society that is put to exploitation in terms of both social and economic deprivations.The dividing factor between the rich and the poor has seen the greed for expansion of wealth at the cost of enforced poverty. Most often the brutal hands of wealth have twisted and turned down the rising hands of the poor.'The hungry sheep look up and are not fed"wrote the famous English poet John Milton. The starving poor will look up for help from the rich who as indifferent shepherds,will butcher the sheep rather than feeding them.One of the easiest ways for the rich landlords to plunder the landless,or those with a little piece of land as their holding,is to offer them some money in times of need and thereby make them their lifelong serfs by converting them into bonded labourers,in exchange for the pittance of money lent to them on exorbitant interest.Feudal ferocity has proved to be more horrid than racial hatred.
   India is one of the countries known for decades of suppression of the underdog.With the growth of education and its consequent impact on civilization,the weaker sections of the society have come to see the light of social and economic freedom to a considerable extent.But still the past is a ghost haunting our memories,as pages of history and in the form of the audio visual medium of cinema.Tamil cinema has recorded events of human abuse surrounding the routine of the socially and economically downtrodden strata of society,spread out  both as rural curse and urban menace.
  Most of MGR's films focused on the miseries of the poor and the depressed.His roles became the voice of the underdog,with its vigorous vibrations echoing the struggles,dreams and revolt of the wronged clan towards finding solutions to issues of exploitation.Most of his film songs exhibited a consistent cry for social justice and this particular element in his films,proved to be a big bid to project him as an incarnation of the Good Samaritan and indirectly helped him to emerge as the most popular political leader,reflecting the spirit of the Saviour.
   MGR was constantly shown as the celluloid shadow of the poor,being with them and accompanying their day to to day aspirations,as their alter ego. He would be seen lending a helping hand to the rickshaw pullers,fishermen and the landless/homeless poor.Films like Thozhilaali,Padahotti,Meenava Nanban,Rickshawkaaran and Oorukku Uzhaippavan are just a few screen samples of his hand-in-hand march with the underdog.But beyond MGR and beyond the conventional projection of heroism as a launchpad for social amelioration,there are more valid,focal pointers to Tamil Cinema's thematic and narrative thrust on the ordeals of the  underdog.This particular post in my blog would throw light on aspects of maltreatment of the poor,through a compact list of three films,two of them belonging to the past millennium and one that has recently hit the screens with a big bang.The three films are Sivaji Ganesan's Savaale Samaali directed by Malliam Rajagopal,Sivakumar's Puthuvellam from the hands of K.Vijayan,one of the most popular directors of many Sivaji Ganesan films and the latest Vetrimaaran hit Asuran.
   Both Savaale Samaali{1971} and Pudhuvellam{1975} travelled on a similar track of story line,narrating the plight of the underdogs in the hands of ruthless moneyed landlords.
In both the films,the landlords manoeuvred to usurp the meagre farm holdings of the poor, through opportunistic money lending,so as to make them bonded to their own routine,through suppression of human rights.In both the films,the landlords had arrogant daughters insulting the working class.Both the films had resilient heroes,raging a class war against the wealthy and brought down their arrogance of power and wealth.
  But there were differences too.In Savaale Samaali the village chieftain was tempted to play a game of gambling with the hero{naturally portrayed by Sivaji Ganesan}on terms and conditions,that if the landlord won the game,the hero would be entangled in life long bondage and if the hero won the gamble,he would be allowed to marry the landlord's termagant  daughter.The Landlord reluctantly agreed to the deal with the fond hope,that the hero could never win the gamble.But the results proved to be disastrous to the landlord and the hero who won the game,could not be denied the privilege of marrying the rich girl.What followed later in the story,determined the coming together of the two diagonally opposite classes of society.
  Whereas in Pudhuvellam,the landlord went to the extent of murdering a poor farmer for nonpayment of loans.Hiding this brutal fact,he also made one of the two sons of the victim as his bonded labourer while the other became a confirmed rebel{toughly played by Sivakumar}. Unlike the landlord in Savaale Samaale,the one in Pudhuvellam was a womanizer, despite the fact that he had a daughter of marriageable age.While in Savaale Samaali it was an enforced marriage between the hero and the landlord's daughter,in Pudhu Vellam the tamed and mellowed daughter of the landlord,developed a romantic enchantment for the hero.In Savaale Samaali there was a notorious son for the landlord,who went to the extent of physically shaming the hero's married sister.Apart from these differences,the two films released during the same decade,carried similarities in tone and tenor,because both the films reflected the sentiments and aspirations of the same generation.In demonstrating the power of the underdog, these two films were definite trend setters and were box office hits,on account of their catchy narration and dynamic presentation of events and characters.
   T.K.Bahavadhi and R.S Manohar,mightily exhibited their greed for power and plundering mindset,as the leeches living upon the blood of the poor,in their respective role play,in Savaale Samaali and Pudhuvellam.Nagesh and MRR Vasu were portrayed as sidekicks,Nagesh with a tinge of venom to pull down the landlord richer than him and MRR Vasu blackmailing R.S.Manohar as a witness to the act of murder,committed by the latter. Jeyalalitha and Kannada Manjula were captivating as the epitome of the superiority of wealth,over poverty.
Malliam Rajagopal and K.Vijayan made their films as historical reference points,to the prevalence of the feudalistic bullying of the underdogs,by the parasitic powers of wealth. 
   Among the recent films there has been a rising trend in highlighting the struggles of the depressed sections,to find a footing in the sporting arena.Films like,Maan Karaate,Irudhi Chutru and the latest film Bigil have attempted to break the class,caste, race and gender barriers so as to establish one's legitimate right to claim a place in the sporting field,with their talent and aspiration.A film like Kaakaa Muttai made a huge impact,by focusing on the street urchins' quest for a taste of Pizza.Even the latest Rajini films,like Kabaali and Petta were on the road to retrieve the rights of those,suppressed on the basis of colour and caste aspersions.
   Vetrimaran's latest film Asuran has depicted the uncouth realities encircling the dehumanized routine of the most helpless and ruthlessly let down underdog,in capsules of communal hatred and heart rending brutality.One has to doubt whether the film is about lust for a few pieces of land belonging to the already marginalized section,or a gruesome thirst for blood.What Asuran portrays is absolute class hatred,born of cumulative insult heaped on the underdog,by the barbarously power hungry higher echelons of the social ladder.Interestingly,Asuran also briefly discusses the impact of the vested group's controversial acquisition of the panjami lands,left by the British Raj,towards facilitating the welfare of the socially and economically abused  sections of mankind. The film based on Poomani's novel Vekkai,literally generates heat,with extremely boiling cauldrons,raised on ceaseless emotional fire.
   There are happenings in the film that simultaneously hurt the viewers'eyes and hearts, evoking pity and horror,as the salient dimensions of a gripping narration,without which,a tale of longstanding animosity and feud,can never be so effectively told.Here,actors disappear in characters,who in turn get dissolved in the churning out of sequential course of events,falling into the stabs of weapons of violence.The two final messages that Vetrimaran leaves for the underdog are that,enmity has to be bypassed and not aggravated and the socially downtrodden sections can climb the ladder to higher levels,only through the fruits of education,which would render them the identity that they desperately need. 
   Vetrimaran's Asuran could be called an exemplary treatise on the plight of the underdog, without infusing much of the cinematic ingredients,that would have made it just another film on the time and again talked about class wars.While Sivaji Ganesan and Sivakumar lent their respective roles a higher level of credibility,in portrayal of characters of the underdog brand, Danush, Pasupathi,Manju Warrier and Ken Karunas have become the heart and soul of the underdog by naturally reflecting the predicament of the powerless class, with a perfect grasp of the disgracing subsistence that they form part of. Asuran in all respects,is an agonizing prototype of the real under dog,surmounting the celluloid fetters of character formulation and thematic interpretation. 
   Quoting the famous English poet John Keats differently,on seeing Asuran,"one's heart would ache and a drowsy numbness would pain,as if hemlock one has consumed"This is because life's most tormenting moments of a section of humanity,are piercingly witnessed on the big screen, causing indescribable heaviness,that is rarely experienced through the celluloid mode,during these times of tabloid existence.

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