The cultural context in India-
The core of the Tamil society is the family. The family plays a significant role in the transmission of traditions. Families in turn join to form clans, castes, and communities. Cultural traits had been handed over across generations through the channel of family using dance, music, drama, other performing arts like street play or koothu, and folk arts, which were mostly oral, as channels to communicate the cultural traits to the society.
Tamil Nadu is rooted in centuries-old religious scriptures, customs, and social norms. Tamil films demonstrate the relationship between God and humans, between woman and man, and among family members—all of which is rooted in the identities. Tamil cinema frequently revolves around these stories as a solution for a problem, as an anxiety about a social situation.
Cinema serves a valuable role since by their cultural tradition the people of Tamil Nadu. Children are no exception from this cinema culture. They play cards with the image of the movie star printed on them. They learn to dance, fight, and speak dialogue like the film stars and entertain themselves and others with the songs and dances from their favorite cinema. Babies are named after the famous film titles or with their famous star’s name.
Religious identity Of all the social institutions in society,
Religion is the most sensitive and fundamental. It has influenced every individual and found a very prominent and dominant place in society. Religion and arts are inseparable, and they influence each other. Religion controls the media and technology while media play the propaganda agent to religious values in every type of publication, including cinema, books, videotapes, general magazines and newspapers, and scholarly journals.
The father of Indian cinema, Dada Saheb Phalke, used cinema the new technology as a tool for the commercial viability of translating myths into cinema.
In the beginning mythological themes dominated Tamil film. Mythology is not a fairy tale but a process of humanizing the unknown, to make it known. It is a passage from the known (human) to the unknown (divine), and myth is used as a stable point of transition. Myth is used as a symbolic language in order to reach the divine. So this symbol is the meeting point of the human and the divine as well as a vehicle for the personification of abstract values in human form.
In fact, the Tamil cinema industry survives largely by Puranic and social stories. In Tamil cinema Puranic stories dealing with gods and goddesses, heaven and hell, and films dealing with historical persons like Veerapandia Kattabomman and Kappalotia Thamizan are the pictures that have gone beyond time and space .
Cinema as a fast growing technology has brought some of the emotional qualities so close to the audience through actors that people have learned them without questioning. The culture of learning through audiovisual images is an ancient one among Tamils. They learn more by watching and imitating. This “gazing culture” has given cinema a prominent place in society till today.
The Appeal Of The Visual Image
Why do the producers never bothered to learn the cinematic language?
Cinema becomes a mobile gaze with immense power to satisfy the gaze culture. It was an accepted code that if the actors appeared dressed in shirts and pants, those films were known as social. If they appeared in “divine” costumes, those were known as Puranic stories, and if they appeared in royal costumes, those were known as historical films. Actually the appeal of the visual image (costume) was so strong that the audience considered the nature of story as secondary (p. 70). Since the stories were more familiar to the audience, the producers did not care much about indigenous cinematic vocabulary; that crippled the quality and the development of local cinema. The producers never bothered to learn the cinematic language but instead were content with the same old stories and methodologies of stage visuals .
In pre-independence days, the purpose, priority, and the major content of the Indian cinema was the “national culture". Why?
In pre-independence days, especially during the freedom movement, the purpose, priority, and the major content of the Indian cinema was the “national culture.” It was the time when both bureaucrats and politicians, whether connected with cinema or not, repeatedly referred to the “national culture” . At the initial stage of sound cinema, most films made a special reference to the “national freedom,” reflected in the titles, songs, and other dialogues (Narayanan, 1981, p. 47). Baskaran narrates that particularly in the 1930s and 1940s this spirit of Indian nationalism found expression in cinema with nationalistic songs and direct protest against the British rule, especially with the demonstration of the Non-cooperation movement. Gandhian social reform themes, including the prohibition of alcohol and the uplift of women and Dalits, were also the themes of the day in the cinema.
The Dravidian Nationalism
Since 1967 five chief ministers, all democratically elected, have governed Tamil Nadu and all of them are associated in one way or another with the film industry.
Tamil nationalism, formerly known as the Dravidian Movement, can be traced in its political identities. It included all the four major Southern Indian languages. This identity of the Dravidian nationalism was made of many like-minded organizations and movements against Brahmins . According to this view of Tamil national identity, the Brahmin immigrants from the North had imposed the Sanskrit language, religion, and heritage on the South. This “selfrespect movement,” started by veteran social reformist E. V. R. Periyar, demanded the dismantling of Brahmin hegemony, the abolition of Sanskrit, the revival of a pure Tamil language, a social reformation through the abolition of the caste system, religious practices, and recasting women’s position in society. Gaining a political vigor, the movement focused on Tamil identity and the uplift of the poor. It even went to the extent of demanding autonomy and independence from India in order to maintain the integrity of Tamil consciousness, though the idea was given up later in favour of state autonomy within India .
Expressions Of Vernacular Identity
The expressions of vernacular identity are quite explicit in Tamil cinema which assert Tamil ethnic identity even today. The political party Dravida Munnertra Kazhagam DMK grip over the audience through its rhetoric on “Tamilness,” which was constructed in part by notions of maanam (honor) and valor. The concept of female chastity symbolised by the virtuous and valorous Kannagi, the heroine of Chialppathikaaram.
C. N. Annadurai
C. N. Annadurai’s appearance in the film industry changed the history of Tamil filmdom. It was the time when Dravidian movement was set with a agenda of the Dravidian movement very strong in Tamil play. His first film-play Velaikkari (maid servant) made a mark in society as a film with a strong social theme and message. He also became the founder of the DMK—the Dravidian political party.
Tamil culture was fundamental for the Dravidian politics and rationality was its philosophy. The party fought against the Brahmins and their religious superstitions. In order to free the Tamils from the clutches of the religious and caste hegemony of the Brahmins, the DMK was founded. It brought back the great Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar and his Tamil values to the people through popular cinema. It was a war against the Aryan ideals. Thus, this political structure was founded firmly on Tamil cultural values
Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi
The next mile stone in the history of the Tamil cinema is Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi. His famous film Parasakthi(1952) was written by keeping in mind the demand for a sovereign Dravidanadu or Tamil homeland. However once the party tasted power and entered into electoral politics, it began to compromise on all these issues. The brave Tamil nationalistic slogans were replaced with “one caste and one god” (Rajadurai & Geetha, 1996, p. 560). It celebrated the greatness of Tamils and Tamil nation. This was an eye opener to bring the audience to the immediate realities of despair. This film touched the very core of the social problems and narrated the religious superstitions. It had its strong impact on the middle class people for its Tamil sentiments and ideals. Following these success stories the Tamil cinema industry produced a series of films on social themes, stories on Tamil ideologies like valor, love, chastity of women, and love for the Tamil language. The ethos of popular cinema has had a close relationship with Tamil political culture.
M. G. Ramachandran (MGR)
The DMK used cinema as a tool for the propagation of its ideology. Many leaders of the DMK movement were also involved in Tamil cinema in their own capacity. M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) is still the most prominent even now, 30 years after his death. In his movies MGR would portray himself as an adventurous hero, historically and culturally constituted as men’s exclusive preserve.
Cultural narrative in Tamil cinema
Tamil cinema enabled a wider dissemination of Tamil culture and ideology. The cultural practices are still fused with cinema, for instance, the energetic use of Tamil language. Tamil cinema helped to articulate the political and cultural ideology through various signs and symbols. As cultural narratives Tamil films reflect the sentiments and aspirations of the Tamil people. The cinema industry takes special care to construct the social, cultural, and political values of society. These socio-cultural and political factors associated with Tamil cinema mirror the different strands of society and help us to understand its multi-role as propagator, entertainer, educator, and guardian of ideas, mores, traditions, and culture.
Tamil popular cinema is politically and ideologically loaded. It not only reflects social reality but also constructs it. A brief history of Tamil cinema Tamil cinema is a powerful medium of cultural expression and it functions as a social, cultural, political, and economic institution It has a tremendous impact on the lives of people by shaking and shaping the foundations of the society.