Here is the Rajinikanth and Meena snack pack on a grocery shelf in a Japanese store. This is a rare image. Thalaivar has strong brand value but the point is that he does not offer it out for hire. I wonder if the above packaging is unauthorized as according to Kalayani Subramani, over the whole of his 42-year career our Thailaivar has not endorsed a single product. This is a significant characteristic of his fame and SUPERSTAR status he has attained as Kalayani explains, quoting industry experts. Rohitash Srivastava says, “He connects at a higher level. His fans don’t expect him to tell them what to consume.” Anirban Blah observes, “He is far bigger and has more goodwill and emotional resonance than any corporate brand. In fact the brand loyalty and goodwill he enjoys is bigger than any brand in India — corporate, political or individual. You cannot put a monetary value to that.” And Theron Carmine emotes, “You don’t see god selling coke, do you?” In fact while all this is the rule there seem to be an exception, an advertisement for… well …. not Coke but another cola nonetheless!! A Palm Cola Product made, it seems, for the Tamil Nadu Cooperative to support the Palm climbers. Indeed, Rajinikanth has attained something akin to the status of a living god among the members of his massive fan-base and, as he turns his attention to the political arena, the purity of his brand will certainly be an invaluable asset.
The Rockin’ Cowboy Western clothing store, which is a mere city block away from my apartment at Quebec and 7th, Vancouver, is moving to a new location. This is where I got my hat, boots and my shirts for the first Koboi performance at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur in 2013. I bought one black and one white version of the Rockmount Classic Sawtooth Western shirt. The white shirt is now in the collection of the National Art Gallery. Since than, I have acquired much of my best gear for the Koboi Project at the Rockin’ Cowboy. The store at 106 East Broadway closed its doors last week and the new store at 118 West Broadway is opening soon down the road, just a few blocks West on Broadway. While it feels like a loss for me, not to have Cowboy Dave, Danny Kresnyak and the milieu of the Rockin Cowboy near enough for me to imagine that they are in my own living room, I look forward to the slightly longer walk to the amazing new Rockin’ Cowboy!
While our Thalaiva launches his new political image in preparation for the next Tamil Nadu state elections, it is interesting to remember his earlier appearance on a spicy garam masala snack package marketed in Japan by the Tohato company. The film Muthu (1995), or Muthu: Odoru Maharaja (Muthu: Dancing Maharajah) as it was titled for its 1998 Japanese release, starred Rajinikanth and Meena, and was a surprise box-office success. The SUPERSTAR’s following in Japan has grown to become a large and uniquely Japanese fan base. While Rajinikanth’s oeuvre is deeply rooted in an uncompromisingly rustic Tamil idiom, Muthu, somehow, became a trans-cultural phenomena, crossing from a Tamil vernacular into the Japanese one.
As Rajinikanth invests his SUPERSTAR capital in the Tamil Nadu political arena, there is a lot of speculation about his future allegiances and alignments. For those, who like me lament the rise of Hindu Nationalism in Indian politics, the concern is that the waning post-independence secularism in Tamil Nadu politics will finally be dissolved in an alliance between our Thalaivar and Narendra Modhi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In his speech announcing his entry into politics, Rajnikanth is reported to have said, “We have to create a spiritual politics with no caste and religion barrier. My cornerstones would be honesty, transparency, secularity and spiritual politics. Spiritual politics according to me means fair and just politics.” This statement seems wide open in its possible interpretations. Rajnikanth could indeed end up being , wittingly or otherwise, a Trojan Horse bearing Hindutva cadres into the hitherto atheistic milieu of Tamil Nadu politics. On the other hand, it is possible that his statement carries within it the promise of a new post-atheistic post-traditional polity – one that sets the Tamil peoples inherent sacral tendencies within a trans-communal and multi-religious ethos. It might seem be too much to ask of a mere movie star, but in the story of Tamil Nadu there have been no leaders as powerful as Annadurai, MGR, Karunanithi and Jayalalitha …..movie people all!
On December 31st 2017 SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth confirmed his entry into Tamil Nadu Politics by announcing that he would launch a new political party before the next assembly election in the state. Growing up as a Tamil in Malaysia in the 1970’s, although I was not a film fan, I was aware of Rajnikanth’s significance as an identity pioneer. Up till his arrival on the scene, the dark skinned audiences of Tamil cinema had perversely preferred their leading men pale-faced and all powdered up. Rajnikanth had changed all that and gone on to become the biggest box office draw in Indian cinema. Later in my life, as my children were growing up in Kuching, Sarawak far from my parents and any significant Tamil influences, I went looking for Tamil media to fill the lack. I found a copy of Rajnikanth’s 1995 release, Muthu at the local night-market and to my delight, my girls loved it. What’s more, I found that I loved Muthu too.
On a visit to Tokyo at around this time, I was greeted by a billboard image of Rajinikanth. ‘Muthu’ or ‘Dancing Maharajah’ as the film was titled for its Japanese release, had become a box-office sensation in Japan. This was a rare example of an idiomatic local cultural product becoming a cross-over success without any mitigation of its sharp flavors. To the contrary, Japanese fans now learn Tamil to follow their SUPERSTAR in his own idiom. Against the grain of an era of global marketing and dochakuka in which the global products are varied, adapted and ‘localized’ for specific markets, Rajinikanth appears to have successfully projected an untempered idiomatic expression into a culturally distinct market and milieu. I recognized in this phenomena a signifier for the antithesis of the homogenization that was taking hold in the all global arenas, including that of contemporary art.
Extract from a review by Art KL-itique of my installation at the KL Biennale –
… ‘The Gift of Knowledge: An Installation Commemorating the Person and Work of Durai Raja Singam (1904 – 1995)’ by Niranjan Rajah, is an amazing display that highlights the dedication and resourcefulness of the human spirit, when a single-minded passion is one’s guiding light in life.
Stepping into the unlocked gallery and turning on the lights, this visitor is greeted by two pedestal-tables and three old cupboards. One coat rack stands at the far end of the room, while a degree certificate from the University of Jaffna is presented next to it. Walking past framed collages of text and pictures, I noticed the books inside the cupboards as copies of publications exhibited on the pedestals. A wall of old photographs and illustrations portray Durai Singam and a few luminaries, but at this point it remains unclear what is significant about this installation. Flipping the book cover open of the volume titled The World of Coomaraswamy, I see the proclamation “THIS IS A BOOK OF MY OWN DEVISING”; Printed in capitals too a few pages later, “Fifty years of Coomaraswamy for me, the cup is filled in another measure. To beg I am ashamed.” fills three quarters of one sheet. Then it struck me what was on show …
UPDATE : In Shahrul Izani Suparman, who was sentenced to death in 2009 for drug trafficking, was officially pardoned. I have only just caught up with this important news that brings me some hope with regard to the fundamentals of justice in Malaysian society. I had written the following in a previous post made in May of 2016 – In Malaysia, anyone found carrying 200g or more of proscribed narcotics is automatically presumed guilty of trafficking drugs and subject to a mandatory death sentence. The law does not allow judges any possibility of taking into account the defendant’s personal circumstances or the circumstances of the particular offence. It is under these laws that Shahrul Izani, then aged 19, was found one night in 2003, to have had in his possession 622g of cannabis. He was convicted and given the death penalty in 2009. Sharul has today exhausted all his appeals, and could be executed at any time. Malaysia’s laws relating to sentencing in drug trafficking cases are arguably contrary to international law and in July of 2012 the Malaysian government announced plans to review them. In this context, Amnesty International has started a campaign to have Shahrul’s sentence commuted. While the merits of a death penalty for drug trafficking are debatable, the justification for mandatory sentencing can only be made by considering the particular circumstances of our country and its situation within global drug conduits. In this light it seems unjust and even paradoxical to deny our judges the opportunity to consider the particulars of the accused in passing sentence. Regardless of ones position on the penalty and its mandatory implementation, what is undeniable in my view, is that it is unusually cruel to leave this young man, on death row, facing the reality of a sudden execution, while the laws themselves are deemed worthy of review. God forbid that he is executed, in administrative indifference or haste, on the eve of a repeal of these draconian laws. Please sign the petition here if you believe it is right that his sentence is commuted.