When Chennai proved The Joker wrong

Chennai was an entirely different city when my last column was published. Homes hadn’t been ravaged, lakhs hadn’t been displaced, and heroes hadn’t yet been created out of ordinary citizens.

Now, like an injured deer that has somehow managed to evade capture, the city is gingerly getting up, attending to its wounds. The smiles are slowly returning, and theatres are again filling up. It’s a mark of how sinister the rains were, that even something as hardcoded into our DNA as cinema seemed besides the point, and blasphemous even.

They could’ve released Kabali , and we wouldn’t have cared. In the absence of food and shelter, whence comes the energy to create or consume that luxurious joy unique to our kind —art? How fitting then that Sathyam Cinemas took in the homeless.

Newspapers couldn’t function, and the time didn’t seem right for celebrity interviews — not about cinema, at least. What could people like yours truly have done? Called an actress whose house is half submerged in rain, and express interest in knowing more about the character she plays in her upcoming film? It would’ve been more inappropriate than going dressed up as The Joker to a funeral.

Chennai may have neglected cinema during that tumultuous period, and just as well, but cinema came to the rescue of a city that has always been kind to it. Even as citizens turned heroes, the heroes of Tamil cinema became the kind of citizens that we probably never believed they could. You see, it’s easy to envy successful actors. They make plenty of money, they travel a lot, and they get fame to boot — fame that isn’t always put to unselfish use. Last week, to run home the point again, was different, and showed us though that even from something as condemnable as fanboyism, good could arise. Actors weren’t tweeting about their films or sharing uninteresting details of their gym workouts, but asking their admirers to get their feet dirty as they were.

For the romantic in me, it was all reminiscent of a scene from one Hollywood film. Yes, roll your eyes all you want, but there’s just no removing cinema entirely from this column. I was reminded of the climax of The Dark Knight when The Joker attempts to prove to Batman that deep down, all the citizens of Gotham were as ugly and malicious as he was. “When the chips are down, these civilised people will eat each other.” Well, the chips were certainly down last week, but all of us helped each other out, like Gotham’s citizens did. In a way, I suppose Chennai proved The Joker wrong last week. And we did it without Batman.

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