Why Thamizh Padam is necessary

A parody can be a celebration. Or criticism. Or fascinatingly, both at once. Insofar as we are talking about parodies on Tamil cinema, I’d rather consume it as criticism, given the precious lack of it we generally get in mainstream content. Stars are taken far too seriously — their images thought too sacrosanct to come under any serious scrutiny. Fan wars have become an inextricable part of social media, and often, spill into abuse and harassment. There’s a vast mass of people out there – most of them youngsters – whose identities are closely linked to their adoration of a star. These actors are demi-gods for them, their words holy, their gestures always worthy of imitation. As for their films, well, this is a time when any denouncement of a film can be rubbished as paid criticism; when it’s assumed that your condemnation of a star’s film can only have been caused by your love for another. The need of the hour then is a mainstream comic-artist whose neutrality is beyond question, who will let no star and their work — images and statures be damned – be free from healthy mockery. I think the CS Amudhan-RJ Shiva combination is as close as we have come to fulfilling that void.

A parody can do what a thousand gloriously written think pieces cannot. Such pieces typically try to convince you with cold reason. Insecure fans – we should take to calling them star devotees – aren’t exactly ones to be swayed by reason. It’s here then that a parody, which operates in subliminal ways, becomes a potent weapon. Every time you laugh, the parody wins. Thankfully, we aren’t yet at a stage where our anger is so all-consuming that we have forgotten how to laugh. And so, when you enjoy a line of Thamizh Padam 2’s Naan Yaarumilla, you’re on some level becoming aware that much of what many stars do is image-saving posturing.

Perhaps all CS Amudhan and team are looking to do is simply create laughs. Perhaps he will refuse that the idea is to take on the star system, perhaps he will say that it’s not really the film’s intention to create any serious change, and who knows, he may well be sincere in these admissions. But when art is out there, it’s as much the creator’s as it is the consumer’s. As Stanley Kubrick, who refused to explain his 2001: A Space Odyssey, said, “I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point.”

We are in a new age — of social media — and yet, the only tragicomic difference is that what once used to be yelled is now being typed out – perhaps with more hatred, given the newfound anonymity. It’s crucial – necessary even – that we take a step back and have the incalculable fan masses see the ludicrousness of linking an actor’s identity to the fictional characters they play. In a sense, part of Naan Yaarumilla attempts to do as much. We must propagate the craftiness of star posturing. We must expose how overused plot devices exist simply to further image. This is why Lollu Sabha was so glorious. Suddenly, we were laughing at the same scenes we were shouting ourselves hoarse about a month ago. We learned that our liking for something didn’t have to stop us from enjoying a joke about it. That show was the Riddikulus to the Boggart of our cinema. Unfortunately though, like all good things, it ended far too soon. And not before the channel published an apology or two to avoid invoking the wrath of a star or two.

When all hope seemed lost, we got Amudhan’s Thamizh Padam in 2010, a film that exaggerated the stale plot devices of Tamil cinema. Among others, it mocked fight choreography, nonsensical hero moments, dated love angles… Shorn of the various elements of a film uniting with the singular objective of making a deity of the hero, you suddenly saw the silliness of it all. Hearteningly, Thamizh Padam was received well. Some of us wondered if it would herald a decade of parodies. I mean, if a Pizza and a Kanchana could result in a decade of horror comedies, why shouldn’t the same be expected here? But alas.

Amudhan is back now to the genre that made him and RJ Shiva so popular. The months leading up to the film’s release have been as cathartic as the actual film will likely be. One of its posters took inspiration from the viral poster of the upcoming Murugadoss-Vijay film. The film’s title itself is drawn from the Enthiran sequel. Since then, of course, the ‘0’ from Thamizh Padam 2.0 has been dropped because, in the words of Amudhan, “zero has no value.”

Thamizh Padam 2’s Yaarumilla doesn’t flinch from taking on every single star out there. In an age when directors lace the mention of every star with praise to profit from the support of their fan groups, here’s a film not afraid to poke healthy fun at names we have been told are beyond mockery. Some, of course, have asked the inevitable “What if someone did this to Amudhan?” question. It’s one that has been answered by the director himself, through the constant digs he takes at himself. One of them had him sharing a photo of the film’s producer looking desolate, with the caption reading, “Producer has seen the movie.” Amudhan, clearly, isn’t the sort to hesitate before parodying himself. And in a sense, this is the very point at the heart of the Thamizh Padam films. Can we all not takes ourselves so seriously at all times?

Today, we are at a tumultuous time when people are quick to be angered, when stars are thought to be above reproach, when potential political leaders may well get chosen on the basis of their onscreen image… Parodies like Thamizh Padam 2, I submit, are the antidotes. Every celebrity profile has a parody account; why mustn’t our cinema? This time, I sincerely hope the idea sticks.

This column was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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