March 30, 2020
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Chennai Diary

Karan Johar’s commitment to family ties as a subject of his films is well known. It will find an echo in the current movies of Chennai

Chennai Diary
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Cinemanidhi Nadu

Karan Johar’s commitment to family ties as a subject of his films is well known. It will find an echo in the current movies of Chennai. With assembly elections due in a few months, the DMK is pulling no stops. The local media is full of stories on the many members of the first family of politics, their feuds and foibles, and the enormous and alarming clout they have come to wield. There is a possibility that M. Karunanidhi’s elder son Azhagiri will be asked to come to Chennai from Madurai, given his penchant for flexing muscle during campaigns. But he is likely to challenge his half-sister Kanimozhi’s prominence. Kanimozhi is in the public eye as patron of the NGO Tamil Maiyam, implicated in the 2G spectrum scam. Though the Madras High Court has directed the Tamil Nadu government to distance itself from the NGO, given the scam link, her father will inaugurate the folk art festival she is hosting. Durga Stalin, wife of M.K. Stalin, is writing a homey story of the Karunanidhi family in a women’s magazine. Kalanidhi Maran, Karunanidhi’s nephew, is producing movies, as is Udayanidhi Stalin, Stalin’s son, currently seen as the producer with the golden touch. As for the octogenarian chief  minister, an old hand at screenwriting, his 75th screenplay reached the cinemas as Ilaignan during the Pongal season. In a world controlled by images, the Karunanidhi family has known well how to use the media to influence the public. The mix of cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu remains in a churn—as it always has.


The Circle of Time

One of the quiet successes of the Tamil month of Margazhi has been the Kalakshetra Arts Festival, which for years has been held at venues near the soft sands and whispering waves of the east coast. There were doubts the institution would go to seed after the demise of its founder, Rukmini Devi Arundale. But patrons, students and aficionados are reassured by the calming presence of Leela Samson, who has been heading the institution for many years now. We were enthralled by some original productions of Rukmini Devi’s works, which have been performed for over 30 years since she first choreographed them. Some fantastic vocalists and evocative performances have made sure that to this day the festival remains a treat. The very best performers—like the magnetic T.M. Krishna, the soulful Unnikrishnan and dancing goddess Malavika Sarukkai—engage as rasikas in each other’s performances and partake of the feast. They do not remain isolated in artistic hauteur.


Lustre on Amps

Celebhood is catching up in Chennai. Page 3 is alive here, and taking it forward are a new bunch of film makers and actors who no longer fight shy of pub-hopping or leaking news of their latest tattoos. Tamil cinema has always prided itself on technical sharpness. Now, a new breed of professionals like glam photographers and designers are adding sheen and gloss. G. Venket Ram, noted cinematographer and photographer, is the man of the hour. He has produced the first glam calendar with south Indian stars. It features six-pack studs like Surya, Vikram, Simbu and Aryan, and hot bods like Shruti Hassan, Trisha and Shreya. At the launch party at Park Pod, Mani Ratnam unveiled the calendar at the midnight hour. A few tequila glasses were smashed, and many plump bodies shimmied and shook to the pulsing beats. Chennai is no longer a sober city.


City Lights

Madras has turned Chennai and, with increasing frequency, the city is becoming the setting for the works of local film makers. Chennai 600028 was a film on street cricket in Chennai. Angadi Theru was a dark film on villagers migrating to work in Chennai’s retail stores as labourers. Ee, about a mad scientist and set in Chennai’s dockyards, was interesting, and Ayan’s hero was a kuruvi (or crook) from Chennai’s Burma Bazaar. Madrasapattinam was Laagan meets Titanic: montages of Chennai in another era come alive as an English matron comes back to the banks of the Cooum in 2010 to look for her lost Tamil lover. Naan Mahan Alla is a thriller about Chennai’s drug wars. Aaranya Kaandam, which won the Grand Jury Award for best movie at the 7th South Asian Film Festival in New York, is about gang wars on Chennai’s mean streets. The hero is a vigilante dancing to the gaana, the drunken dirge of Chennai’s mourners.


Paging the City

Unlike the celebrated Bombay novel or Delhi novel, there wasn’t any significant Chennai novel in English. R.K. Narayan, despite his connections to the city, and despite settling here in the winter of his life, made the fictional Malgudi, not Madras, the setting of his works. The Chennai novels of Srividya Natarajan, Tulsi Badrinath, Kavery Nambisan and Tishani Doshi, however, have been well received. New works by Aravind Adiga and Manu Joseph will again bring Chennai alive on the literary map.

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