Sunday, February 3, 2013

Vishwaroopam and aftermath

It is more than a week since I watched Vishwaroopam and I think I have given myself enough time to sit back and ponder at what it is all supposed to mean.

Having made my penchant to dislike Kamal Hassan and his social messaging very clear, nevertheless, I must admit that Vishwaroopam is a brilliant movie with a deep sense of story-telling in multiple layers. Unfortunately it is too brilliant a movie for a vast majority of the Tamil/Indian audience, especially the ones who come to watch the movie. The movie, from the start to the finish, caters primarily to the middle-class and even if that segment has grown in Tamland and India quite rapidly over the last two decades, the messages are too complicated to be grasped in one sitting. After having watched the movie, it appears to be a perfect movie to have been taken DTH as its intended audience (the middle-class) is the one that could have most benefited by seeing it at home rather than at the theaters. 

The topic it handles, terrorism, to be quite honest, is something that a common man hardly, if ever, encounters in real life. Given that I do work on terrorism models and read enough banalities on terrorism matters, the above cannot be but a most severe short-selling on one's own source of paycheck. But, facts are indeed facts. The number of terrorism incidents in India (or for that matter even the most violent country in the world, however one benchmarks it: level of violence, number of fatalities or injuries, economic damage, psychological hold of fear and terror, loss of hold of the State suzerainty, nexus on criminality of society, etc.,) still borders on a few thousands of attacks (I extract them from different databases and impute for missing data, so I do have some confidence on the guesstimates), a few thousands dead/injured/maimed, a few hundreds of crores INR in economic damage, and loss of State suzerainty in a small geographical territory relative to the size of India. Even aberrational examples such as Peru, Colombia or Sri Lanka have shown that when it comes to the war on terror, the State holds a completely asymmetric advantage to kill a terrorist outfit(s) as it emboldens itself (with finances and weaponry, global support or otherwise, and more importantly, the ability and capability to take endless damages) to stage the final battle. And the most successful of terrorist outfits in history are political parties today (ANC, DMK, Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, Communist parties of various stripes that have come to terms with democratic ideals, etc.) which goes to the grain of the idea of what defines a successful terrorist outfit: usurp power, prestige, wealth, control (real and imagined) and sustenance in an as least resistant and least compromised path as possible. 

Of course, a relative comparison with other issues such as accidental deaths, environmental damage, corruption losses, etc., are meaningless and rhetorical point-scoring used by peace-niks and pro-establishmentists to piss wide and far on matters that do not affect them in reality. And while one would love to be in a scenario where terrorism damages are completely wiped out, it must also be pointed that the power of terrorism lies primarily in its power to terrorize people disproportionate to its real connect to day-to-day living. In some sense, the power of terrorism is like a High Voltage transmission line, both are visible gargantuan leviathans, when in reality the ideal response is to not play a mind game that is skewed to one side (the terrorist's). To cut down the moral pontification (aka semantics and rhetorical gymnastics), one suffers the pain of terrorism if one has been a victim or knows a near and dear one who is. For much of middle-class India, the power of terrorism is not immediate and it comes from watching media stories unfolding essentially live, and from reading newspapers and social media. For much of rural and left-behind India, the power of terrorism is more immediate but not commonly attributed to the outfits classified as terrorist by the Government of India. Much of the terror in rural India is systemic terror of various socio-economic and often identity clashes. While Vishwaroopam tries to portray a continuing battle between a rational terrorist and an intelligent and rooted spook, both matched only in their superhuman-ness and endless ability to continue the battle, and in that sense is perhaps a closer portrayal to reality (minus the theatrical liberties) than much else of the Indian fare, it still explores a topic that is too far from reality. 

But more to my sociological interest, Vishwaroopam continues the trend of Tamil cinema evolving into more and more intelligent themes that are primarily targeted at the middle-class than at rural and left-behind India. Note that Tamil cinema has continually evolved from the mythological musical fare of Ellis R. Dungan to pure ideologicals aimed at social change in the 40s to the "Sirippom Sindhippom" fare of ideology seamlessly infused amidst entertainment in the 50s to early middle-class family and social dramas of the 60s and 70s to the angry young man/masala era of the late-70s and 80s to the inward looking 90s followed by the outward looking today. The outward looking-ness that is more or less common today does not shy away from naming Pakistan or China or the white man or terrorism as enemies and in that sense, is a remarkable transformation that TMMK and other ideological neanderthals would best notice. If the protesting TMMK intended to make their point across that terrorism has no religion, their actions are most likely to be perceived by much of middle-class India to be much ado about nothing, of sound and fury that symbolized the sorpozhivus of DMK in the late 50s and 60s. In short, the TMMK have scored an own goal and must be congratulated on that. As must be Kamal Hassan in his ability to indulge in selective hypocrisies and in that sense, he is not in a league of his own. He has the unmatched support of much of India, and the political mainstream, where hypocrisy and "do as I say, not as I do" are the norms. 

Of course, Kamal Hassan could have shortcutted all this drama and just handed over the local TV rights to Jaya TV or whoever that had approached him. Hindsight, as everyone knows, is 400% perfect, but life aint. 

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