Borgen – Great TV

We live in a time of great political pessimism. Across party, state and regional lines, there is a growing anger with the quality of leadership and a skepticism about whether they have the best interests of the people in their hearts. Many TV shows have represented this anger in their dark portrayal of political figures ranging from the Machiavellian House of Cards or the pitch-black satire of Veep. Consistently, these shows echo or even preempt contemporary political fiascos, painfully emphasizing a bitter hopelessness for its audience. Contrarily, shows from an earlier era that presented an upbeat and idealistic view of politicians like The West Wing no longer resonate with the seemingly unresolvable entanglements we encounter today. Borgen, an episodic political thriller from Denmark treads a fine line between being its idealism and cynicism and delivers one of the finest TV dramas of this era.

With its riveting thirty episodes, Borgen has received near-universal acclaim since it hit the airwaves in 2010. Counted among the Scandinavian TV royalty that rose to global prominence in the late 2000s alongside Forbrydelsen (The Killing 2007-12) and Broen (The Bridge 2011-), Borgen follows the life and career of Denmark’s first female Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg. Borgen’s simple and clear narrative engages with different aspects of the political process as well as its media and public perception. While the intricate plot and the complex perspectives are compelling, it is clear that we watch the shows for its well-written characters. Chief among them is Moderate party-chief and statsminister, Birgitte Nyborg. Sidse Babett Knudsen delivers one of the best performances on TV as the dramatic protagonist who is tough, intelligent and moral. She is the epitome of a statesman, whose values-driven, progressive policies fly in the face of established conventions. And yet, not once do we mistake Prime Minister Nyborg for a naïve politician as she expertly maneuvers her way through a sea of political and personal treachery without compromising on her ideals. The narrative victories that she wins are not through shortcuts, and sometimes, they are not even victories. Nyborg endures unfazed through the circumstances, both as a witness and an ideal respondent in the face of adversity. Instead of presenting a simplistic heroic arc, Borgen offers something that we all long for; not just a protagonist we can root for, but an inspiring model for grace under fire.

In Borgen, Brigitte Nyborg and her staff negotiate for the survival of both their ideals and their government in the fragile balance of a multi-party system. The restrained tone and the deliberated style of writing works surprisingly well within the largely episodic format of the show. The show succeeds where some other shows fail because it refuses to offer unexpected twists or clever narrative-play at the cost of character and plot consistency.  It is not that characters do not change their minds or act erratically. However, any erratic behavior is a result that naturally grows out of their context and painful character introspection. The best moments of the show blend character-based drama that also exposes the political play and the machinations behind the institutional walls. However, it does not bask in the glow of mocking all notions of political integrity. When Kasper Juul (played by Pilou Asbaek), the charismatic spin doctor, orbits around the political drama with his brand of circumstantially convenient morality, Nyborg grounds the show in her principles stating that she wants to do politics in her own way. Her steadfast and upright approach recovers the idea of politics from the scheming and treacherous world we see in Game of Thrones in favor of administering the state and its people in the best possible way.

One of the fan-centric joys of watching a fairly niche program is to see actors from such programs achieve international mainstream acclaim. Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Pilou Asbaek and Sidse Babet Knudsen have all found success in international film and TV (in Pitch Perfect 2, Game of Thrones and Westworld respectively). I am not implying that Hollywood is the yardstick of success that the actors should be measured against. Instead, I am very happy to see these actors in performances where I can follow them without subtitles. While on the subject of subtitles, Borgen was so compelling that I found out if there are ways of learning Danish enough to follow the show without subtitles. Unfortunately, the watching easily outpaced any efforts of learning a new language. And yet, like the equally brilliant Broen (Bridge), this show has framed the eponymous Borgen in particular (the Christiansborg Palace which houses the parliament and other government offices), and the city of Copenhagen in general with its iconic shots.

At the time of writing this, there is an American version of Borgen in the works. I have mixed feelings about this. On one side, the American show will certainly get greater global visibility. However, in the current political context, an American remake is dangerously susceptible to sliding into a cynical and negative approach. Alternatively, if there could be a fourth season of the show, that would be great.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Two BBC Crime Dramas – Broadchurch and River

One of the pleasures of my research topic is that I get to watch Crime Dramas. A lot. While many of them can be quite predictable and poorly written, some shows have the capacity to stun you in their brilliance. Though I am a big fan, I would be the first to agree that even the best among American Crime dramas prioritize the crime factor more than the drama. Some of the more deliberate narratives like the first season of True Detective and the brilliant TV adaptation of Fargo (both are season-long anthologies), tend to linger on the characters rather than focus on the action. And yet, they too look at the stories for the length of the crime and the aftermath has little bearing on the viewers’ perception of the characters’ lives. It is as if the challenges faced by the characters simply cease to exist at the end of the season. This is one of the places where European shows fare better, with their intricate plotting never over-taking the depth of characterization. I would like to discuss this ability to build on past events and crimes in two recent shows from the UK, Broadchurch and River.

While I usually avoid spoilers, the following post may give away some broad strokes outline of the character arc – but you may read ahead without being robbed of the meaning and actions of the plot as I try to only reference to its method.

Broadchurch balances between the two genre modifiers of crime and drama the best among contemporary television shows. Set in a fictional coastal town in England, the first series features David Tennant and Olivia Coleman in leading roles as they try to solve the mysterious death of a ten-year old boy. This is the perfect setup for a whodunit with its finite set of characters each with their own dark secret that they want to hide. It is not to say that the show avoids that aspect, but it also transcends the simplicity of crime as a puzzle-solving that dominates many TV shows. Instead we are allowed to take a harrowing peek into the complex entanglements between the characters who are involved in the aftermath of the tragedy. It looks at the devastation of a single death and the implication of a killer to its ultimate conclusion. By resisting the tropes of inventive criminality and mind-numbingly escalating body-count other shows seem so easily susceptible to, Broadchurch seeks a crushing humanity as the basis of the viewers’ relationship with the characters. The solving of the crime is as devastating as the crime itself, as the consequences change the world of the characters permanently. In eight short episodes, Broadchurch showed how unique crime drama on TV could be.

And then the second series happened. It abandoned the format of the first series that most TV shows try and repeat. Instead, it examined a trial and its crucial elements by extending the case from the first series. This led to mixed results because the sense of closure provided in the first series seemed to be completely undone by the second. It felt like a cheap trick from a 90s Hollywood movie where an unplanned sequel forces the producers to remove the happy conclusion they had achieved. Although the second series was inarguably a natural extension of the first, it was undeniably inconsistent in quality. Like many other fans, I was not very impressed with the outcomes of the court proceedings. In my opinion, the near-perfect first series was ruined by an attempt to extend a show that should have been a limited series. Even at that stage, I would have been happy for the show to end on that note – with one remarkable series followed by a slightly underwhelming series, which was still better than many shows on air. And then the third series came, changing the way I think of a crime drama. I was never more delighted to be shown wrong when it rescued the flailing second series retroactively by presenting the greatest bit of character development between the second and third series. The characters who had suffered twice – first with the death of a child and second the failure of a justice-system – are used to make a more important point about trauma – recovery. Instead of using their tragedy as a plot point that leads them to irredeemable suffering, the show allows its characters to cope with the loss over time and return to their lives. Not only did Broadchurch provide one of the most satisfying conclusions in crime drama TV history, but it legitimized the need for the suffering inflicted by the second series. It explained why the events in the second series were important for the characters to explore their experiences.

Another show that blends a bleak aesthetic with a soul-searching character centrality is BBC’s 2015 crime drama River. Featuring Stellan Skarsgård and Nicola Walker, critics often acknowledge the faux-Scandinavian look and feel of the show with its grey London-scapes and lingering sense of narrative development. I believe that beyond the appearance, the show borrows something far deeper from its Scandinavian counterpart – it values the feelings and thoughts of its characters and reflects the significance on the plot.

River begins with almost an eye-rolling conceit typical of any of the leading crime-solvers on mainstream TV— a special ability that allows the protagonist to see the case in a way that others simply cannot. Skarsgård’s titular hero can literally see the ghosts of his cases, allowing him to externalize his thoughts and grasp at the heart of the case, eventually solving it. This feels giddily like an overused generic trope at the beginning of the show, but within the first episode it goes off on a course that is surprising and refreshing. The important distinction between this show and others like it is in its treatment of this special ability. The protagonist is slowly revealed to be less gifted, and more burdened with persistently painful and difficult life. While it has its episodic procedural moments (especially in the first three episodes), the overarching plot takes over in the latter part of the series as the inspector is trying to solve the mystery of his partner’s death – leading to a whirlwind finish where there are real emotional and personal stakes for the protagonist in solving the case.

Unlike other crime shows, River earns its twists painstakingly and makes the characters pay dearly for each truth they wrestle out of the narrative. The audience are compelled to weigh the importance of those twists – each one with its palpable and lasting consequence make us ache for the characters who live with the outcomes they choose. The show’s protagonist is deeply involved in the thick of the plot in the most organic way – as the characters’ entanglements are used to examine the dangerous profession that they are in. Usually crime shows offer a degree of invulnerability to their protagonists, especially if they are cops – some of the most famous cop-shows have insular protagonists who are never under mortal threat simply because they must exist and be in an active relationship with the plot. This is where River reaches for a level above its contemporaries. The six episodes are concluded with a finality that scoffs at the idea of returning for a second series that would cash in on a well-built world of characters and relationships. Although the production details are ominously left dangling for a possible return, actors Stellan Skarsgård considers the show “a one-off piece” and hopefully that resolve remains.

To conclude, I find this impulse that desires for River’s finality a bit conflicting, because a show like Broadchurch proves that a one-off concept could be masterfully extended and redeemed even if it is botched in the process. We may never know if a second series of a show could exceed expectations if it is never made. And yet, the fans of a show are pulled in two opposing directions, hoping for an untouched legacy and a perfect memory as well as a hope to return to characters we have become acquainted with and deeply care for. TV history is full of shows that got better in a returning season, and there are just as many examples of near-perfect mini-series events. These two traditions bear their own modes of reception in the way they prepare the audience and the buzz they generate about their content. Ultimately, long-term seriality remains one of the most intriguing points of engagements with TV shows. The tension between our desire for more episodes and the dread for them being bad is the site where TV shows- both great and terrible- are made, remembered and forgotten.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Rajnikanth and Politics – A Few Words

Everyone has an opinion about whether Rajnikanth should enter politics, and as a self-proclaimed fan of the actor, I have one too. SPOILER: I think he should enter politics, but not in the way everyone thinks. Before I explain my point of view, let me explain the context in which this debate takes place.

A (Very) Simplified Recap of Tamil Nadu’s Politics

Since 1967, Tamil Nadu’s politics effectively rejected national parties in favor of regional parties that emerged from the Dravidian movement. CN Annadurai’s call for strengthening the state around linguistic lines as opposed to a disconnected central government swept through generations of people who would identify themselves as either of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which means the party for advancement of the Dravidians, or its alternate, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which was a breakaway formed in 1972 and named for former Chief Minister CN Annadurai. The two parties have produced seven Chief Ministers over half a century and their tug-o-war moves between phases of development and welfare schemes. The passage of time has bred discontent cynicism in the people as allegations of corruption, nepotism and neglect of long-term state-development took root.

Former Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu

Rajnikanth and the 1996 Elections

At the peak of anti-Dravida party sentiment, Indian National Congress leader GK Moopanar broke away from the national party to form a Tamil Manila Congress (TMC), a state-centric party. His clean image and popularity received a boost from support by Tamil cinema’s leading man, Superstar Rajnikanth. An alliance between the TMC and the DMK came to power in 1996 and many credited the actor for turning the tide decisively against the incumbent government. This may not have been an overstatement considering the longstanding ties between the cinema industry and politics in Tamil Nadu. Both chief ministers from DMK, CN Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi were successful writers who had written many socially motivated plays and cinema that shaped the discourse of the Dravidian movement. AIADMK’s founder MGR, arguably the most influential politician in the state, was an actor who cultivated his image through the resounding message of hope and revolution, written for the most part by his former colleagues, the aforementioned chief-ministers. His successor J. Jayalalitha was the leading lady in many of his films. Many of the minor parties that have developed in the state are often led by actors. So, Rajnikanth’s value to a political party or his potential impact is not insignificant.

Pros and Cons – Perceptions of Political Life

Which brings us to the question of his entry into the political fray. First of all, there are those who claim that the actor’s background as a Marathi native born and raised in Karnataka disqualifies him from entering Tamil politics – to them, I have nothing to say except point out that as an Indian national, he has every right to run for public office anywhere in the country. Cynical critics look at his recent comments about politics as an attempt to capitalize the political vacuum created by the passing of then incumbent chief minister J. Jayalalitha. A few critique his perceived ideological proximity to the right-leaning national party BJP and the national premier Narendra Modi. However, it is important to note that Rajnikanth has maintained cordial relationships with all political leaders from either side of the aisle. Quite a few cite the 67-year old actor’s age as being past the prime to enter politics. Former Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha was actively involved in politics until her last year and she was of the same age as Rajnikanth. Opposition leader M. Karunanidhi is 92 years old, and he is still projected as the party’s incumbent leader. Outside of the state, current US President Donald Trump entered his office at the ripe old age of 70. Age cannot be the only consideration to exclude someone from public office. Others look at the years as well; not exactly his age, but his years of relevance. The Superstar has not shone as brightly in 2017 as he did in 1996. Although his films are still received with an enthusiasm reserved for a festival, they have become few and far between. People are far more critical of the extravagant flourishes of the Superstar, than they were in the 90s. In his years of absence, he has ironically been overexposed by the many younger actors imitating him in tribute and inevitable parody. This may not be a bad thing, because it shows that the people discern between the actor’s on-screen persona and his potential political life. His laconic and enigmatic mode of speaking, which enthralled his fans in an earlier time is not welcome by a people clamoring for clarity and actionable ideas. His gentlemanly image simply feels outmoded in this contemporary period of unrest.

The Actor’s Image as Myth

Should He Enter Politics?

I am firmly of the belief that anyone who holds considerable sway among the public should actively engage in political work contributing to progress. As long as we keep claiming that only career politicians can enter politics, we are skewing the conversation about national growth in the direction of nepotism and protectionism. Public figures from all walks of life should engage in a political life, doing their best to advance the cause of the common folk. However, I also believe that entry into politics is simplified into a false choice of either joining an existing party with its corrupt machinery or launching his own party, haphazardly converting fan-clubs into political offices. Established parties are already making overtures to the actor asking him to join them. Instead, I would like Rajnikanth’s entry to politics to take a third way – for him to effect actual change at the grassroots, he must run for a clearly defined political office for as an independent candidate. By this, I mean, he could contest to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly and set an example of what good leadership could bring to a single constituency. If his ambitions are grander than that, then he could contest as a mayoral candidate for a city and work for its welfare. The problem with the reaction to his entry to politics seems to be located with the notion that if he enters politics, he must be a Chief Ministerial candidate. Only when we recognize the importance of leadership at all levels will we see the exodus of the crony culture. Socially minded public figures are not new in Tamil Nadu, just as anywhere else in the world. The usually reclusive actor Kamal Hassan has recently expressed his thoughts on political and social problems openly. Radio Jockey Balaji became a cult figure due to his public works during the Chennai floods two years ago. Only when public figures of non-political background volunteer in their own spheres of influence, do we have a chance of challenging or at least destabilizing the status quo of dominant parties and encouraging a legitimate democracy. Rajnikanth’s entry to politics would be a success if he can add to that critical force that listens to the people and works for their progress. However, we can only wonder if the larger than life image of the actor would allow him to enter politics at the humble, day-to-day level of community service.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Young Sheldon: The Big Bang Theory spin-off rant

This week CBS released trailers for it’s the upcoming slate of Fall shows (Read my side rant about the outdated Fall schedule here*), including Young Sheldon, a spin-off for one of the network’s biggest hits, The Big Bang Theory. The response to the five-minute preview seems to be generally positive, with most people being pleasantly surprised with the intimate portrayal of what promises to be a difficult childhood. I was very impressed with the promo too. However, I could not help but feel that the spin-off feels inconsistent within TBBT’s universe.

The biggest disconnect seems to be in the intimate portrayals of the characters and their relationships as opposed to the show that we are familiar with. The young Sheldon portrayed in the eponymous promo seems like a character primed to go through a learning curve and change to be a better adapted person. His relationship with his step-father and his sister are framed as very important to the titular character. However, these aspects are completely discordant with the stubborn and utterly selfish person we encounter as the adult Sheldon Cooper in TBBT. The adult Sheldon has not changed much over the nine years and is still as inconsiderate as he was at the beginning. The idea of a prequel spin-off becomes woefully frustrating when considering that either the character is going to evolve (and thus leading to a different point than the beginning of TBBT) or he is not going to evolve (rendering the whole project irrelevant). Let me be clear, I am not writing off a show even before its first full episode is out – I like the promo too. All I am saying is that this discrepancy is a direct result of networks trying to package a good idea (the relationships of a misadjusted boy) as a familiar idea (he is also Sheldon Cooper from TBBT), to keep things safe. It feels as if the new show was written as a spin-off only to cash in on TBBT’s popularity, rather than any organic need to extend it. Again, I am not against prequels – my favorite show on air currently is a prequel – Better Call Saul (and that show deserves an entire series of posts to talk about its conceptual brilliance). From Fraiser to Mork and Mindy, American TV is full of spin-offs, each of varying quality. The problem is not with the idea of a spin-off but with one that is clearly disjointed from its original premise.

I understand the intention of trying to update a series with a new aesthetic sensibility. Despite its success, TBBT’s critical reception has dwindled over the years, and especially amidst a growing number of TV comedies like Louie and Master of None that have challenged the limits of that term. Single-camera comedies like ABC’s Black-ish and Speechless continue to present socially-relevant comedy without the annoying laugter-track. Even more traditional sitcoms like Mom (from TBBT’s creator Chuck Lorre) have gone on to grapple important issues about sobriety and failure, whereas TBBT continues to harp on four mostly unlikeable men-children struggling in their fairly comfortable lives. In light of this, a Young Sheldon spin-off could go a long way in recuperating the image of the much-maligned show. But when a character as static and with a glacial development pace as Sheldon Cooper imprinted on the minds of the viewers, it is going to take a lot for the show to win over its audience.

* Now, my Fall Schedule Rant!

I am tired of the convention of shows taking a break over the summer and returning every fall. Cable shows have long since dispelled with the idea of a seasonal premiere, with shows taking as much time as they need to return with a compelling season. HBO’s ratings juggernaut Game of Thrones is ditching its usual March premiere in favor of July because they need more time to shoot. Shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead have all broken up seasons into two parts to write the shows to their satisfaction rather than being forced to deliver a poorly delivered season on-time. The change in these shows’ scheduling has not affected the fan-base. Online video streaming service Netflix has even taken an even more brazenly contrarian approach with many of its major shows (Orange is the New Black, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, House of Cards and Narcos) returning this year over the summer. And the best thing about this scheduling is that it will not be the same next year. It does not have to be, because the quality of the programs control the audience and not some arbitrarily made up criteria of a TV season. A staggered year-long schedule where a show is on air only as long as it needs to before taking a break to prepare its next season would be better suited to attract today’s audiences.

The schedule also imposes a rigid and unnecessary imposition that a regular season should feature about 22-24 episodes. Cable and streaming shows demonstrate how the duration of the program’s availability is irrelevant when it comes to popularity and critical acclaim. The only important feature that remains common across all successful shows is that the shows tell a story that is sincere to its chosen mode. By forcing creators to stretch their material to a specific length, many shows have resulted in episodes of uneven quality (like the second and third seasons of Fresh Off the Boat) or in being prolonged for seemingly no reason (like the still delightful but meandering Modern Family). But networks don’t want to give up on a good thing – and a successful episode of a hit show will have the exact same ad spots to sell as a poorly reviewed one. As long as the network can lead its viewers with a show with promise of a better episode down the line, they can sell ad spots in bulk. Instead, would not multiple shows of differing lengths presented over a staggered schedule promote a more vibrant TV culture?

What are your thoughts on the Fall Schedule and TV Spin-Offs? Share your comments and views with ScreenEthics.com through facebook or twitter.

SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Baahubali 2: The Indian Epic Melodrama

Yesterday, we watched Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, and except for the uninspired title the film was stunning. Despite what the title says, it is S.S. Rajamouli’s strong arms that carry the film. Watching the film, I was thinking about the epic melodrama genre that the director has down to a pat. Here are some thoughts about the film…

1, Baahubali Opens the Door

Baahubali’s production shows that Indian cinema is ready to relook the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. The stunning visuals and rich detail of the practical effects and the mostly passable CGI blended tastefully into the landscape shows a maturity in technical and aesthetic sensibilities. Especially, I applaud the decision to not attempt to make the CGI life-like. The distinctly dreamlike quality adds to the visual palette without jarringly interrupting the experience of the film. I am sure that the next few multipart epic dramas will be oversaturated with CGI and hi-speed photography and not all of them will sustain the same quality as these two films – we can rest assured that when the right filmmaker decides to do it, the blueprint for an epic melodrama is ready.

2, The Dominant Queen Mother

Was I the only one who thought this part should have been more appropriately titled ‘Sivagami, the Queen Mother (also featuring Baahubali)’? The Queen Mother’s role is a strong and complex one, whose equal we have not seen in a while, and Ramya Krishnan is a strong performer who elevates the role to unforgettable. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Prabhas or Rana Daggubati, who are memorable as icons – but are just as stiff and unchanging throughout the film. The supporting cast channel their energy to build the value of the main characters. Anushka Shetty as Devasena and Satyaraj as Kattappa seem to have landed roles of their lifetime and they are both awe-inspiring and sympathetic in turns.

3, An Epic Production

I could not help but smile when watching the movie and noticing where the director has spent the money. While the first film has an epic battle on a massive scale, he manages to construct beautifully choreographed small skirmishes that manage to capture the former’s glory and hiding the smart cost efficiency. By shooting two of the three epic fights in the dark, the film also glosses over other instances of careful budgeting. And yet, it is clear that these moves are not aimed at cutting the overall production cost – but to spend it on VFX (both practical and CGI) for the fewer elements on the screen. This trade has paid off, as only three moments (an odd gold statue, an awkward human catapult and an ugly bridge) are poorly produced in a film that runs for nearly three hours.

4, The Length

There are many movies that stretch their narratives to make more money – The Hobbit trilogy being the worst offenders – but Baahubali felt like a film which would have benefitted from an extra film with a couple of hours to flesh out the two Baahubalis. The father and son become indistinguishable in their characterization quickly, and as mentioned earlier, Prabhas is not the kind of actor who could salvage the roles with subtle distinction. We end up admiring the father more than the son, and that is clearly the filmmakers’ intentions as well. However, it is a bit sad that the son ends up being an afterthought in the second film, despite the fact that the film is about him finally rises to the mantle of the epic warrior. But again, a third movie could have fatigued the audience and affected the quality of the film’s reception. Not to mention the toll that it could have taken on the cast and crew if they were to shoot another film. Then again, there are some rumors about another film set in the same universe with new characters and that could be an interesting development as well.

5, The Business of Baahubali

Lastly, a note about the film’s significance to the film business in India. Baahubali is a testament to the director’s capacity to produce a technically competent film at a fraction of its international counterparts’ costs, and its record-breaking business shows that the Indian market has not yet reached its peak. The two films are reported to cost a total of 430 crores INR, which is roughly $68 million USD. Their combined revenue is just over 1300 crores INR (about $203 USD); a figure that is still growing fast, as the second film has been at the cinema for just a week. Additionally, the TV rights of the two films have also reached unprecedented heights in the Indian market. Perhaps the most impressive point about the film’s business is that its opening weekend took home over a $10 million haul at the US box office, despite being shown in only 425 screens. Albeit, some of this staggering per screen averages are due to the inflated premium ticket pricing of the film aimed at cashing in on the phenomenon (I paid a little over twice the normal fare in Singapore). The hype machine was balanced with the actual attention to quality in the film, showing that the recent trend of big openings weekend culture cannot dampen a movie that genuinely earns its must-see tag. The two Baahubali movies stand as the only non-Bollywood movies on the list of all-time highest grossing Indian films. However, Baahubali 2 (Currently standing third) should easily end its theatrical run at the top of the list. The massive success of the film is a step towards dispelling the myth of treating Bollywood cinema as an Indian national cinema. The second biggest movie industry in India has delivered a film that has caught the nation’s imagination, and we can only hope that more are to follow.

SPOILERS

BONUS: Now, it is SPOILER TIME: If you have not seen either of the movies, then definitely don’t read this last section. However, if you have seen the first and not yet the second, you will be surprised at how non-spoilery the epic reveal turned out to be. The biggest question at the end of the first film was the classic cliff-hanger, Why Kattappa Killed Baahubali (#WKKB)? However, what the filmmaker did not anticipate was the adoption of this phrase by the meme-culture on social media. This question became such a big deal, that people were overlooking the obvious clues in the first film that clearly explains why Kattappa, a man whose family has sworn to abide by the King’s word over many generations, killed Baahubali, a man who is definitely not the King’s favorite person. The second movie could have gone in many poor directions where the question takes over the narrative. We have seen many films where the audience’s expectations, and the producers attempts to subvert or satiate that expectation dominates the sequel – often rendering the film as an underwhelming outcome. Baahubali 2 brilliantly used the hastag only to the point of promoting the film. When you watch the film, there are no surprises as to the WKKB question. Instead, the film masterfully changes the question through its narrative. It strengthens the Kattappa-Baahubali relationship in many light-hearted moments, heightening the tragic significance of the final betrayal. Through the camaraderie built through characterization, the film switches the question from ‘Why’ to ‘What does it mean’ – we have always known why he killed Baahubali, but the film explains the stakes of that betrayal. That is a brilliant narrative strategy that does away with the marketing strategy and tells us a more honest story.

Overall, this is not the best Indian film or the most important. If you have never seen an Indian movie in your life, then there are far more subtle and brilliant films that you could watch. However, if you are a fan of the broadstrokes Indian epic melodrama, this movie is unparalleled. It fully embraces the technical affordances of the 21st century and shakes off the underwritten and overproduced history of the 1990s and heads towards a new kind of Indian entertainer.

Which are your favorite Indian melodramas? Share your comments and views with ScreenEthics.com through facebook or twitter.

SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Jallikattu – Looking Back at a Protest

Nearly three months ago, Tamil Nadu saw a huge wave of protests against a controversial ban of a traditional sport – Jallikattu. At its peak, the protest wave transcended its local purposes and became a social, political and cultural movement that provoked institutional reversal, albeit momentarily. However, underlying the overwhelming mass-appeal of the protests, there are some problematic strains that undercut the protest narrative that need to be addressed. The importance of refining protest language and rhetoric amidst a political struggle is very high, because it is not only representative but also formative in shaping popular dispositions and argumentative structure.

Jallikattu

To offer a little background, Jallikattu or Aer Thazhuvuthal (literally Bull Hugging) is a kind of bull-fighting where an agitated bull is released amidst a sea of participants who try to subdue it. There are clear rules about how many people are supposed to engage with the bull at any given time, as well as which part of the bull can be held during the event. However, the actual numbers of bull to man ratio is not clear on any of the sources. This sport has been a point of contention, as many see a move to forbid such events as a challenge to or dilution of their culture. And many who are outside the culture do not see the point of something that is visibly cruel towards an animal.

The debate over Jallikattu has raged sporadically for a few years around this season but an uneasy compromise often was offered instead of a clear solution. This year, the issue reached a head when the Supreme court ordered to ban the event. Compounded with a general anger against unilateral government policies that lost touch with ground reality, the issue of Jallikattu became a flashpoint of public action. Supporters of the sport took to social media and the streets to protest peacefully in remarkable numbers. The critical mass of the movement was so monumental that it changed the popular discourse about the event, and it gained national and even international attention, leading to a change in the laws themselves. In a nation where the idea of political change is often dealt with skepticism, if not cynicism, the results were beyond the most optimistic expectations. Jallikattu events happened around the state and it was seen as a victory for the untapped political power of youth movement and social media networking.

Protesters at Marina Beach, Chennai

However, the language in which much of the protest was carried out was anticlimactic and weak, because it called for hostility towards one organization (PETA) and ignored the core issue at hand. Ignored were the other Indian Animal Welfare organizations that also had called for a ban on the sport. Instead of engaging with the politics and more importantly, the ethics of the criticism – the resistance focused on the origin of the opponent. By attacking PETA’s American origin, the protests slipped away from the legitimacy of their position, creating greater ambiguity of message. Ironically, PETA was not called out for its many inconsistencies or hypocritical reaction to animal welfare. Instead, it was challenged simply because it was not an ‘Indian’ organization. Other Indian organizations were dismissed equally nonchalantly, because they were not ‘Tamil’. And what happens to those who happen to be Tamil, and against the sport? They are traitors and outcasts who are no longer connected to the roots of the culture.

I am also aware that my own opposing views would be seen as at best, contrarian or at worst – treacherous. It does not help that I am writing this piece in English – I am already a sellout. I can already hear the accusation that, “Of course he lives abroad, disconnected from the realpolitik of day-to-day Tamil Nadu and the aspirations of the Tamil people. What else can you expect?” And I ask the same question – what else can you expect, when the quality of your resistance lacks moral direction? The rhetoric was constructed on a fervent Tamil nationalism and a rhetoric of anger that discredited any view that was opposed to theirs. This is a dangerous and totalitarian discourse that resists dialogue in favor of a populist will. Sensitive issues are inherently polarizing and a misguided rhetoric that prevents communication does not improve the situation – it simply turns into a political tug-o-war.

And perhaps the most disheartening part of this fervent discourse was the ad hominem attacks which took the easy routes of sexism and xenophobia. The overwhelming misogyny directed towards actress Trisha when she expressed an opinion contrary to the public groundswell was downright shameful. She was addressed with the most unimaginative epithets and was called out for drinking and hanging out with people from outside the state. The shutting down of a film production which featured her was celebrated as an achievement. Similar moral outrage over drinking and threats of physical violence were directed at the head of PETA’s Indian administration. Of course, she was a woman as well. None of the social media bravos expressed their displeasure with the usage of such language, regardless of their own drinking or smoking habits. The populist imagination was so opposed to contradiction that it fiercely challenges any form of dissent. Beyond a question of doubt, such language was mainly directed towards women, chastising them for the impunity of trying to curb something that is masculine. This attitude of cultivated ignorance and rage against the other that has insinuated itself into the culture of protest so deeply, that it achieved little more than simply changing a decision about an event – while utterly wasting its potential that once seemed to become a point of legitimate dialogue between opposing ideals.

Equally worrisome was the demand for banning things. There is a petulance that could easily take a fascist turn if not checked with a desire to engage with opposition in a responsible and co-operative manner. To call for a ban on something is to reject a conversation in favor of fascist political control. Why not test the validity of the idea in the open market? Why not boycott PETA or any organization whose principles you are against? Why not simply stop using the products of the multi-billion dollar companies who are seen as an anti-national enemy? Nothing cuts a business more than the absence of growth and profit. A ban does not express the will of the people – it only reveals the insecurity of those who want to remove anything that is challenges their power and authority. The call for a ban is a reactionary and rage-fueled response that unironically affirms the same authority which had banned Jallikattu unilaterally in the first place.

There were many voices that presented a well-argued position that stemmed from pragmatism (protection of native species) and rationalism (a call to closely regulate the events instead of banning it) – which were very clearly visible throughout the protests. However, they were never invested with the responsibility to be the most important part of the protests. Instead, show of strength and populist slogans took over the narrative. There are agriculturalists and historians who watch helplessly as their nuanced arguments have been steamrolled over by simplistic jingoism.

Ultimately, the sport was conducted, but the results were anti-climactic in their mundanity. Despite the many advocacy groups which flagrantly declared their guarantee of better treatment of the animals – the sport was conducted in the same way as it always had been – with abuse, death and irregularities. Nobody was interested in talking about reform of the problem after the fact. That would be a conversation for next year, three days before the event. Questioning the brutality of the sport which left two dead this year also quickly became taboo – you cannot choose the extent to which you support the event. There can be no discussion on the evolution of the sport to offer greater protection for the participants and the bulls. You are either with the protest or against Tamil Culture. We need a better quality of protestors, those who engage with the problem and not the people. Those who believe that ideas can be debated without disrespect. Those who know that just because something was a certain way in the past, it does not mean that it ought to continue in the same way.

That is why, despite my own personal support of Jallikattu – I am not comfortable with the “I Support Jallikattu” movement. It is important to remember that a movement which loses its moral direction becomes irrelevant, regardless of its cause. When the dust settles, the issue of Jallikattu has not yet been resolved, it has been summarily and perpetually postponed by the overwhelming will of the majority. A truly ethical decision would focus on developing a much more nuanced way of conducting the sport which includes incorporation of safety elements for both the animals as well as the participants. The current reactionary move to reinstate the sport does little than revert to an older form of status quo. Instead of addressing any of the questions (such as these raised in an opinion piece featured in The Hindu) that should haunt the self-proclaimed lovers of animals and those who call upon the greater good of preserving native species of cattle, all we got was a day with a few agitated bulls rushed through roaring crowds.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Get Out and Cinema of The Unexpected

The most horrifying thing about Get Out is how real it all feels. The events depicted are not just possible and imminent, but have already occurred just outside the field of vision. A piece of forgotten history that is 400 years-old looming large, laughing at our presumptions about a world that will not willingly let go of its violence. Jordan Peele’s outstanding commercial and critical success bodes well for the director’s future, as he has become one of the most sought after names in Hollywood. The strength of the film is unique because it is not an outright rejection of Hollywood tropes or another attempt at reinventing the Horror genre – but in its ability to shift the lens through which we are generally used to viewing such films.

Get Out’s use of traditional horror elements tells a story about contemporary social encounters which could be cringe-worthy and horrifying in their own right. The film elevates the alienation and tension in inter-racial encounters as a trope that is strange enough to become a horror movie setting. The first half of the film could be recut as an awkward fish-out-of-water comedy, like an updated version of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Instead of smoothing over differences as quirks and ‘misspeaks’ of a different generation, Get Out satirizes and highlights the deep-seated ways in which we think about racial difference. Daniel Kaluuya has a star-making turn as Chris Washington, one of the most likeable protagonists we have seen in a horror movie in a long time. This British actor balances subtlety with strength, as he delivers on the heroic pay-off with the same ease as he delivers an emotionally tender and vulnerable moment.

That is not to say that the film is without humor, because it is persistently funny, even at moments where laughing out should feel like wrong. Its bleak sense of humor makes any commentator think twice before categorizing it as ‘black’ or ‘dark’ comedy, because such a comment invites another layer of self-examination. The most outrageously funny moments of the film come from Lil Rel Howery’s turn as the most competent TSA agent in the States. In a genre that is not usually known for its self-reflexivity, Howery’s character pre-empts every turn of the film in his own humorous way while resisting traditional pitfalls of stupidity reserved for comedic side-kicks.

[SPOILER] Get Out’s greatest achievement, however, is the reversal of every ugly stereotype about inter-racial relationships (and the larger context of racial relationships). It challenges the fantasy of the black assailant on a white sub-urban paradise by inverting the home-invasion horror genre by making the protagonist fight his way out of the situation. Cruder predatory norms are switched around when the terrifying Rose Armitage (played to perfection by a dangerous debutante, Allison Williams) sits in front of a shrine of other black men she has led to their doom, while searching for ‘Top NCAA prospects’. Yet, the film humorously subverts our expectations about the hateful characters when Rose calls out to her ‘grandpa’. [SPOILER]

There are so many more brilliant moments in the film that discussing all of them would be a disservice to those who have not yet seen the film. In short, I would like to commend on Get Out delivering one of the rare ‘Cinema of the Unexpected’ moments that have become almost impossible to achieve in an era of market-testing and clear branding. I experienced Get Out in a completely different and richer way because it satisfied the norms of both the promised horror genre as well as delivered a rich social commentary. I was wondering when was the last time I was pleasantly surprised by a movie that was advertised as one genre but secretly had another style hidden in it. Just like the film, let me swap genres and turn this review into a list. Here are some movies that came to mind that surprised me with their subtle and enriching act of successful genre-swapping.

Ex Machina (2015) promises a riveting sci-fi tale, but emerges as a film about consciousness and identity. The philosophical turn in the film adds to the bizarre, other-worldly tone of the film, extending the mystique that few sci-fi films are able to offer.

Audition (1999) is perhaps the most horrifying film I have ever seen. The laconic style and the lingering malevolence of the film is thoroughly chilling and it makes you rethink all the certainty you have about the people you have met in your life. There are no surprises in this film, even though there are plenty of opportunities for it, the film targets a different level of viewing. It gives just an ever-growing sense of dread that will make you look over your shoulder and send a tingle down your spine. Interestingly, like Get Out, this film too features a human antagonist scarier than any supernatural threat. Their actions maybe monstrous and yet it is their human position that is worrying.

Contagion (2011) is another horror film that jumped out of a medical drama and showed how the most mundane things are potentially more dangerous than we can ever comprehend. This film also features humans as the antagonist, but not as intentionally evil but an inevitably dangerous. The palpable fear is in the fact that this movie is both the history as well as the future. Unlike earlier movies like Outbreak where cases were easily contained to a single location by an all-powerful governmental machine, Contagion demonstrates the unpreparedness that eliminates any possible resistance against the virus with one sweeping blow.

Which are the movies that surprised you with their genre-bending? Share your comments and views with ScreenEthics.com through facebook or twitter.

SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Looking back at 2016, a splendid family entertainer that did not quite hit the mainstream radar was a little gem from New Zealand, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople. This little gem from Taika Waititi is a sensitive, colorful and personal story about relationships and it presents the magnificent vistas of New Zealand that we first encountered awe-struck in The Lord of the Rings. It is just as magical, even without all the magic. The lively bush is threatening and enticing at the same time. Sam Neill is in top child-hating form as he gruffly lumbers on screen with a kid he would rather not be with (not like real child-hating but his Jurassic Park style ‘I would rather do this adventure without children’ style child-hating). And talking about children, very few movies manage to draw out a good performance from a kid – and this movie does a fantastic job with (then 12-13 year old) Julian Dennison – an unapologetic city-slicking rogue that you cannot help but adore by the end of the film. Dennison’s impeccable acting chops aside, it is refreshing to see a movie with a protagonist who does not look like a ‘movie-star’ – a trap that Hollywood often falls into. The main bush-survival plot is simple and effective. It lives up to its promise of offering grand vistas as well as thrilling moments of adventure. But the thing that the film does best, arguably better than many of other films is to [SPOILER] kill off a beloved main character within the first ten minutes of the film. [/SPOILER]

To state the obvious, killing off a fan-favorite or major character is something that many TV shows and films have done over the years. It is used as a necessary plot point to further the story. However, the sudden demise of such characters at the beginning of the film or TV show are rarer, simply because to build a convincingly significant pay-off at such a short time is one of the rarest things in cinema. While some films have taken on this challenge to deliver a tragic blow tragic (such as in the Pixar animated classic Up) or to bait and switch for comedic effect (as seen in the obscure film version of Reno 911, where The Rock makes a fantastic 2-minute cameo). At times, such early departures are used to simply jolt the audience out of their complacency – as famously handled by Game of Thrones. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of best uses of this difficult to master trope – as it uses to the exit of a favorite character to highlight the character’s lingering presence throughout the film. The kind foster-mother’s unexpected demise sets the remaining main characters on a course of recognizing the seemingly unbridgeable gap between their two lives. While the film uses some familiar tropes of the Odd Couple, the main narrative of the film is not one of against the odds reconciliation; instead, it is a recuperative narrative where two characters come to terms with their shared loss by recognizing that their loss is the only thing that connects them. With unconditional generousity and non-judgmental love, Rima Te Wiata’s performance as Aunt Bella is true to the name, it is simply beautiful.

The supporting characters who try to “rescue” the boy they assume to have been kidnapped are consistently hilarious without being reduced to caricatures. At the end of the film, unlike others where authority figures look for children, you get a feeling that these characters genuinely are looking out for the best interests of the kid. The child services officer Paula (Rachel House) is a formidable presence who steals every scene she is in. The film portrays authority with a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the influences from popular culture. Paula in her domineering best, reads out the Miranda rights at a certain point in the film, only to be reminded that they don’t do that in New Zealand.

The film’s director Taika Waititi made his feature length debut with another amazing small film Eagle vs. Shark and is currently making a not-so-small film for Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok. While many see this as a great opportunity for the filmmaker to move to a bigger budget and a wider canvas, I also see it as an important step in the evolution of Marvel movies, as this could be their chance to bring his small film charm and intimate character aesthetic to their inter-planetary monster. Of course, that might be a lot to ask in a movie where the Hulk is set to have gladiator battles, but one can always wish for a better product.

To sum up, if you are Instead of a trailer (which you can see here), I am convinced that this clip conveys the spirit of the movie:

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Upstart Crow – Literary Fan Dream TV

If you are a literature student who wonders if there are any TV programs about literary figures and history, then Upstart Crow is the answer to that question. Upstart Crow was created by Ben Elton as a part of the 400th anniversary Shakespeare celebrations, featuring David Mitchell as the titular upstart crow. It is perhaps the most inventive and irreverent approach to a historical figure whose daily circumstances are still largely undocumented and obscure, if not shrouded in mystery. By evoking comedic tropes that feature in Shakespeare’s own narratives and building real-life parallels that echo the future significance of his works, Upstart Crow brilliantly constructs a world that is as clever as it is funny.

The writing makes you tear up with pride, because it is just that good. Every line feels clever without being annoying or grating – unless it is on purpose. You get a range of characters and motivations, from the chaotic good to stoic and solid. Where the show shines is in its treatment of 16th century social issues with a tongue firmly in the cheek, and somehow making it relevant to our own time and concerns. With a compelling cast of characters whose concerns mirror our own contemporary lives, Upstart Crow pulls off a comedy about daily life featuring a playwright whose works have become iconic if not archetypal in our view.

While each actor is worthy of mention, Gemma Whelan (who plays Asha Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) plays a magnificent supporting role as Shakespeare’s landlord’s daughter Kate, who aspires to be an actress on the Elizabethan stage. Her is repeatedly thwarted by scoffing men who tell her that to be an actor, you need to be a boy, with coconuts. However, she responds to these rejections with a determined optimism, working on her next attempt at breaking the barriers. These figures may be imaginary, however they open the possibility of thinking about Shakespeare as an artist situated in the community and taking inspiration from his immediate circumstances.

Other characters like Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe, help highlight the problem of class that still persists in many performance arts circles. By playing up Shakespeare’s need to ingratiate himself to his vapid and popular friend Marlowe, the show takes shots at the clout some artists enjoy simply by association and legacy. Yet, Marlowe’s turn is is played without malice and Shakespeare’s attempts to impress him come across as endearing. Most importantly, this show reverses some of the popular authorship theories and presents Shakespeare as having authored Marlowe’s plays for him. Fighting back against persistent shadows of doubt from conspiracy theorists disguised as literary historians, this show openly laughs at the snobbishness that questions the ability of someone from the common class to have written such delightful works.

The title of the show is an allusion to the comment made by Shakespeare’s critic and his contemporary playwright, Robert Greene, who warned his fellow university wits about the upstart crow who “beautified with our feathers… supposes he he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you.” While using the quote for the title would have been funny enough, Robert Green (played by Mark Heap) is featured as a riotous foil to Shakespeare, who makes fantastic plans and announces them to the audience in hilarious soliloquys. Playing him out as a literal mustache twirling villain creates a wonderful dynamic that adds a Shakespearean depth to the lives of the other characters that simply carry on with their lives.

Now, the obvious comparison that this show evokes is to the now legendary Black Adder, which managed to present outstanding episodes in its historic run. Only time will tell if this Upstart Crow will ever reach the same acclaim as the that show, but it is definitely headed in the right direction. Among the many TV encounters that have been shared on this site, if there is one show that exemplifies the phrase ‘must see TV’, then it is this show. Smart writing, brilliant acting and a rich world to draw interesting elements from – this show has them all. BBC has produced some of the best comedies in English through the years, and this show is a fine addition to that list. If you have the slightest doubt about the show, watch this preview of the first episode. And Wankington!

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

TN Politics and a Better Quality of Dissent

Despite the lingering tension about the Speaker’s conduct during the government’s floor test, it seems like we have reached the end of the struggle between former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, O. Paneerselvam, and the AIADMK party establishment that has rallied around V. N. Sasikala. Perhaps many are disappointed that a remarkable political drama ended without much of a sizzle, as the party establishment secured its majority and the control of the state assembly. As entertaining as this drama was, it also brought to surface some usual ugliness in TN politics that has become so tiring and dated, that we need to rethink its acceptability. There are many real problems and instances of misconduct that could have been used to attack the opposition, but the argument quickly reached name-calling and personal attacks. While I am no fan of either faction, it was disheartening to see that quality of rage against the machine was without decency. Of course, this was not an isolated event in TN’s political history.

Former CM O. Panneerselvam and AIADMK General Secretary V. N. Sasikala

To set the stage, let me briefly introduce to the players in this modern day Game of Thrones – the AIADMK is one of the two Dravidian parties that have alternately ruled TN since 1990s, resisting nationalist political parties and supporting their charismatic leaders. In 2016, after winning a historical second consecutive term, J. Jayalalitha was hospitalized before she passed away. At the wake of her passing, Sasikala, the CM’s close aide, with her extended family, took over as the party’s general secretary and seemed to bide her time before making a claim for the Chief Ministership. A surprising voice of dissent arose from the party when incumbent and 3-time CM, O. Paneerselvam spoke against Sasikala’s aspirations, alleging that he was insulted repeatedly to secure power for Sasikala and her family members. He staked his own claim to retaining his position by explaining that he was coerced into resigning from the post.

That moment became a flashpoint in TN politics, as he received wide-spread popular support, most noticeably on social-media. The overwhelming support that OPS received is not so much a testament to his ability as a leader, but a reflection of the public’s aversion towards Sasikala and her family’s control over the party. Sasikala’s influence was seen as an unsavory influence on the charismatic Jayalalitha, whom the masses adored. Some would go as far as to say that the disproportionate assets case that would later tarnish Jayalalitha’s legacy took shape due to the excesses of Sasikala and her family members. OPS was seen as an alternative to the nepotistic rise of Sasikala, who had not previously held any official positions in the party. There were also many reasons to favor OPS against Sasikala, chief among them being his hitherto untarnished image as a CM, compared to the Mafiosi image cultivated by Sasikala’s family.

Given how clearly the lines of resistance could be drawn, the web-culture did not hesitate to destroy any decorum. The tone in which she has been criticized has been apolitical – and very personal. Most attack ads challenge her legitimacy by simply accusing Sasikala of being a ‘maid’ to the former Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha. Her self-appointed moniker of “Chinnamma” (meaning the second-mother, or the mother’s sister) to claim Jayalalitha’s legacy as the “Amma” (mother) was mocked to no end. The language does not engage with the legitimacy of her aspirations or the many accusations of corruption that she has faced. Instead, there is critique of her appearance and her name.

We need a better quality of resistance that discusses the issues and the problem of nepotism and cult of personality – we should be challenging her politically naïve and openly coercive actions against her own party members – instead, the troves of social media news generators are content sharing misogynistic rubbish in the name of protest and popular opinion. If that is the quality of popular dissent we are capable of, then we should be ashamed of our own gross immaturity.

It also felt like OPS was getting a much gentler sentence for his sudden rebellion, which was preceded by a very long period of subservience to the AIADMK party leadership, including Sasikala. Instead of holding OPS to close scrutiny and examining his candidacy on his merit and works, we are happy to give him a pass for simply being an alternative. Those who mocked him for being deferential to Jayalalitha at every turn, now praised his ability to usher in her style of governance. The same people who attacked the present caretaker CM for being ineffective during the Jallikattu protests project him as a heroic figure who stood for the cause of the people.

While it is easy to imagine that OPS’s political aspirations came to an end today, we must also note that ever since the verdict of the disproportionate assets case was declared by the Supreme court, the OPS movement cooled down quite a bit. When it became clear that Sasikala was going to jail for four years and could not contest in elections for another six, effectively ending her CM aspirations, it ironically slowed down the enthusiasm for OPS as well. No longer were the people fighting the image of a wicked woman. The one who has replaced her, Edappadi Palanisamy – another Jayalalitha loyalist, is interchangeable with OPS, unremarkable in the same way.

Which brings us to a question – was the anger towards Sasikala mainly because she was a woman(like she claims)? Or is it more insidious, that misogyny is so deeply entrenched in Tamil language and culture, that when we want to critique a woman, the attack veers in that direction?

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.