Decades ago, films in K-town were considered as means to spread political propoganda. But as time progressed, they started being classified into two major categories — art and commercial cinema. On the other hand, some movies which spoke about social issues, were labeled as ‘message films’ and makers struggled to find the right balance between being too preachy and keeping it engaging. But over the course of the last few years, we have seen big-budget commercial films, featuring bankable heroes, address several such issues again — inspired from real-life phenomenons. Full cycle for the industry of sorts?
Kabali: It was expected that Pa. Ranjith’s movie would speak about Dalit issues. Though the critics considered that the film spoke about it mainly in sub-plots, prominent Dalit scholar Stalin Rajangam suggested that the film might be a response to the 2012 Dharmapuri caste riots.
Kodi: The Dhanush-Trisha starrer, which was released recently, is a political thriller and has been doing well at the box office. A crucial part of the movie deals with toxic mercury discharge from a factory, which is apparently inspired from the mercury contamination problem in Kodaikanal.
Kakki Sattai: The film, which saw Sivakarthikeyan donning the role of a cop for the first time, was directed by Durai Senthilkumar. An action-entertainer, the film deals about illegal organ trading, apparently inspired from real-life incidents.
Kaththi: This marked the teaming of Vijay and Murugadoss for the second time after Thuppakki, spoke about the plight of farmers and their suicides. In one scene, Vijay is seen addressing the press about the depletion of ground-water by a beverage corporation. Ring a bell?
Madras: Another Ranjith-directed movie that spoke vocally about various Dalit issues. The Karthi-Catherine Tresa starrer was much-appreciated for its bold depiction about Dalit politics, especially in Chennai.
Do such flicks help spread awareness on the issues — or does the commerical nature and ‘star power’ behind the outing nullify the logic behind exposing the topic in the first place?
“A film, first of all, needs to be entertaining. At the end of the day, a movie is a business and we have to cater to the needs of the producer and the audience. And, during festival holidays, people don’t really come to theatres to watch a docu-fiction,” explains Durai Senthilkumar, the director of Kodi and Kaaki Sattai.”
But, I make sure that I use my space to speak about a real life issues — I wouldn’t call it a message, but as an open discussion.” He adds, “If you take Kodi for example, it is true that we have spoken about the Kodaikanal issue, but we don’t take a stand — it is left open. And, socially responsible films with bigger star casts obviously get better reach,” adds Durai Senthilkumar.
Producer S.R Prabhu, who shares a similar point of view, says, “Calling something a ‘message’ film is a wrong concept. Any movie should be engaging, but needs to have a social responsibility as well. Earlier, theatres used to even screen a five-minute documentary before the movie! But, it is good that more commercial movies are speaking about social issues, isn’t it? It is far better compared to glorifying violence and such stuff. The film Joker, which we produced, had to be celebrated and should have fetched a lot of awards. But, it didn’t. It is all about balancing entertainment and message.”
On the other hand, actor Guru Somasundaram feels, “In a society which faces several challenges in day-to-day life, it is good to have light-hearted movies which people can rejoice and enjoy. But at the same time, movies which make people introspect and infer from, are necessary. When I watched Joker in the theater, I could feel that it had an effect on people — the movie is not necessarily a sob story, but it let people think.” He adds, “If movies speak about certain issues, then it should be honest. If they are pseudo-intellectual, they would only create pseudo motivation, rather than passive aggression.”