Japan loves all things Tamil — actor Madhavan and Jallikattu 5-23 too
Time to hum 'India, love in Chennai'.
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Japan loves India, well certainly Indian cinema — particularly Tamil films. When I first visited Tokyo two decades ago on a fellowship from The Japan Foundation to study modern Japanese cinema and its links with contemporary Indian movies, I found that the people there were crazy about Rajinikanth and his antic-driven films. They called him Prince and idolised him in ways that reminded me of Raj Kapoor and the craze he once evoked among Russians. But what amazed me was that in a world where Bollywood and Hindi cinema ruled – and where films in the other Indian languages are ignored or politely tolerated at best – Tamil cinema held a fascination for Japanese audiences.
So, it did not come as a surprise to me that last year, Tokyo International Film Festival picked the Tamil version of the Madhavan-starrer, Irudhi Suttru and not its Hindi edition Saala Khadoos. I am certain that most other movie festivals would have preferred the Hindi one. And Irudhi Suttru proved to be a hit.
Helmed by Sudha Kongara, Irudhi Suttru has Madhavan (who is also cast in a leading role in Saala Khadoos) essaying a fallen boxer — who, after years of remaining in the shadows, when even his wife walks out on him, is finally asked to coach a women’s boxing team in Chennai.
In Chennai, he meets Madhi (Ritika Singh), a fiery fisherwoman who shows the guts to change the poor impression associated with women’s boxing in India. This year, the Tokyo Festival had yet another Tamil film, Vikram Vedha, another Madhavan starrer. One journalist wondered whether the Tamil actor was all set to become another Rajinikanth, at least in Japan.
This made me pause and ponder. Is Madhavan – who grew up in Jamshedpur and can speak fluent Hindi — without the southern Indian accent — and who has worked in some of Mani Ratnam's movies like Kannathil Muthamittal and Alaipayuthey, as well as in Tanu Weds Manu, Rang De Basanti and Three Idiots - the new Prince of Japan?
Vikram Vedha, which opened in Chennai and elsewhere in India few months ago, was one of those rare Tamil films that made sense to me. Starring another excellent Tamil actor, Vijay Sethupathi, Pushkar-Gayathri’s Vikram Vedha is the story of a cat-and-mouse game played by a ruthless encounter cop (Madhavan) and a hardened-by-circumstance don (Sethupathi). It may not be an oven fresh plot, but the ability of the husband and wife team, directing the movie, to adapt the age-old, but timeless folklore of King Vikramadityan and Vedhalam (Betal) to the crime and criminality of modern times is what made Vikram Vedha sparkle (read review here). Not just in India, but in Tokyo as well.
And now comes yet another piece of news. In a first-ever kind of deal, the makers of the Tamil film, Jallikattu 5-23 – based on the mass movement at Chennai's Marina Beach in support of Jallikattu, a sport associated with Tamil culture and male valour — have signed an agreement with the acclaimed Japanese auteur, Akira Kurosawa's daughter, Kazuko Kurosawa. Her Kurosawa Studios will help release Jallikattu 5-23 in Japan, and the movie's producer, Nirupama Santosh, told the media the other day that she was keen that Tamil cinema finds an audience across continents.
She added that several Japanese had gathered in many parts of their country as a mark of solidarity with the Jallikattu agitators on the Marina!
Kazuko, who has acted in some of her father's films, like Rhapsody in August and Ran, was enamoured by the fact that Jallikattu 5-23 had been shot in real time, during the Marina protest. She also felt that the movie would be a hit in Japan because her father strongly believed that the ordinary citizen could bring about change in society.
And yes, it was the citizen on the street in Japan who was responsible for helping the country literally rise from the ashes after it had been bombed and flattened. It was the people's movement that saw Jallikattu taking off once again after the ban it faced for some time.
(But, I do not support the sport. I think cruelty is unleashed on the bull.)
Yes, Tamils and Tamil filmmakers will be happy that while Bollywood rules with its money and muscle power in India, Tamil cinema has found a place in a faraway land called Japan.
So, time to hum “India, love in Chennai”.