Celebrated Kollywood actor and comedian Vivek passed away in the wee hours of Saturday aged 59. He was admitted to a private hospital in Chennai on Friday due to a sudden cardiac arrest and succumbed to it on Saturday. Tamil actors, politicians and the general public flooded to Vivek’s residence in the neighbourhood of Virugambakkam to pay their last respects where he lay in state. An accomplished actor, Vivek was also widely admired for his social work. Particularly noted was his mission to plant 10 million tree saplings across Tamil Nadu at the behest of former President of India A.P.J...
“I studied Tamil ma’am.” This seemingly innocuous statement poleaxed my new history teacher. I had just completed Class 10 (the Indian equivalent of GCSE) and recently joined the Kendriya Vidyalaya, a system of schools run by the central Ministry of Education, for the final two years of my schooling. My history tutor was shocked because the school did not offer the language I said I studied until the previous year. And it was compulsory to do a language in addition to English in order to be eligible to sit the final exams (A Levels). One might presume that I’d have moved out of Tamil Nadu for high school. I kid you not, I still lived in the heart of Chennai, the capital of the only Tamil-speaking state in the Indian union!
The recent controversy over actor Vijay Sethupathi’s announcement that he would be playing Muttiah Muralitharan in the Sri Lankan cricketer’s biopic escalated rapidly. No sooner did Sethupathi tweet that he was ‘honoured’ to be part of the film than a barrage of opposition began to pour in, with the actor seemingly forced into withdrawing from the project just days later. Though Muralitharan is a person who used to elicit the wrath of Eelam Tamils on account of his long-standing support for Sinhala-Budddhist extremists, the incident became a cause célèbre not just in these quarters, but also across Tamil Nadu. The episode throws the limelight upon the growing sway of Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu and the deep solidarity with the Eelam struggle, particularly amongst the youth of the state. Tamil nationalism, across the global Tamil community, has considerable strength. Whilst this bodes well for the ideology in the political sphere, the episode also gave rise to certain questions from the counter-opposition. It is asked, what is wrong with making an apolitical film that charts the growth of Muralitharan’s cricketing career? The problem lies centrally with Muralitharan himself. Over the years, he has gone on to give ringing endorsements to those that led the massacre of the very people to whom the film is intended to be peddled. It should have sounded crass to the makers. It would have been impossible the portray the man without his politics.
For a people whose brethren fought an armed war of liberation against a nation-state for 25 years, the sense of nationalism among the Tamils in India have been remarkably flaccid. The political culture of the state of Tamil Nadu has always been one where nationalism was never far below the surface, but was undermined sedulously by political parties that pretended to accentuate it. A recent incident in the state shines light on how this charade has given way to the rise of malign forces that are hell-bent on eroding the ‘Tamilness’ of the Tamils.