Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The (Public) Man from Iru (No Less, but No More)

In response to this thread, some random thoughts on Iruvar:

On the last scene: it is particularly fitting that the form of this scene is Tamil Selvam (Prakashraj) "bearing witness" in a sense: this trope combines virtually all of the central concerns of Iruvar, namely friendship, memory, and, not least (ooh I wish I could come up with a less jargony word) performativity.

On that last term: politicians and actors are both quintessentially public figures, indeed to the point where the public persona is in fact the "real" one (for instance, Jawaharlal Nehru's relationship with his wife is of rather trivial importance, as that relationship was largely out of the public eye; but Indira Gandhi's relationship with Sanjay Gandhi is not of trivial importance, since that relationship was (to a large extent) staged in public view). The personal cost of such a public "reality" can of course be significant, as the toll the career of Anand (Mohanlal) takes on his friendship in Iruvar demonstrates.

I use "staged" deliberately; over the course of the film Anand "becomes" Anand-the-superstar, and, in an acting master-class, Anand-the-man appears to lack access to any mode of being except for the performative, the staged. Indeed to say "Anand-the-man" is to miss the point, as there is no man other than the star beyond a point.

The doubling of Aishwariya Rai makes the point nicely: the second Rai (Kalpana) "looks like" the first, but that is where the similarities end: she is a performer, indeed Mohanlal first encounters her at one of her performances. Like the later Anand, the Kalpana (the second Rai) is virtually a creature of the public gaze (that she "twins" the real-life Jayalalitha, in the sense that the audience "knows" that Kalpana is destined to end up in politics, is fitting). The outsider, the misfit after a point, is Tamil Selvam, who, although intellectually far more sophisticated than Anand, misses the point that the latter (and Ratnam) grasp(s): in a post-cinematic world, where the reality of the image (now inevitably conceived in cinematic terms) trumps all others, the vacuity of celebrity-- not emptiness so much as celebrity qua celebrity, celebrity itself-- doesn't enable a political career (as is commonly thought) so much as it uniquely equips one for contemporary politics. That this sort of politics has little room in it for the likes of Tamil Selvam (or at least little room to accomodate his ideological groundedness in a comfortable fashion) is clear in "Iruvar"; since Anand is little if not his public persona, it follows that there is equally little room in his life for what the relationship with Tamil Selvam represented after a point.

So I return to the end, where Tamil Selvam "bears witness": a fitting tribute, inasmuch as it is staged-- not in the film but before the audience of Iruvar, Tamil Selvam even physically looking out "at" us, its artifice apparent in the way it is framed by the landmark site he is in as far as the scene's frame is concerned. The dead Anand, fresh from his public funeral, couldn't have asked for more.