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AMMAN, VITTALACHARYA AND UNEMPLOYMENT: TAMIL CINEMA’S RELICS!
By Arun Gopinath
As a rocket flies higher into the sky, it sheds weight in order to ease its ascent. Yes, in order to go higher, some things have to be let off or left behind. Tamil cinema has looked to go higher and grow bigger in the last two decades or so. And, as a result there are certain facets that have been left behind; some consciously and some because of the changes in our social structures, lifestyle and economy. So, what is it that Tamil cinema had forsaken as it goes higher in the realms of world cinema?
  Amman
One thing that is missed (though not with any feeling of loss or regret) is the ‘Amman’ film. One thing that is missed (though not with any feeling of loss or regret) is the ‘Amman’ film. There was a time in Tamil cinema when 2-3 Amman based films used to be a staple. Almost every leading actress of the 80s and 90s has donned a menacing Amman get up at least once in their careers; Roja, Meena, Ramya Krishnan etc.. have all done it, with as much fervor as any other role in their careers, some even multiple times. And, that was also a time when there were directors who specialized in such films, glorifying the omnipresence and omnipotence of the almighty, films that looked to touch the spiritual/religious chord in the viewers’ minds. But, as Tamil cinema has progressed, it has gradually shed the weight of such films behind it. This is not to say that these films were below par products of incompetent individuals; such films were in fact ones that were guaranteed revenue generators at one time; drawing ladies into theaters. But, think of such a film releasing these days! People would actually mistake it for a spoof rather than be awed by the spiritual presence in the movie. Would a leading actress of our times, like a Trisha or Tamannah accept the role of a ‘Vembulli Amman’? No, and that is not because they are atheists; it is because Tamil cinema has outgrown the genre and gone on to bigger things.

Similarly, we no longer get the Vittalacharya brand of horror; ghosts clad in all white, skeletons painted on their faces and smoke surrounding them, making hideous noises! Horror these days is far more sophisticated; based more on camera angles and darkness rather than a brazen articulation of the most cringeworthy on screen forms. Even the slightest slip up is being panned around as amateurism these days. And, to think that the Vittalacharya brand was a huge draw in its days, which is somewhere in the 70s and 80s, tells us that Tamil cinema has been growing at an exponential rate, taking along with the audiences’ tastes to a higher level. There was a brief attempt in the recent past to get back to the cheesier brand of horror; remember Namitha as Jaganmohini. As proof of the fact that what was in sync in the 70s no longer works; the movie sank without a trace. It was like Volkswagen trying to bring back the 60s Beetle back into fashion. Some things belong best in vintage shows and sweet memories; not in present day action.

Finally, there is one central plot that once served many Indian film makers with great distinction but has now been swept under the carpet. That is not because Indian cinema has outgrown this theme, but because India’s overall growth and development has made this plot a bit irrelevant and perhaps redundant. What is the plot?

It is the story of three-four unemployed youth in the big bad world. There was a time in the 70s and 80s where every second film releasing used to have this as its epicenter. All twists, turns, ups and downs in the plot emanated from one cold fact- unemployment. It is not just Tamil cinema, all film industries in India have gone through this phase. All leading actors of those times (some of them still are) have done at least a handful of films that start off by showing them as ‘qualified but struggling to find a job frustrated youth ‘ before moving on to other things. Perhaps Kamal’s Varumayin Niram Sigappu was the zenith of all movies based on unemployment. And, indeed, these movies were made because they reflected the most common social problem of those times, which unfortunately was unemployment. Nowadays unemployment is not that big an issue, at least in cities. In the 70s and 80s a young man struggling to find a job would have found both sympathy and empathy. Nowadays, he would find himself with a loser tag because India (at least the urban part) is a land of opportunity. And, naturally, the central plot of unemployment has been sidestepped. Contemporary cinema explores problems that are contemporary to society; which is why we have Ramgopal Verma (what an opportunist) already talking about a film revolving around Maria Susairaj and the murder story, which is why we have movies on terrorism and even match fixing (Mankatha).

Tamil cinema has outgrown some of the things that were once its staple. It is a good thing because dynamism is one of the best indications of a healthy industry. And, if you want to watch an Amman movie, you can wait for KTV to show one.
Tags : Amman, Meena, Ramya Krishnan, Namitha, Mankatha
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