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Lalitha Gopalan and Anuj Vaidya curate new film series at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

"Cruel Cinema: New Directions in Tamil Film"

Posted: January 4, 2011
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Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

To the seasoned eye, the anointed Friday premieres of the latest blockbusters—with film-star fan clubs trucking in audiences to fill the theaters—are a routine phenomenon hardly worth reporting in Tamil Nadu, where cinema and politics have long been enmeshed in the public sphere. But those are not the films critics are writing about; rather it is the small-budget film with unknown actors, sizzling with artisanal energy. There are signs aplenty of a Tamil new wave well underway. As with the new waves before them, here, too, there are new directors on the marquee: Bala, Selvaraghavan, Sultan, Sasikumar, and Vasanthabalan. There is a new gang in town, in Chennai.

This new wave is infused with cinephilia. Visual quotations from Tamil films punctuate the narratives: protagonists watch films on television and wander into movie theaters, fights break out in movie theaters and projection booths. Yet, these films are at a startling remove from the star antics and high-gloss productions characteristic of both mainstream Tamil cinema and the more pervasive Bombay cinema. Entire new mise-en-scènes open up onscreen: butcher shops, pigsties, teashops, alleyways; freaks and misfits are the protagonists of these films. The intimate cruelty of family and the tortured narratives of heightened caste and class antagonisms form their narrative backbone. Clearly, this is not fare for a family outing.

Cruel Cinema offers an unflinching introduction to these films.


Lalitha Gopalan and Anuj Vaidya

Sunday, January 30, 2011
2:00 p.m. Pudhupettai
Selvaraghavan (India, 2006). Selvaraghavan’s box-office smash follows the unlikely rise of Kokki Kumar (Dhanush) from petty criminal to powerful gang lord in the slums of Chennai. “The look of the film is amazing . . . I would compare it to City of God, Amores Perros….Dhanush has the energy of a young Pacino” (Toronto International Film Festival). (168 mins)

Sunday, February 6, 2011
2:00 p.m. Paruthiveeran
Ameer Sultan (India, 2007). An arid landscape of a village on the outskirts of Madurai is the setting for this tortured love story, which has more in common with the escalating violence of Peckinpah’s border westerns than typical pastoral films. (162 mins)

Saturday, February 12, 2011
3:00 p.m. Subramaniapuram
Sasikumar (India, 2008). Offering an unvarnished look at the friendships among five men living in a Madurai neighborhood, this film was hailed for its careful mounting of a mise-en-scène set in the 1980s: longhaired men, wide-legged trousers, and droopy collars. (160 mins)

Saturday, February 19, 2011
3:00 p.m. Naan Kadavul
Bala (India, 2009). Director Bala has carved a name for himself by marching against all prevailing sensibilities in the Tamil film industry—his films speak of madness on the margins and the grotesque tragedy that accompanies it. Naan Kadavul follows a teenage orphan who has grown up amidst the madmen of the holy city of Varanasi. (150 mins)

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