Thursday, November 02, 2006

‘Boys’ just want to have fun !
Tamil Cinema, Youth Culture and Globalization

Dr. P. Kesava Kumar
Lecturer in Philosophy
Pondicherry University

This paper is an attempt to understand the nexus between the economic forces that are controlling market and their propaganda of their hegemonic culture, through the analysis of the Tamil film ‘Boys’. Globalization demands the liberalization and privatization of the economies of the nations. Culture and ideologies of the dominant nations become celebrated as the culture of the day, as a product of this globalization. In India, the globalization process started by liberalizing its economy and privatizing its public sectors. The multinational companies not only tried to capture its market but developed particular ideology also. The urban- upper caste, Hindu middle class of India become the votaries and active participants in propagating this ideas at various fronts. This reflection is very much visible in media and the advertisements. The film ‘Boys’ is one such attempt in that direction. This paper tries to explain how this film depicts the American cultural imperialism as an ideal for Indian youth.

Globalization and culture:
Globalisation is identified with a phenomenon of inflow of capital across the world. It demands barriers in the world, for the inflow of ideas, market and trade etc. Globalisation has its starting point from the imperialist colonial phase, free flow of trade, investment and labour. In the phase of cold war period the world got the character of bipolar. In this period there was a competition between the economic models of socialist Russia and capitalist America and so the world. The contemporary phase of globalization, that is since 1980s have concerns with wider flow of trade, investment, services and intellectual property rights. In other words, capitalism in all its forms have moving ahead freely across the nations. This is apparently challenging the sovereignty of the nations and minimizing the role of nation-state in economic and social concerns. In the name of globalization, imperialistic exploitation of third world countries is taking place in large scale through cultural forms and media.

With the globalization, culture is locked up in market. It has a capacity to accommodate/assimilate into its fold all kinds of celebrated cultural traditions in tune with its market. The culture and ideologies of the dominant nations become celebrated as a culture of the day, as a product of this globalization. Capitalist tendency of those nations are known for commodification of everything. It looks at the world and people from the consumer point of view. Generally culture identifies with social, economical and moral values along with customs and traditions. It is the shared meanings of life of a group of people. In the name of globalization, third world countries are exploited in large scale through cultural forms and media. The technology is facilitating this in an effective way. The life styles, values, collective symbols, personalities transformed according to the dominant ideologies of the nations of the world in a systematic way. The language of globalization is the new language that is facilitating the expansion of cultural hegemony all over the world. It functions both economically and politically. It operates economically by capturing the market for their cultural goods like TVs, VCRs, DVDs, Computers, Tape recorders, Video games, electronic toys etc. Politically they get hegemony over third world nations by controlling or by systematically manipulating the information through these cultural goods. It makes a deliberate attempt to weaken the class and social solidarities of the people. On the other hand, in third world nations the lives of the people day by day has become miserable. Social and economic conditions are deteriorating and inequalities are increasing. As a response to this condition the struggles have weakened rather than getting strengthened. To convert the physical conditions into politics, cultural intervention is very much crucial. The exploiting forces foresighted the need of the cultural intervention much earlier than the oppressed. It advanced their hegemony in various forms in contemporary times.
The forces of cultural imperialism, makes a conscious attempt to expand its base. It aims not only the elite but also try to accommodate more in to its fold. It influences the people through media- that works both inside and outside home, and have influence on social groups. By propagating the consumerist culture hegemonic forces disturbs the very basic foundations of culture and brings the divisions in the collective life. It tries to bring the diverse groups desires, necessities and aspirations in a uniform way. It makes deliberate attempts to cultivate a culture which make brains of people blunt. It proposes new language ‘mobility’, ‘expression of freedom’ in place of ‘backward’, ‘oppressed’. In the name of modernity, it attacks the collective values of family and moral traditions. Some times it brings the local traditions and cultural forms in a new package of sophisticated technology. In place of social being, the individual is projected. The social reality often distorted to suit their marketing interests. It provides an illusory wonderful world and promotes escapism as the solution to the real social problems. It represents democratic struggles in a negative way by branding them as terror, violence.
After the collapse of Soviet Union, American nation emerged as the only major force of the world. The American cultural imperialism is in full swing and is influencing the world across through global expansion of its market. The new language of globalization is facilitating the expansion of its cultural hegemony all over the world. The control over the media is a major advantage for the America. On the other hand, third world nations due to their bad economic conditions have started liberalizing their economies through new economic policies in tune to globalization. Coincidentally, there emerged considerable section of middle class supporting the policies of liberalization, privatization and globalization. Their aspirations are reflecting in all forms. Cinema is one such medium which is positively responding to such situation. The emergence of new, middle class, political cinema in the decade of nineties, not only reflects these class interests but also has succumbed to the ideology of American cultural imperialism. In continuation of this, Tamil film like ‘Boys’ directly articulate the American imperialist ideology without any inhibition.
Political cinema of Indian new middle class:
Cinema is the culmination point of entertainment (art) and technology. It came to India as a product of modernity. It emerged as a powerful and popular media by pushing aside all other cultural forms. Cinema too has undergone many changes both in production and reception with changing social and political contexts. Every cinema has its social, political and historical context. And it is same as with its audience. Cinema from its inception is in the hands of capitalist classes. Cinema responds or mediates in its own fashion to the problems and struggles of the society. By late eighties cinema has undergone significant changes with changes in society. one hand, there are struggles of working class, lower caste groups, Adivasis, women’s movements for the rights and on other hand liberalization policies and the ideology of hindutva influencing the Indian society. Most importantly, social groups of India are polarized after Mandal politics and it is the same with audience of cinema. For film industry it becomes a difficult task to satisfy or accommodate all the audiences. Especially the mass cinema of Telugu and Tamil languages is in crisis. The middle class had complaints about the mass hero and excessive obscenity of films. The middle class prefers keeping away from cinema halls and accuses that they could no more watch the cinema with family. In this kind of atmosphere, there were efforts from new directors to change the image of hero with some what ‘realistic’ story line up. They were successful in bringing the middle class again to cinema halls. The directors like Mani Ratnam, Ramgopal Verma and Shankar were the pioneers of this ‘new middle class political cinema’. The secret behind the success of these directors is that exactly they reflects the aspirations and anxieties of newly emerged middle class of late eighties. The films appear like a response to everyday struggles happened around us and packed with sophisticated technical values. The every frame of the film is loaded with consumer culture. All films poses like discussing serious political issues of the contemporary times.
This new middle class belongs to the second generation of independent India. Their dreams always revolve around the ‘America’ and their soul revolves around ‘Bharat’. They are the staunch voters of consumer culture and come close to the urban life styles. The philosophy they believed is mantra of ‘hard work’ and ‘merit’. They try to appropriate the legacy of progressive values of social reformers. In practice though they act against the spirit of heroes/symbols of social reformers, consider them as their property of natural inheritance. They could not tolerate any visibility of lower caste groups in any public space. They treat them as ‘inefficient’, ‘incompetent’, ‘mannerless’, ‘violent’, ‘corrupt’, and ultimately hurdle to the development of nation. Whenever the lower caste people bring the discussion of ‘caste’ and its oppression, this urban upper caste middle class treats them as ‘casteist’ and ‘narrow’ by elevating themselves as ‘modern’. For the sake of the nation, they consider it is their duty to eliminate ‘these corrupt and casteist politics’. They always give the impression that they are for the protection of the nation and ready to sacrifice for the nation. Who fulfils this kind of ideology is the real hero for them, both in real life and cinema.
‘Boys’ of Shankar
Shankar is a new generation director came with new film genres. All of his films located in post Mandal times. He is considered as most talented young director in south India. His films are popular both in Tamil and Telugu languages. His earlier films ‘Kadalan’, ‘Gentleman’, ‘Indian’, ‘Mudalavan’ and ‘Jeans’ had a good start with audience and captured good name in and outside the Tamilnadu. The film ‘Boys’ released on 29th august 2003 and made in languages of Tamil and Telugu. This film is in continuation of his earlier films of the political phenomenon of politics of urban middle class. The Boys are brought up in the age of liberalization and in days of hindutva politics. Boys came in the times of the hype of information technology and electronic media that promising a lot to Indian youth. The film Boys have the message of success of youth in digital era through their skills. The digital world is going to provide you a lot of opportunities; only thing is, you have to prove yourself. For this youth have to think differently and need to orient themselves differently. The film has an underlying warning to youth that they should be keep away from the ‘misguided political ideologies’ to achieve success. Otherwise Boys have to face mighty power of the state for their ‘illegal’ political acts!

The story revolves around five college going boys (Munna, Jojo, Bobgally, Krishna and Kumar), their adolescent adventures, their dreams and aspirations. They study in different colleges in Chennai, subjects ranging from history to computer sciences. They are committed friends belongs to different social groups and mostly set up in middle class background with some variations. They are fun loving friends and meets at public places by teasing women as adolescent adventure. The film moves around one of the friends (Munna) relationship with a girl (Harini) of high class. His (Hero) marriage with the girl is unaccepted in both the families and both along with their friends leave their homes. They pursue their career by doing part time jobs. They are in search of new ideas to sustain/start a better carrier. They get a novel idea from one of the friends (Kumar) to start music band and they make a cassette of devotional songs of Ayyappa, which sells and they get some money. In order to pay the exam fee (of Munna and Kumar) they make some revolutionary songs for a Naxalite party without much knowing its politics and get caught by police and detained under POTA. Although they are later released, by then they are dismissed from college. They decide to concentrate on music band and made a successive attempt to get the attention of multi national music company. They get a ‘break’ when the ‘Sony’ accepts their request to record their music and had an agreement with Boys. In the mean time there was some misunderstanding between the couple and results in break- up of the couple. In an attempt to bring them together one of the boys (Kumar) loses his life. The death of their friend affects them so much, it propels them to be more committed, work hard and achieve success. In the end ‘Boys Band’ come together and their album becomes big hit and receives award in the competitions of music channel MTV. Later they get the global recognition and in full demand. The couple has come together and the movie has an expected happy ending. On the whole, whenever there is a crisis for the boys, the ICICI Bank employee (Mangalam) appears, takes the role of a professional crisis manager and resolves it smoothly. Ultimately, he emerged as a friend, philosopher, guide and manager of Boys.
After the release of this film there was a lot of controversy around this film Boys. The different sections of tamil society expressed their dissent over this film. Dr.Krishna Swamy, the leader of dalit party (PT) demanded for censorship of the film for scenes of obscenity. Dr.Ramdoss, the PMK leader after this film demanded a total ban of tamil cinema for a period of five years for its role of misguidance of youth[1].The women organizations too opposed this film for its vulgarity and celebrated obscenity. The director of the film Boys forced to recommend for censorship of certain scenes. Interestingly, there was no criticism on the ideology reflected in the film.
The film boys is a big budget movie, costing over twelve crore rupees.The director has taken risk of casting new faces in this film. It create the impression that the director made heroes out of the ‘guy next door’ types. A.R. Rehman music to this film is an extra attraction. He had succeeded in making the teenagers nod to his music, through clarity in lyrics is missing. (The film released on 29th August 2003 and made into languages of tamil and telugu.) The story revolves around five college going boys, their adolescent adventures, their dreams and aspirations. They study in different colleges in Chennai, courses ranging from history to computer sciences. The youth comprising from business class to small grocery shop running family. The central character belongs to typical middle class. The film moves around one of the friends relationship with a girl. His (hero) marriage with the girl is unacceptable in both the families and both along with their friends leave their homes. They pursue their carrier do part time jobs. They are in search of new ideas to sustain/start a better carrier. They get a novel from one of the friends to start music band and make a cassette of Ayyappa devotional songs which cells and they get some money. In order to pay exam fee they make some revolutionary songs for a naxalite party and get caught by police and detained under POTA. Although they are latter released by but then they are dismissed from college. They decide to concentrate on the music band. They get a ‘break’ when the multinational music company ‘Sony’ accepts their request to record their music. In the mean time there was some misunderstanding between the couple and results in breakup of the couple. In an attempt to bring them together one of the boys loses his life. The death of their friend affect them so much, it propels them to be more committed, work hard and achieve success. In the end the ‘Boys Band’ come together and their album becomes a big hit and receives award in the competitions of the music channel MTV. The couple has come together, and the movie has happy ending. On the whole, whenever there is a crisis for boys, ICICI bank employee appears, takes the role of professional crisis manager and resolves with smoothly.
The film came with new ideas for exclusively youth in changing times of globalization of the nations. One can see the American imperialist ideology mediated through this film.
‘Life is cool, live it’
The movie is mainly aimed at youth. This ‘young trendy group’ emerged with the advent of globalization and consumer culture seems to have easily identified with this kind of film. The movie takes the audiences to an unrealistic world where everything seems easy, where ‘life is cool’, where the boys sing ‘break the rules’ (one would wonder what rules are youngsters supposed to break. The parents of the boys portrayed as conservative traditional and rude symbols. Rather understanding the children in the changed social environment, they still impose their typical conventional attitude on their children. This film as advertised, addresses the problems of ‘generation gap’ between parents and their children. The director, so sagaciously blend the movie, not only for the current youth but also sets the agenda for the coming generation. Whatever may come, follow your dreams, work hard and never say die. Take it easy!
‘Skill matters, not your studies’
In the changed economic situations, the conventional education is in crisis. Studying humanities and social sciences has no value. The courses like computers and management and mass communication may provide some jobs. After the slump in computer jobs in USA, there are little opportunities available for even computer professionals. Governments are not in a position to provide the jobs. The film may be read in this context. If you have skill, there are lot of opportunities provided for you by the MNCs in the fields of information technology, hotel management, media etc. Skills, efficiency, hard work were the pre requisite to the successes. This film too create the illusion that information age creates lot of jobs/opportunities for you as propagated by the governments, pro global forces.
‘We will win both in life and love’
There is a conventional conservative opinion that while studying the children should not deviate from their goals. They should dedicate to their studies. Involvement in love/romance may spoil their studies. This film in a novel way proposes that career and romance may not be hurdle for other. It is foolish to loose anything coming in our way of life. This idea gives a new hope among the youth ,and build the confidence among them. The film depicts parents, the bearers of tradition has to overcome from their ‘backwardness’, ‘foolishness’ and ‘immaturity’!
‘Information is wealth’
From the late eighties there is too much stress on the word ‘information’. Information becomes a power to rule the other. There is much hype about the ‘knowledge based society’. The people who had access to the information only survive in this society. In this film Brahmin priest masters the information about where and what ‘prasadam’ available at the city temples. Without working much he benefits very much by providing information to a boy. The priest gets the share from the boy who collects food from various temples as per the information given by the priest. This boy understood that information is crucial as important at this juncture. This insight of the boy helps in motivating his friends to produce cassettes which are popular consumer demand. Though this dialogue goes in side track, this is the key principle that the whole film runs.
The question still haunting us, does information technology had any capacity to resolve the basic problems of society?
‘Sacrifice for the friendship (nation)’
In this film one of the boys named Kumar, who motivates other friends by giving the idea to produce a cassette, sacrifices his life to prove the innocence of his friend. This boy is the only dark skinned among the all. He studies B.A. history course in government college He could not speak English like other friends. For him it is really struggle to speak in English. His father is running a petty business. Family expects high from their son. His mannerisms are too quite awkward. One girl has named him as a ‘dinosaur’, for his indecent behavior. His approach to girls are not impressive. From all this characterizations are matched with the stereotype images of uppercaste people about lower caste people. He is the only boy who doesn’t have any skill either in music, singing other than serving the friends. He doesn’t fit into that music band. Even recording the cassette, the recording fellow asks him to quit. This reflects that the people (read it as lower caste groups) who do not have skills have no place. And at the same time that they have to sacrifice for the sake of friendship( collectivity, nation )
‘We need Professional crisis manager’
In this film ICICI bank employee works as a crisis manager. He stands by the boys in all difficult times-silencing the parents, helping the couple to get married at temple, to release them from the cases of POTA .And finally emerges as manager of music band.As one of them puts him as afriend, philosopher and guide. This character seems to be the instrumental or mouth piece of the director of himself. This character provides the ideological input to the film. He often tries to bridge the gap between generations. He appeals to the parents not to be harsh towards their children and is friendly with them. If one observes closely this character doesn’t question anything radically but poses as modern and the man understood the times. It appears that he doesn’t want any radical change in the tradition but only demand flexibility in the changing times. This almost resonates with the policies and ideologies of World Bank. To fix him point blank, he is the admirer of America as it shown in the very first scene when he covers his face with a blanket printed with American flag.
Global culture and Terror state
As a result of globalization and implementation of liberalization policies, the lives of people of third world has become miserable. The third world nations like India are forced to privatize the public sector and down sizing its employees. State subsidies at all sectors were withdrawn. As a response to this situation, there are peoples struggles allover. To suppress the genuine democratic struggles of the people, state becomes dictorial rather than seeing the welfare of the people. State would like to control through force. The people should not question the authority of state in any form. Bringing the draconian laws like POTA indicates this situation. The newly emerged Indian uppercaste middle class are votaries dictatorial state due to various internal reasons. Any democratic struggles of dalit, women, working class has considered by them as negative. The state is conscious that youth should not be misguided by attracting to the peoples struggles like naxalite movement.
The film Boys is cultural medium mediating the ideology of American cultural imperialism. It helps in propagating the philosophy of globalization, liberalization and privatization. It creates an illusion that globalization will really create more opportunities for youth and skilled people. It picks up the rhetoric of freedom, modernity, democracy and rights. This language helps in capturing the market of the third world peacefully and effectively. But in fact the whole globalization process goes against the spirit of this. The film celebrated the consumer culture in every frame in the name of culture and aspirations of new generation. This consumer culture the product of globalization goes against the traditions of collective democratic indigenous culture. It is not only attracts the youth and consciously made the fresh minds blunt.
When I watched the film in Pondicherry with my students of cinema and social theory course I found that the director has succeeded in mobilizing the target group of the youth of the age of 18-25 years. There is a applauds from the young college students for each scene. It excluded the audiences of other age groups. Hardly, I found any girl in cinema hall so also other family members. As a whole the film is not commercially successful at box office because of the theme of exclusively confined to urban youth.
At the same time, there is another film named Kadal Kondein running successfully in allover tamilnadu. The secret for the success of this is targeted at rural youth with a different articulation of essentially same ideology. The story and theme runs in the similar context. The film is an attempt to prepare the rural youth of lower strata to consumer market. The urban upper caste girl who is sympathetic to lower caste boy is instrumental in it. The film itself shows that it is a painful transition for the lower caste boys towards urban modern life. In both the films rural and urban varieties of dalit/lower caste youth lost their life. The cinema is one of the response in favor of globalization by preparing the youth for the consumption of consumer culture. But the globalization process proved both in real and reel life further marginalization of lower strata of society.

[1] Dr. Ramadoss prior to this film Boys, voiced against the Rajnikant film Baba for its misguidance of youth and ordered his party cadre to oppose the film Baba. It created a controversy both in film and political circles.

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