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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Readers Write In #678: The Messiah Among the many Sands


By Pranav Madathil

‘Dune’, ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’, ‘Khaleja’, and prophetic protagonist issues

SPOILERS AHEAD

When Stilgar, performed by an nearly unrecognizable Javier Bardem, first whispered to himself that the younger Paul Atreides was ‘lisan-al-gaib’ – the outworlder fated to redeem not solely his folks (the Fremen) however his entire planet (Arrakis/ Dune), I used to be overcome by a way of deja vu. The story of a ‘chosen one’ born to guide a persecuted folks out of the desert that has imprisoned them and into the sunshine of freedom is about as outdated because the very concept of tales. Moses is usually cited because the progenitor of this fable, however as we observe its evolution, we should take into account that Moses was a Jew himself, and it was his personal people who he free of oppression. The reiterations of this story typically flip the ‘saviour’ right into a stranger, an everyman who isn’t born nice, however relatively has greatness thrust upon them. In fact, India has no dearth of spins on this archetype- and those that stood out essentially the most to me have been two movies that got here out in 2010, ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’ and ‘Khaleja’.

Fast plot synopses to catch up anybody unfamiliar with these motion pictures: ‘Khaleja’, written & directed by Trivikram ‘Guruji’ Srinivas, starring Mahesh Babu, Anushka Shetty, Prakash Raj, Shafi and Rao Ramesh, follows a hot-headed cab-driver from Hyderabad who finds himself embroiled in a company ploy to usurp a village, main its residents to deify him and search his safety. ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’, written & directed by Selvaraghavan (earlier than he grew to become each Tamil cinephile’s private ‘lisan-al-gaib’), starring Karthi, Reema Sen, Andrea Jeremiah, R. Parthiepan and Azhagamperumal, chronicles an Indian expedition into uncharted territory seeking the long-lost Chola dynasty gone awry, main an alcoholic jobber, an exasperated archaeologist and a military officer with a harmful secret to unite for survival.

Mahesh Babu’s character in Khaleja (and I take advantage of that phrase deliberately- this is among the uncommon cases the place he’s taking part in a personality) is called Alluri Sitarama Raju- one thing that he himself remarks on at a number of factors within the movie. The selection to offer the identify of a revolutionary martyred not only for the Indian freedom wrestle but additionally the wrestle of tribal folks’s rights to a person being touted as nothing lower than ‘God’ may be very clearly political. On the identical time, Karthi’s character, Muthu, in Aayirathil Oruvan is marked by every kind of M.G.R iconography- be it the songs, the outfits and even the M.G.R. tattoo on his arm (clearly, the movie shares its title with one among M.G.R.’s greatest hits as nicely). What does all this level in the direction of ? From what I collect, these bits of world-building serve an identical position to the fastidiously planted prophecies of Dune’s Bene Gesserit. The ‘Kwisatz Haderach’ is developed as this superhuman saviour determine by conflating him with non secular or populist imagery- within the context of Arrakis this implies presenting him because the harbinger of the Fremen’s liberation and of the planet’s return to its fabled, affluent previous. Within the case of ‘AO’ and ‘Khaleja’, one may argue that the viewers are the Fremen- right here it’s we who’re being advised to imagine in these protagonists and their destined glory. We’re being advised, consciously or in any other case, to affiliate these fictional characters with the myths constructed round actual life ‘leaders’ and ‘liberators’. Tamil and Telugu cinema have made their bones on these techniques of propaganda, typically for stronger and harmful ends than these being served right here.

It’s additionally fairly attention-grabbing that each one three protagonists- Muthu, Raju and Paul, solely achieve validity of their ‘saviour’dom with the approval of the elder statesmen of their respective communities- be it the Chola king, the Tantrik head of the village Pali or Stilgar, the chief of Sietch Tabr. To some extent, it will also be stated that their ascent to the standing of a messiah requires a level of fanatic devotion- a spark to gentle the fireplace of dogma throughout the group. ‘Khaleja’ has Shafi’s character Siddha embody this fanaticism, along with his maddening chants of ‘Om Namah Shivay’ punctuating each blow dealt by Raju. In ‘AO’ and ‘Dune’, although, the fanaticism is implied to be embedded inside the communities themselves- be it the southern fundamentalists of Arrakis or the voodoo practitioners of the hidden Chola Kingdom. Different widespread tropes are additionally seen, just like the ‘mark of the messiah’, prophecies entailing unusually particular climate phenomena surrounding the Chosen One’s arrival, and most notably the necessity for the ‘man’ to die, so he could also be reborn as a divine saviour. That final trope is kind of attention-grabbing in how in another way it’s dealt with throughout the three movies. In ‘AO’, Muthu is pushed right into a feverish psychotic break within the desert earlier than the mystic Chola Rajaguru discovers the tiger tattoo (a distinguished Chola image) on his again. In ‘Khaleja’, Raju recovers from being stabbed, savagely beats his assailants, and faints within the arms of none aside from Siddha. In ‘Dune’, Paul consumes the ‘Water of Life’, and after expertise the avalanche of data it accommodates, falls comatose, solely to be revived by his extraordinarily enraged lover Chani. What ties all these sequences collectively will not be solely that they fulfill their respective in-world prophecies to the tee, but additionally that they contain an individual from inside the group bearing witness to the transformation from ‘man’ to ‘messiah’- the reactions of those characters range vastly, however they’re essential in lending credence to the figures themselves.

Deserts are desolate, to say the least. Students say an enormous contributor to the premise of Abrahamic religions in desert areas is the sense of dependency and group that this sort of terrain necessitates. The desert turns into a form of stand-in for the Previous Testomony God- directly benevolent and malevolent, each creator and destroyer of life. Its magnificence is balanced nearly evenly by its barrenness, and to reconcile the dissonance this may increasingly arouse, societies constructed round livestock-rearing and residing on restricted pure assets require perception methods that not solely nurture unquestioning loyalty but additionally a way of concern for one’s personal life. “When there’s no meals or water, concern is all that’s left” says Paul Atreides. Whereas it’s true that these observations are marred by the cultural detachment of the White males making them (of whom, sadly, Frank Herbert, writer of ‘Dune’ was one too), it’s nonetheless attention-grabbing that these components are taken benefit of by imperialist powers each in actuality and fiction. From the Pandya spy in ‘AO’ utilizing the Chola topics’ perception within the magical skills of the ‘messenger’ to extract their secrets and techniques, to Prakash Raj’s villain GK in ‘Khaleja’ poisoning the water of Pali to persuade its residents that it’s cursed, and most significantly the Bene Gesserit not solely creating but additionally manipulating the parable of ‘lisan-al-gaib’ to satisfy their very own clandestine targets, we see this manifest via hopelessly skewed energy dynamics.

Talking of energy dynamics, the position of ladies in these tales can also be fairly intriguing. Sadly, the one feminine character price mentioning in ‘Khaleja’ is Subhashini, performed by Anushka Shetty. Other than partaking within the garden-variety ‘loosu ponnu’ actions, she doesn’t get a lot by means of character improvement. In ‘AO’ the ladies (primarily Anitha, performed by Reema Sen, and Lavanya, performed by Andrea) change into arbiters of energy to some extent. Anitha’s treachery and instability are in stark distinction with Lavanya’s altruism and composure (though I believe Selvaraghavan’s twisted gender politics have extra of an affect on this than the story construction itself). Parallels may be drawn to ‘Dune’, the place Girl Jessica, Paul’s mom and a Bene Gesserit herself, is charged with spreading and constructing the parable of her son. She goes from being apprehensive about it to turning into its strongest proponent and believer, by strategy of mere publicity to each the ‘Water Of Life’ and the survivalist calls for of the desert. Chani, in the meantime, stands tall because the clear voice of reason- her love for Paul doesn’t cloud her judgment however for an immediate when he first rides the sandworm, and even that is solely testomony to her loyalty to the Fremen tradition greater than the rest. I did discover it to be fairly an Oedipal flip of occasions that in any case his discuss of not desirous to cotton to the Bene Gesserit and resisting his mom’s makes an attempt to indoctrinate him, Paul ‘chooses’ for his spouse Princess Irulan- a Bene Gesserit pawn very like his personal mom. Whether or not this speaks to the inescapability of cultural conditioning or the inevitability of ‘destiny’, is one thing I’m but to grasp myself. What unites all these girls throughout narratives is their defiance of the ‘messiah’- none of them (Subhashini included) bow to the boys of their lives, even when the world round them does so gladly.

On the finish of the day, I discovered ‘Dune’ transcendental, ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’ unsettling, and ‘Khaleja’, nicely, entertaining, if nothing else. I’d prefer to imagine that these have been relatively acceptable reactions to have, contemplating that the primary was supposed as a critique of imperial capitalism and spiritual fundamentalism, the second was meant to be a genre-bending piece of historic fiction, and the third was an try to put a supernatural spin on the industrial star car. Even so, the deterministic outlook that these movies share on the thought of ‘saviours’ is probably a commentary on our unwillingness to train company as a society, selecting as a substitute responsible the whole lot from the climate to the ‘system’ for our woes. I notice that reeks of privilege, however I really feel the necessity to make clear that I don’t ask for something roughly than that all of us take particular person duty for our actions, that all of us maintain ourselves accountable for his or her penalties, and that we change into our personal sources of perception past all else. In my expertise it is just within the absence of perception that concern prevails, and as we know-

“Concern is the mind-killer”

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