The contemporary music scene in Tamil Nadu is full of creative buzz. Classical Carnatic is going strong with several young performers coming up. The December Kutcheris are enjoyed by the Rasikas in increasing numbers every year, and Tamizhs from all over the world converge in Chennai to experience this unique cultural event. Alongside Carnatic’s tradition of improvisation, there has been a burst of innovation through fusion music experimentation, producing a music landscape that is arguably among the most vibrant and diverse in the world. Carnatic blends with Western classical, Jazz, Hip-hop, Rock, and Pop. There’s been an explosion in the number of music bands over the years, and this region has been producing some amazing new sounds. From the versatile R Prasanna’s Carnatic-Jazz guitar work to V. S. Narasimhan’s Madras String Quartet‘s Carnatic-Western classical sounds to Agam, the contemporary Carnatic progressive Rock band, there is space and opportunity for talented and budding musicians trained and grounded in authentic Carnatic to make their mark.
(watch the video below on Youtube)
Similarly, the music within Tamizh cinema has also seen a lot of change. Much of its Carnatic and native music basis has been eroded and replaced by western themes. Talented music directors, led by digital sound wizard A. R. Rehman, Harris Jayaraj, and others, have introduced audiences to a variety of exciting compositions, even as the evergreen maestro Ilayaraja is going strong and continues to innovate and ensure that the authentic Tamizh voice is not lost.
From the lighthearted ‘Twitter fights’ between rival movie-star fans, to the much more constructive use of Facebook and Twitter to coordinate relief in real-time during the December 2015 Tamil Nadu floods and save lives, Tamizhs have made their presence felt on social media. Who can forget this Youtube release of 2011 by actor Dhanush that went viral like no other Indian video, registering over a 100 million views so far.
However, the single-most important emerging phenomenon in social media is its liberating role in terms of freedom of speech and expression. It has provided the ordinary Tamizh speaker a platform to debate, share information, ask questions based on facts, and demand answers from the establishment. By doing so, they are breaking down the ‘Indian Berlin Wall’ constructed by the gatekeepers and so-called English-language “Mainstream Media” (MSM) who insulate their ecosystem from the Podhu Makkal. These gatekeepers, until a few years ago, were able to selectively promote or ignore causes, and carefully control the political and social messaging using MSM to make or break the agenda of their choosing. The support in the social media from ordinary people from all over India for Jallikattu in 2016 was noteworthy. We will continue to monitor this emerging trend.
Chennai is home to several city-based sports franchises. The Chennaiyin FC soccer club were the winners of the 2015 edition of the Indian super league (ISL) after an incredible turnaround.
The Chennai Superkings are the most consistent team (59.84% win rate) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) that features cricket matches in the popular T-20 format.
The CSK team lead by India’s most successful captain M. S. Dhoni, quickly acquired a loyal fanbase in Tamil Nadu. They have built an enviable record, having the won IPL twice, and been finalists four times. They have also won the Champions League twice, most recently in 2014. CSK’s main bowler, and certainly India’s most valuable test player by a distance in recent times is Ravichandran Ashwin. The statistics he has accumulated in test cricket as far as series-winning performances have been impressive.
Tamil Nadu teams have dominated the Basketball and Volleyball courts of India. They field strong teams at all levels in Indian Basketball, and remain the team to beat when it comes to hoops. Several TN players have represented India at the international level, winning laurels for the country. India defeated the home team China in the 2014 FIBA championship, recording one of its finest victories.
TN is also a volleyball powerhouse, and recently defended their national title.
Tamizh movies are thriving but remain largely formulaic, although talented directors like Gautam Menon, Mani Ratnam, and others have brought in innovative approaches. The current generation of lead-role actors like Ajith Kumar, Surya, and Joseph Vijay rule the roost, even as senior stars like Rajinikanth and Kamalahaasan continue to make their presence felt.
Sadly, one cannot but note that the degradation in quality and the quest for whiteness that pervades ‘Bollywood’ movies, has also affected Tamizh cinema. The quality of spoken Tamizh has also shown a steady downward trend, and the amazing Vasanam that Tamizh actors once delivered with ease has been reduced to punchlines. The powerful Tamizh lines in the past are seldom heard today, and one has to one has to turn to online video content providers like Youtube to relive the glory days.
The saving grace is that the messages within Tamizh Kalacharam that have been respected and benefited Tamizhs since times immemorial: the inevitable triumph of good over evil, respect for elders, and the importance of family and trust-based relationships over hyper-individualism and consumerism, remain relevant in contemporary cinema, and this can be considered a positive contribution to the society. For example, the 2015 movie ‘Baahubali’, which was simultaneously made in Telugu and Tamizh, captivated audiences all over India and the world. This success can be attributed to the universal appeal of a genuine Indian story-line. The technical aspects of movie making have dramatically improved, and technicians from the south are in demand all over India. A R Rehman won US Academy ‘oscar’ awards in 2009 for his music score in an English feature film. The Tamizh movie industry continues to be a trendsetter, and maintains its distinctiveness and unique place within the Indian and world movie industry.
Trendy Tamizh Look
Temples in Contemporary Tamil Nadu
Despite Tamil Nadu being ground-zero for the so-called ‘Rationalist’ propaganda since the 1960s, a large number of Tamizhs offer Puja in the temples throughout the state. In fact, it is quite likely that the percentage of temple-goers has increased over time. During festive occasions and auspicious days, it is difficult for devotees to find standing-space in popular temples. The temples of Tamil Nadu continue to watch over its people like sentinels.