Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Stars and Stripes

by Pushpa Iyengar, Outlook India, December 8, 2008

Art critic Sadanand Menon puts the star turnout to opportunism. "Deep down," he says, "they succumb to the politics of charisma. In their book, LTTE's Prabhakaran fits the bill. There is a secret desire to enact roles that have shades of Prabhakaran, which is why our heroes have titles like Captain and Commander."

Why is K'wood supporting Sri Lankan Tamils?

Tamil Film Tiger

  • Karunamoorthy is a pioneer-and now leader-in overseas Tamil market
  • Has rights across formats of over 2,000 Tamil films
  • Started Ayngaran TV in collaboration with Kalaignar TV
  • Owns theatres in Singapore, Malaysia, France, Dubai, Canada, Australia, the US and South Africa

When Ajith, a rare Tamil film star who eschews politics, said he'd be skipping the Nov 1 fast the industry was organising in support of the Lanka Tamils, he was in for a shock. The London theatre which was to release his latest film, Aegan, was ransacked. Chastised, Ajith lost no time joining other big stars—Rajnikanth, Kamalahaasan, Vikram, Vijay, Surya—at the fast in Chennai on November 1.

The star should have known that Aegan was produced by Ayngaran International, an international film distribution and production company owned by influential London-based Sri Lankan Tamil K. Karunamoorthy. He is a man who is not only well-connected to the Kodambakkam film industry but is also known to be close to top DMK leaders.

While the overseas market was earlier limited to Malaysia and Singapore, which have Tamils of Indian origin, the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka has led to Sri Lankan Tamils relocating to Canada, the UK, Europe and US as well. Many of them have got into film distribution and production. One estimate puts the Lankan Tamil share of the Rs 1,200-crore Tamil film industry at more than 30 per cent. "Ayngaran has a very deep relationship within the Tamil film fraternity and has over 90 per cent marketshare internationally," says Karunamoorthy. He estimates the overseas market for Tamil films to be one-quarter of the box-office collection for Bollywood films.

Earlier this year, Ayngaran pulled off a casting coup by signing Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for Aendhiran (Robot), which Karunamoorthy is producing for Rs 100 crore-plus, the most expensive Tamil film so far. That's how big he is, say industry sources, and if he sympathises with the Lankan Tamil cause, the entire industry has to sympathise with the Lankan Tamil cause too.

Hence the impressive star turnout at protest rallies and fasts. In fact, when actor Madhavan could not be present at the fast since he was shooting in London, he issued a statement explaining his absence. Kamalahaasan called off his birthday celebrations on Nov 7, saying, "An individual's birthday loses credence when genocide is practised in our neighbouring island with renewed vigour."

Not to be outdone, Rajni too has signalled that his birthday on December 12 not be an occasion for merriment. "When every Tamil heart is wounded over the sufferings of our Lankan brethren, it is inappropriate to celebrate my birthday," a statement from his office said. "This," says Tamil writer A.R. Venkatachalapathy, "shows that the stars know the pulse of the people and know that the sufferings of Tamils in the island have struck a genuine sympathetic chord."

Not so, say the cynics, the stars shine because it's a great photo-op. Art critic Sadanand Menon puts the star turnout to opportunism. "Deep down," he says, "they succumb to the politics of charisma. In their book, LTTE's Prabhakaran fits the bill. There is a secret desire to enact roles that have shades of Prabhakaran, which is why our heroes have titles like Captain and Commander."

Interestingly, while politicians—even CM M. Karunanidhi, who has threatened repeatedly to resign over the plight of Tamils—have run out of steam, the entertainment industry, including TV actors and producers, has kept the momentum going. Thughlaq editor Cho Ramaswamy has a humorous take. "Stars can put on any kind of emotion at a director's command," he says."Here the director is Karunanidhi. In Tamil films, an emotional scene is followed by comedy. That will happen here too."

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