Somewhere, Tamil Nadu stubbornly refuses to let go its cultural right and heritage to hold the blood-thirsty sport of jallikattu or bull fighting. While Catalonia in Spain banned this in 2012 and India’s Supreme Court proscribed jallikattu in 2014, Tamil Nadu politicians have been persisting with its plea to conduct the sport. And in the latest development, jallikattu advocates have lambasted Tamil superstar Rajinikanth’s daughter, Soundarya, for having accepted the membership of the Animal Welfare Board of India. They feel that the board was singularly responsible for the ban.
It is in this context that the recent announcement of debutant director J Julian Prakash’s period film, Ilami, on jallikattu assumes significance. Starring Yuvan (who is best known for his performance in Sattai) and Anukrishna (Kaththi), the movie tells an 18th century story. In fact, the plot unfolds 300 years ago, in 1715.
The period setting is probably an intelligent ploy to steer clear of the reigning controversy. Jallikattu was just about the only sport in 18th century Tamil Nadu, and there was no administrative disapproval of it then. Prakash told this writer on Wednesday morning over the telephone that “Ilami is a period piece, set in the temple town of Madurai -- which even today is the centre of bull fight”.
In ancient times, jallikattu was almost sacred and taming or killing a bull was considered an unmistakable sign of male strength and superiority.
Perhaps, this was the beginning of male arrogance, which India is increasingly witnessing today -- on the streets, in films like Who Killed Jessica Lal and, most recently, Pink.
Ilami -- while focussing on Tamil culture (part of which was jallikattu) -- will also have a romantic sub-plot. But, of course. Can there any Indian movie without this or at least a trace of this?
Prakash and his team constructed a huge set in Talakona -- a forested area in Andhra Pradesh. “Although we did build a smaller set at Theni, near Madurai, in Tamil Nadu, we found it very difficult to find any place in the state that was untouched by 21st century development. We found pucca roads and electric wires everywhere, and it was only Talakona that looked pristine and suitable for our narrative,” Prakash averred.
He made an interesting parallel when quizzed why he chose a period work for his debut. “Like children whose first drawings are their parents, their schools and classrooms, jallikattu is so much in my psyche, in my blood that I thought it would be best to give expression to my feelings through the creative medium of cinema.”
Ilami’s music by Srikanth Deva will be launched in October. The film will open in November.