"Cultures of Indices: Anthropology of Tamil and Other Cinemas" by Rajan Krishnan

Rajan Krishnan

Deposited 2009

My thesis is an enquiry about cinema and difference in the context of Tamil cinema. The enquiry begins with assigning difference its meaning in everyday language as one thing being distinct from another and moves on to the philosophical propositions about difference. This is because claims of distinction in cinema are linked to the fact that the film sign is a unique manifestation of difference, a realization of the world of perceptual reality as different from itself. In re-realizing movement, it reconfigures the existential co-ordinates of time and space most radically. While every discrete film sign or image has this universal quality, the assemblage of such signs, which produces narration, connect them to many ways of fusing fiction and the real, an admixture of signs that may index cultural difference. My understanding of cinema is obtained from the profound philosophical reflections on cinema in the writings of Benjamin, Kracauer and Deleuze. It is strengthened by my understanding of Derrida and Gayatri Spivak. However, for an anthropological understanding of cinema through which the relationship between media and politics can be best studied I forge a theory from the semeiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce. The new film theory suggests (a) that the film sign is primarily indexical, in a non-sublative dialectical relationship with the iconicity of the narration; (b) that there are, fundamentally, three different ways in which the film sign can be conceived.
The new film theory helps to understand, apart from other things, the difference of Tamil cinema as one of the Indian/South Asian cinemas, its particular integration with democratic politics of Tamil Nadu through the DMK films and the phenomenon of the actor playing hero becoming a leader as exemplified by M.G.Ramachandran. The theory has further applications to all emergent visual media.