Ashanti OMkar investigates the phenomenon and lists many discernable South Indians who have made their mark in history and continue to do so.
Let’s start with the current president of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who comes from the Dravidian lands and is a Tamilian from South India. The UK’s Royal Academy has been exhibiting some of the ancient bronzes in their popular Chola exhibition and Tamil Nadu has the world’s first all-female Special Forces police battalion. The strong culture of South of India is followed by immigrants like the Sri Lankans, Mauritians, South Africans, Malaysians, Canadians, British Asians, Australians and Asian Americans of that Diaspora. The languages of Tamil, Malayalam, Kannadam, Telungu, Tulu, Konkani are all from the South of India and in terms of the world, there are so many discernable people of those origins, scattered in professions like medicine, accounting and engineering through to media, arts and cinema. Embracing and holding onto their rich culture, forms a lot of their growth abroad and they continue to rise in the ranks of corporations in California’s silicone valley, not to mention the parallel counterparts which are one of the reasons for India’s booming economy – Bangalore and Chennai in the South are now very much the heart of Information Technology and outsourcing of work to highly trained staff in India is very much a common occurrence.
The Tamil movie market is making an impact on box offices internationally. The United Kingdom Box office recently saw Pokkiri, the Tamil remake of it’s US box office Telugu hit enter at 21st place and Ajith Kumar starrers, Varalaru and Aalwar at 24th and 27th from just a couple of screens. Music makers like AR Rahman (Bombay Dreams, The Golden Age) and Ilayaraja, and acclaimed film directors like Mani Ratnam (his movie Guru entered the UK box at number 15) becoming international names. A different style of filmmaking comes from Southern film directors like Bharatbala (Hey Ram), Priyadarshan (Virasat), Ram Gopal Varma (Rangeela), and Mani Ratnam (Dil Se) who have proven themselves in the Indian nationwide and hence worldwide realm, while cinematographers like Rajiv Menon (Bombay), Ravi K Chandran (Black), Santosh Sivan (Asoka), Ravi Verman (Shilpa Shetty’s Phir Milenge) and PC Sriram (Nayagan) make waves with their brilliant approach to photography.
Cinema is one of the biggest industries down South, with an output of a vast number of movies in regional dialects. One of the leading actors of the South, Rajini Kanth, for example has massive fan bases in places like Japan, where Indian movies are rarely screened and he commands more money for his film roles than some of the Mumbai elite. This remains a fact that often goes amiss in this very Bollywood centric perception of India. His new movie, Shankar’s Sivaji the boss, is expected in May 2007, with a bang of anticipation. Dr Kamal Hasan who was recently felicitated for his achievement in the industry was in the box office charts for his Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu and has his long awaited Dasavataram by K.S Ravikumar which alongside Sivaji, has a massive budget. The films also feature two of Tamil cinema’s most popular international stars – their careers have spanned decade after decade of hit movies and they still command hero roles into their fifties! The same goes for other regional South Indian heroes like Mamoorthy and Mohan Lal, not to mention Venkatesh, Balakrishna and Suresh Gopi.
A bevy of South Indian beauties stay in the news headlines, like Mangaloreans Shilpa Shetty, Aishwarya Rai and Vasundara Das (Monsoon wedding), Tamilians Padma Lakshmi (Model and wife of Salman Rushdie), Rachel Roy (Designer extraordinaire and wife of US Mogul Damon Dash) and actress Vidya Balan (Eklavya, Parineeta). Stunning models, like Deepika Padukone, Mridula Chandrasekar and Malaika Arora Khan all hail with some glorious South Indian blood. Actresses like Asin, Trisha, Nayanthara and actors like Vikram and Surya also boast a huge worldwide fan bases. Musically, Carnatic Classical Music of South India is akin to Western systems with not just a solid scientific basis, but the Trinity in terms of composers – Thyagaraja, Mutthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry are often drawn as parallels to Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. The new generation of singers like Naresh Iyer, Chinmayi and classically, Nithyashree and Sudha Ragunathan command sold out performances the world over. Drummer A.Sivamani is known to be one of India’s finest and was recently seen entertaining audiences at the Doordarshan launch in the UK with his 360 degree drum kit and innovative standing-up drumming stance. Susheela Raman and Karen David are well known singers in the West and are of South Indian origin, while Vikku Vinayakaram, the Ghatam (Clay pot) player, L Subramaniam and L Shankar (Violinist brothers) alongside top singers like Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan and Kavitha Krishnamoorthy are always seen abroad, performing to hoards of loyal music fans.
South Indians abroad like PepsiCo President and CEO Indra Nooyi (Tamil) is classed by Forbes as one of the world’s most powerful women; Srinija Srinivasan of Yahoo is VP and editor in chief of the company – no mean feat on the international realm. Chairman and CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment, Ashok Amritraj is seen as one of Hollywood’s most successful producers, a wave of power is being represented by those of South Indian descent. Jay Chandrasekhar directed Dukes of Hazzard, the movie and is making his mark on Hollywood, as is Keralan American, Manoj Night Shyamalan, who remains ‘unbreakable’ in the box offices. Actors like Naveen Andrews (Keralan) and Sendhil Ramamurthy (Tamilian from Hit TV series Heroes) keep making waves in the acting arena and the Jazz world beholds Vijay Iyer (piano) and Prasanna (guitar) as its shining stars.
NASA’s Bangalore space station sends India’s first lunar spacecraft with its project leader as Mylswamy Annadurai from Coimbatore. In Malaysia’s space programme, Vanajah Siva Subramaniam of South Indian descent may well become the country’s 1st astronaut. The 1997 Booker prize winner, Arundhati Roy has Keralite blood in her and a few yesteryear top heroines in Bollywood are also of South Indian origin, namely Hema Malini (Mrs Darmendra and mother to Esha Deol), Sri Devi (Mrs Boney Kapoor), the stunning Vyjayantimala Bali of yesteryear and one of Bollywood’s most controversial actresses and the one who epitomised the character of Umrao Jaan, Rekha (the daughter of South Indian superstar Gemini Ganesan).
Whilst colonialism had it’s effect on South, the culture remains quite controlled in terms of ‘showbiz’ and the classical stream of dancing, especially in Tamilnadu, Bharatanatyam only became ‘honourable’ from being that of ‘Temple dance of prostitutes’ in the mid-20th century. Rukmini Devi Arundale, the founder of Kalakshethra, a top notch school in Chennai brought the arts of dance and music to the forefront, while Bharathanatyam dancers like Chithra Sundaram, Alarmel Valli and Shobana are taking it internationally. In terms of fashion, designers like Keralan brother and sister Anand and Sanjana Jon are ultra popular abroad. The cultural world is unravelling with so many big names who continue to make their mark not just in the business and professional industries but also in a thriving arts and lifestyle scene. With tourism, property and cutting edge fashion, South Indians are opening their talents to the world around them – these talented people are here to stay or have made their mark on a cultural landscape that many reminisce about! A bright future awaits; embracing the South of India with the rest of the world, while those propagating the culture like many from the linguistic diasporas, who continue to propel the heights.
Images of Kanyakumari, Shobana, Sivamani, Shri and Susheela Raman by Pix Gremlin