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Osella, Caroline and Osella, Filippo (2004) 'Malayali young men and their movie heroes.' In: Chopra, Radhika, Osella, Caroline and Osella, Filippo, (eds.), South Asian masculinities: context of change, sites of continuity. New Delhi: Women Unlimited, an associate of Kali for Women, pp. 224-261.

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Here we bring together masculinities and popular culture to think about how they are configured within the arena of cinema, focusing in on Kerala's two major male movie stars and the relationship they have with their young male fans. In their relative lack of interest in female stars and turn towards male stars young men are playing out an approach towards gendering which does not take as its foundation hierarchic or compulsory heterosexuality. Young men's tentative (and illicit, difficult) relationships with young women lack the substance of their relationships with each other and with their male movie heroes. We consider cinema as a forum for collective fantasy which acts as a source of helpful orientations, stars being particular nodes within this arena, dense points of transfer of desire, belief, self-affirmation or transformation and so on. Film audiences receive or subvert cinematic messages and form relationships with stars - whether in fantasy or actually - and with each other, mediated through cinematic modes of being or styles of doing. Another effect of cinema-related activities is to provide adolescent and post-adolescent boys with a safe segregated social space in which they can socialise, share information, try out fledgling masculine identities and grapple with the demands of emerging sexualities. The star makes possible identifications with the self- (for Mohan Lal, one who is working class and in solidarity with the poor, in Mammootty's case a solidly bourgeoios self); transformations of the self - opportunities through fan association work to distribute largesse like a high-caste wealthy patron; and an extended sense of self - the possiblity that through the fan association one might participate in the star's power and reach. In Kerala, unlike other states, fandom is not a matter of rivalry, political partisanship or even life and death. While there is a 'hard-core' central group who remain partisan and always committed to 'their' star, in general young men frequently shift associations and change allegiances. Yet the two heroes seem to embody different styles of hero and to have different types of appeal to audiences; sociologically, their fan bases trace slightly different social groupings. Mammootty has an affinity with roles implying powerful and high-status men in control, strong in family drama; Mohan Lal is admired for his abilities in romance, song, dance and fighting. One might wish to be like Mammootty but often feels that one already is in some way like Mohan Lal. Despite considerable overlap and dispute, Mammootty and Mohan Lal embody and perform different styles of manliness, none of which one could dispense with in one's potential repertiore. Both Mammootty and Mohan Lal are necessary in a full fantasy life and a necessarily internally fragmented and shifting gendered identity. Cinema also relates to ethnicity. Mammotty allows young non-Muslim men to experience a fantasy relationship with a powerful mature Muslim man, a community coded 'other' in Kerala. A twist to this is that (similar to analyses of white anglo masculinities and work on the 'blackness' of Elvis) we find working class Hindu masculinity, while explicitly defined in opposition to the Muslim other, at another level actually relies upon an incorporation of aspects of masculinity especially associated in the cultural landscape with Muslimness. In a more mediated and disguised manner, Mohan Lal also plays with elements of fantasy identity culturally coded by young Hindus as 'Muslim'.

Item Type: Book Chapters
Additional Information: Paper originally presented at the 16th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh, September 2000
Keywords: Masculinity, Kerala, male movie stars, Indian cinema, Mammootty, Mohan Lal
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of Anthropology and Sociology
ISBN: 9788186706756
Date Deposited: 18 Dec 2004

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