If you want to understand Kabali from a Malaysian Indian perspective
July 23, 2016 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Visithra Manikam writes about the various facets of Malaysian Indian life that Indian moviegoers might have missed in Kabali 'Kabali is our story. The story of Indian Malaysians and not Indian immigrants who now come to work in Malaysia or NRIs. We are not same. [...] I realised a lot of reviews are being written based on Indian cultural experience rather than the actual Malaysian culture and issues. '

Kabali [trailer; turn on CC for subtitles] is the latest blockbuster by adored idol superstar Rajinikanth. How big is his impact? Some offices in South India declared Friday, the day of the movie release, as a holiday. It's well on its way to becoming another global monster hit for the star.
posted by cendawanita (19 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
It's posts like this that make me realize how big the world really is. How much diversity exists, just in the world of cinema alone. It's mind-boggling. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Fizz at 2:38 PM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is fascinating. A major movie star has made a movie that is a historical and modern commentary on a subcultural situation that is so complex that it literally requires footnotes. Reading this as a complete outsider was quite a mini-education on a situation that I previously had absolutely no knowledge about, to the point where I didn't even know that I knew nothing about it.

I can't even think of a parallel sort of popular media project that has or could happen in my culture.

Thanks for posting this. I feel like my world has gotten a bit bigger and more complex today.
posted by hippybear at 6:25 PM on July 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I teach world regional geography in the US, and sources like this are great for showing how complex the world really is, and how much we need to look beyond the small boxes we're all too tempted to place people into. Thanks!
posted by mollweide at 6:45 PM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Terima Kasih cendawanita from one who grew up dancing between these two worlds. Indian passport hence expat schooling yet blending in looking like a bhai
posted by infini at 8:30 PM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's some great research that has been done on the origins and development of the subcontinent's diaspora in Malaya/Malaysia, albeit for economic productivity reasons.

Here's one that caught my attention for its personal narratives of change.
posted by infini at 8:34 PM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was not yet 5 years old when my youthful parents packed us up for the big move to Kuala Lumpur from Calcutta on Christmas Eve, 1970. My world changed, even as my world changed from recently independent south east asian nations to the ASEAN's tigers over the next 40 years. We have never returned, and I write this on vacation at my parents' home in Singapore. Yet we have always been temporary skilled workers abroad.

The desi diaspora is far more complex and global than perceived of at first glance.
posted by infini at 8:41 PM on July 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

This has been fascinating to me as well, even if I'm more familiar with parts of it. Like it or not, my background is privileged and when it's not, it's more dominated by Chinese-Malay interactions, so even if I know a lot of this, my personal background, when touched by crime and poverty, has very little Indians in it. But it's been a good year for Malaysian Indian popular representation, I think, that goes deeper into the community's socioeconomic concerns. Just earlier this year, one small movie, Jagat (trailer), exceeded all expectations when it went far beyond its intended limited theatrical run (and this was really due to the built-in prejudice against the viability of local Indian films, esp a non-light entertainment one), and really gained a multiethnic audience by strength of the word of mouth.
posted by cendawanita at 10:51 PM on July 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

Wow, this is really fascinating. Thank you for this post. I'm Tamilian and grew up in Chennai and I knew that we had a big diaspora in Malaysia, but really had no understanding of the complex race politics.
posted by peacheater at 3:42 AM on July 24, 2016

infini: The desi diaspora is rather different in Malaysia given that not everyone there counts as "desi" despite being technically from the same region. I'm Bangladeshi, in Malaysia I'm "Other". I've had Gujrati Sikh friends sometimes be shunted to "Other". It took me getting to the US to find any sort of desi/South Asian community; elsewhere it's mostly fractured.
posted by divabat at 4:42 PM on July 24, 2016

And in case people would like to read a bit more on the Chinese Malaysian side, especially regarding her claim that gangsterism was Chinese-led at first, these links on the kongsi or secret societies might help to illuminate this dynamic. They weren't intended to start as criminal organisations, a lot of the historically established ones were just ways for the various clans who were brought into colonial Malaya to organise themselves.
posted by cendawanita at 7:19 PM on July 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

divabat, yes and in our case back in the seventies, we were clearly considered expatriates and put into that bubble of schools and residential areas.
posted by infini at 8:10 PM on July 24, 2016

An added complexity around this movie: the cut approved for screening in Malaysia is not actually the version shown elsewhere in the world (spoilers for both endings in the link).

Basically, the ending was changed dramatically, and some scenes and dialogue were cut. Some of this was for violence, but there were other bits cut for the use of a racist term for Malaysian Indians, shots of police officers greeting gangsters, and a reference to fewer opportunities for Malaysian Indians.
posted by tavegyl at 11:57 PM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Kabali's various shades of political manipulation : Growing up — as a Sri Lankan Tamil with an Indian passport who lived in Malaysia for 17 years — there was only one representation of that last country in Tamil cinema.
posted by cendawanita at 9:36 AM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Untold tales of Tamils’ role in South East Asia : The contribution of Tamils in the economic and cultural growth of Singapore, Malaysia and Burma, and indirectly, the global landscape, has largely been relegated to the footnotes of history.Prof Amrith, who grew up in Singapore but has his roots in Tamil Nadu, said he was surprised to find hardly anything written about Tamils’ South Asian connections. “My parents moved to Singapore as professional migrants in the 1980s, when I was very young. Throughout my life, I had deep family connections in Tamil Nadu as my grandparents and extended family was here. This gave background awareness that India and South East Asia had deep connections, with people moving back and forth. When I started studying South Asian history in the UK, I was really surprised to find nothing had been written about these connections,” said this academician.
posted by cendawanita at 1:14 AM on August 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have long bookmarked the spread of hinduism and the Vijayanagara kingdom of South and South east asia. I think the time has come for that FPP.
posted by infini at 1:49 AM on August 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

That's a very interesting article, cendawanita, thank you. I found this line rather sad:

Even if they wanted to remain in the country of migration, they were not welcomed as a citizen. Singapore had the best outcome, where gaining citizenship was relatively easier. The most painful part for many was to renounce their Indian citizenship. Before the 1940s, the question of citizenship had not applied. After new borders and restrictions, it became a difficult choice.

The division of the British Empire into postcolonial states with hard borders must have caused so many people to question where it was they really belonged, and hope that they made the right choice.
posted by tavegyl at 1:51 AM on August 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

infini, please do!
posted by tavegyl at 1:51 AM on August 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

"How did Bali come to be Hindu?"
posted by infini at 2:57 AM on August 1, 2016

infini, I can share with you and tht proposed FPP the list of Malay words with Sanskrit origins! :)

tavegyl, indeed. This is the same crisis that Chinese Malaysians also had to undergo as well. And the fact that PRC was/is a Communist state also was the reason for great distrust and prejudice faced by the native Chinese in both Malaysia and Indonesia. Conversely, due to these dynamics, Malay Singaporeans face institutional racism such as being barred from serving certain high-level posts in the Singaporean military (or even entry in certain clubs). Southeast Asia is a hotbed of complex race politics, that's for sure.
posted by cendawanita at 6:26 AM on August 1, 2016

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