Doing Style: Youth and Mass Mediation in South India by Constantine V. Nakassis
I have been wanting to read this book for a long time now, and I might not be able to tell you why. This books tries to explain style, within the context of Tamil Youth. It draws relations between style and brand, language, cinema; style as seen on cinema and style as imbibed from cinema, style as a performative aspect of one’s life.
It is worth noting that the Youth here refers to young men for the most part, and the author explains the logistical difficulties in getting similar information from women. It should not be surprising to us, a gendered life is normal in these parts, and even an outsider who is so obviously foreign cannot breach certain barriers.
I would like to take a moment here to talk about the difference in attitudes to men and women doing what amounts to the same thing. In Chapter 6, College Heroes and Film Stars, there is a section that contrasts the reception to a boy’s dance performance and a girl’s at a college event [Prakash’s Dance, Diya’s Dance]. Prakash dances to a song from Pokkiri, taking care to dress like his favourite star and execute the signature step of the choreography. Diya also performs by herself to a set of film songs, wearing ‘modern’ clothes, and is immediately branded as scene, over, glamour. She is judged for seeking attention, and branded as the kind of girl who pursues guys. She isn’t homely.
It is somewhat surreal to read about my people as subjects of a research undertaking by a “Vellai Tamilan” [White Tamil]. I admit that the author has completely immersed himself in the setting he chooses to examine. He lives with them in their hostels on campus, he attends cultural events, he watches movies and hangs out with them.
I especially liked the chapter on language, which attempted to pick apart the way we speak Tamil now: the many English words that have passed into our dialects as Tamil, and the way we pronounce these English words, with a specific Tamil slang. Colloquially, we wouldn’t use the Tamil equivalent of these words, and we also wouldn’t pronounce them the way we would if we were speaking only English. “Linguistic codes,” as the author calls this. I do this all the time, sometimes with awareness, and sometimes unknowingly, so it tickled me quite a bit that someone had taken much effort to study it and collect data on it. My reaction would be different, of course, if the focus of such a study had been a demographic I am otherwise not in touch with. I would ally myself with the observer in that case.
In Chapter 7, Status through the Screen, the author talks about “The Citationality of Heroism,” which refers to the use of filmic dialogues in everyday speech. This is fairly common, and without cinema, there wouldn’t be much conversation happening in many groups. It is the use of punch lines to describe situations and people and as response to questions. It includes references to an actor’s filmography and film persona, re-enacting of scenes.
Let me leave with you a definition of Peter from a section titled “The Over Style of English and the Peter”:
“A Peter is someone who acts like he or she was born or lived abroad when everyone knows this isn’t the case. A Peter speaks English when it isn’t necessary. A Peter speaks like he doesn’t know Tamil when he does and speaks English when he knows that the person he is speaking to speaks Tamil just fine.”
I have been called a Peter, and I have called others by this name too.
P.S. One of favourite dialogues to cite is “Sattai mela evlo buttons!” from Singaravelan, even if I don’t use it in same meaning that it was delivered with in the movie.