“Voting is your right. If you ask the right questions, you don’t need a Vikram Rathore or Azad to fight the system,” Shah Rukh Khan’s vigilante hero tells us during the pre-climax sequence in Atlee's Jawan. The scene begins as Azad peels off his mask and moustache in front of a live broadcast. This could either be seen as Azad revealing his true identity or maybe Khan stepping out of his character for a few seconds.
For most, this sequence might have just been a goosebumps moment. While Khan’s fiery monologue caught the Hindi audience by surprise, this wasn’t the case for fans from the south — who probably knew that a speech was just around the corner. Popularly known as the “message padam” in Tamil Nadu, such films and its political monologues can be traced back to the 1950s, back when Sivaji’s Parasakthi was released. The “message” aspect is quite common in Tollywood as well, especially in Mahesh Babu films such as Bharat Ane Nenu and Maharishi, in which he addresses media sensationalism and farmer rights, respectively.
By making stars the centre of such socially-conscious message films, filmmakers drive home a powerful point that often reflects the issues in our society, while also reminding us of what we’re capable of as citizens. Let’s take a look at eight such political monologues — ones that beautifully married social messaging and entertainment — that came before Jawan.
Streaming on: Netflix
Let’s say a lot of us are aware of basic voting rights. But even if we knew about Section 49 (O), which is NOTA (our right to not vote), some of us might not know what Section 49 (P) means. But should you ask a Vijay fan, you will hear a different story. AR Murugadoss’s Sarkar is about an NRI corporate head who returns to India to file a vote. But here is the catch: someone else has already filed his vote. Instead of going back to work, the protagonist decides to use his right under Section 49 (P), which allows him to vote after another person has already voted under his identity.
As he wins the legal battle, he calls for a press meet and encourages everyone who has suffered electoral fraud to seek their voting rights. In a rapid change of events, a re-election is ordered and he creates his own party. The main monologue is saved for the climax, where he warns people about corruption during election times through a Facebook Live (modern times, modern solutions) on election day, urging people to vote and choose their own government.
Streaming on: SunNXT
Citizen has one of the most traumatic flashbacks in a Tamil film. Like in Jawan, Ajith chooses to take a dramatic path to seek justice for his community. He dons different avatars to kidnap three important officers in power. When the cops finally arrest Ajith and produce him in court, we learn the shocking tale of Athipatti, a village home to 690 people that was destroyed and removed from the state map.
As he narrates the horrendous events, he cries in the court, reliving every moment. But minutes later, his tears lead the way for anger. He points fingers and questions the responsible, revealing how corruption has led to the massacre of a whole village. “My voice is the last cry of a whole community,” he says. As much as his speech is meant to send out a message, the moment is filled with deep emotions that punch in your gut.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Sivaji Ganesan’s Parasakthi sheds light on how World War II had an impact on common people and NRIs in Tamil Nadu. Its famous courtroom scene contributed massively towards the “message padam” genre of Tamil films.
After his sister is molested by a priest, Sivaji Ganesan’s Gunasekaran takes matters into his own hands. The wordplay and intensity of the dialogue in the scene are the very reasons it is celebrated even today. But one can also find how it lays an outline for this genre and how such monologues could be crafted. Sivaji says, “You might ask why I am so concerned about the incident when no one else is. It is because I was personally affected. Now, you may accuse me of selfishness. En suyanalathile podhu nalamum kalandhirukudhu (but public welfare is also entwined in my selfishness. They are calling me a criminal. If you learn about the criminal’s past life, you can know the number of wild streams he had to cross in his life. Listen to my story before you write the verdict.”
Streaming on: ManoramaMAX
When a group of farmers die and a whole village suffers, the authorities decide to ignore their plight. But this is when Vijay’s Kathiresan decides to jump into action. Along with the old men from the village, he sits inside the pipelines that carry water to Chennai from five different lakes. When the city begins to suffer from water shortage, Kathiresan and co get the national coverage they have been asking for repeatedly but were denied because the village’s issue was not creating any sensation.
“When we are hungry, you remember the food, but have we ever thought of the farmers who harvested the food?” Vijay explodes like a bomb with stats on how many lakes, rivers and other resources have been destroyed. “Every 30 seconds, a farmer is dying. If a cola company draws 9 lakh litres of water every day from the Thamarabarani river, how will one get enough water for farming?” The speech does get a little preachy after a point but it throws light on the need to stand against routine exploitation by corporates.
Streaming on: YouTube
In a state where actors have time and again entered politics, Vijayakanth’s movies like Ramana played a major role in the early success of his political career. Ramana is a professor at a college during the day and the leader of a self-proclaimed “Anti-Corruption Force” by night (by that, he means kidnapping and murdering corrupt officers). Even though it is a message-driven star movie, Ramana is one of those films that has a realistic ending. Despite his intentions, he is sent to prison. When he is taken to jail, a huge student crowd supports him. “The student community is beyond all human limitations like caste, religion, language and others. You people are a testament to the fact that students can change society and the country,” he addresses the crowd. “Today’s authorities were yesterday’s students and you are tomorrow’s authorities. You can decide how your society should be,” he says and also warns people that no one should protest for him. As he ends his emotional speech, the crowd is quiet and he walks inside the prison where he is hung to death.
Streaming on: SunNXT
Anniyan, directed by Shankar, is one of the best examples of how effective a mainstream message padam can be. The protagonist (Anniyan) we are talking about here is a serial killer who suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder. He goes on a killing spree, murdering people in brutal ways like pushing them into boiling oil and letting leeches suck the blood off a human being. It also has one of the most lapped up message scenes that instantly clicked with the viewers. In its climax sequence, Anniyan organises a public event at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai.
Surrounded by thousands of people and the press, he announces that this isn’t a function or a press meeting, but a moment that is going to make people question themselves. “India ranks 2nd in AIDS and 3rd in corruption but is 49th in economy and 20th in cleanliness. Why?” he asks. People begin complaining about the government, police, and law. He asks, “We say we don’t have good officers, but how many of us are good citizens?” He then begins justifying his actions. The crowd, which was scared of him minutes earlier, slowly becomes moved and makes him a hero among the masses as he sleekly escapes the cops.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Asuran might be one of the most violent and hard-hitting films in this list. But its message scene is one of the most silent ones. There is no huge crowd, live telecast or press meet. Dhanush doesn’t speak for several minutes or shout at the top of his lungs. It is a conversation a father has with his son before going to prison. When his son questions the inequalities in the way they are treated, Dhanush says, “You fought against those in power in the ways you know. But this is not the only way to stand up against them. They can take whatever we have, but if we have education, they can never take it away from us. If you really want to win against them, study and become a powerful person.” The sound of the heavy rain dominates as Dhanush begins to speak, but his tone gradually becomes stern as the pitter-patter fades in the background. And even as he leaves for prison, the father-son duo share glances that brim with hopes for a better future.
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
On the televisions sets in a store, people are rooting and clapping for Kamal Haasan’s old man in a khaki uniform on screen. He says, “Ini evanaavudhu government office la lanjam vaangina, kuthuven. Lanjam kudukalanu thaamadham pannunaalum kuthuven. Jai Hind. (If someone accepts bribery, I will kill them. If someone delays work because they were not offered a bribe, I will kill them as well)”. The Shankar stamp is all over this scene. Nestled within this message sequence is also another heartbreaking flashback. “Only because of your bribes, people under you are forced to do the same. So, this is no ordinary mistake. You have hampered India’s growth,” he says to an officer he had kidnapped.
Haasan, who is speaking to the officer, suddenly turns to the camera and points at us, the viewers and warns “Everyone should understand that both getting and giving a bribe is a crime.” His eyes scare you and if it doesn’t, what he does next will. When the officer says that he will give money as compensation and requests to let go of him, it triggers the old man and he brutally kills him. And people start clapping again.
Well, now all we have got to do is to wait and see what the Indian Thatha has in store for us in the sequel.