In the beginning, it was whispered about, then a little loudly. However, in the days after Korean film Parasite’s big win at the Oscars, the voices got louder. Was there a possibility, however far-fetched, that grand old Minsara Kanna (1999), directed by KS Ravikumar and starring Vijay, inspired Bong Joon-ho to make Parasite? And now, producer PL Thenappan, who holds the rights to Minsara Kanna (the original producer is the late KR Gangadharan) seems to have paid heed to those voices. The News Minute said Thenappan was looking to seek compensation from the makers of Parasite. “On Monday or Tuesday, I will be filing a case with help from an international lawyer. They have taken the plot from my film. When they find out that some of our films have been inspired by their films, they file cases. Similarly, it is only fair for us to do the same,” he told TNM.
As for director KS Ravikumar, known for his numerous blockbusters featuring top stars, he’s happy his “story” has won international appreciation. He was quoted by The Times of India as saying, “I haven’t seen Parasite, but going by what people are saying, I think I should feel happy that I selected an Oscar-worthy story 20 years ago. It’s not just me, even Vijay really loved the story and we had a great time making the film.”
Considering this, did we actually miss a golden opportunity to send Minsara Kanna to the Oscars, instead of Deepa Mehta’s Earth? Have our films been Oscar-worthy all the while? Have we been brushing under the carpet the very same films that would have put us on the red carpet?
Are the stories similar?
Kind of. Parasite is about how the Kim family that literally lives in a basement enters the palatial house of the Park family for employment under false identities. The film has an insistent subtext that talks about everyday class struggle between the haves and have-nots.
In Minsara Kanna, Indra Devi (Kushboo) is a successful entrepreneur who cannot stand the scent of men. Kannan (Vijay) and his affluent family enter her home incognito to get her to marry her sister to him. They browbeat Indra Devi into giving up her feminist principles and make her accept that the right place for a woman is always at a man’s side. It is the story of a conflict between the have-a-lots and have-a-lot-mores over the optimal role of women in society. The two films tell very different stories.
Anyway, even if Joon-ho did get inspired by Minsara Kanna, Thenappan should actually thank him for cleaning up its messy politics.
Tropes and stories
Obviously, no one seriously believes that Parasite is inspired by Minsara Kanna. It’s intriguing how films with similar setups end up looking so different. Identical tropes need not result in identical stories. A family entering another family’s home incognito is not a story, it is a narrative trope. Let’s call it the Trojan horse trope. The Pandavas do something similar in Virata Parva of the Mahabharata.
So, they use some similar tropes but aren’t the same story?
Yes. Similar tropes might be employed by epics such as The Iliad and Mahabharata, or films such as Minsara Kanna and Parasite. The vision of the writer shapes how these tropes might be put together as a story. Minsara Kanna and Parasite are miles apart in this aspect. Similar tropes are used by the films, but Parasite elevates itself into a story of universal class struggle, while Minsara Kanna was a product of its times and reinforced patriarchal values.
Raised on films with a wafer-thin storyline onto which are tacked various ‘commercial’ elements based on cast, budget and trend, we often subconsciously break our films down into two – the essential story part (what), and the entertainment/message part (how). Good stories fuse them. In Minsara Kanna, you can separate the film into the story and the entertainment. If you hated the story, you can still enjoy Vijay’s entertaining presence. In Parasite, the story is the entertainment.
This is not to say Minsara Kanna is an especially bad movie. It doesn’t really have to be compared to Parasite, or the Mahabharata just because it has a plot point or two in common with them. In the film, Vijay leaps over a running train using a bicycle, and, perhaps, our films, too, might someday make the leap and find greater international acceptance. It would be our own Trojan horse.