Chapter 7
Darshan and Cinematic Spectatorship

The perception of heroes is a culturally specific phenomenon. In Tamil Nadu the perception of heroism is fostered by a charismatic relationship between political leaders and their constituents. This relationship is expressed with a fervor that is akin to the bonds between stars and their fans and devotees to deities.

The focus of this chapter is on the overlapping spheres of cinema, politics and religion from the perspective of the public in Tamil Nadu – in their roles as spectators of cinema, members of fan clubs or followers of charismatic political leaders.

To comprehend the passionate religiosity in the public’s reception of their film star leaders, the author compares two particularly intense modes of gazing at cult images – the practice of spectatorship in the context of a cinema theater and the practice of darshan or gazing upon an image of divinity in Hinduism. A comparison of these two ways of seeing images reveals that the viewing of Indian cinema encourages a dissolution of boundaries between the secular space of modern electronic media such as cinema and the religious space of puja or worship. Such fluidity of perception is essential to the realization of the charismatic power of the cinematic or political image.





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