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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

fight, riots, killings - between fans on who acts better ?

A deadly riot occurred on this day 172 years ago ! resulting in large civilian casualties too – and its genesis was a dispute between two actors – which one of them was better in doing major roles of Shakespeare !!!

An year and few months ago, at Triplicane, people would converge in street corners – in front of homes and happily speak / discuss / hotly debate on various topics ranging from Cricket, Sampradhayam, Temple affairs, Cinema, History, Politics and more .. .. very rarely they would become mud-slinging, and mostly people remained friendly.

In pandemic, people spend more time in social media – and in forums and e-platforms  – often we see people criticize, say harsh things, fill their heart’s hatred and suddenly become sworn enemies blocking each other – criticizing the person, their personal traits and more ..

Cinemas are intended to be medium of entertainment – actors and actresses earn money, celebrity status and more.  MG Ramachandran and NT Ramarao rose to become Chief Ministers primarily with their movie fame while a popular actor Sivaji Ganesan failed in politics ! 

In my school days in late 1970s – there used to hot exchanges between benches -  Sunil Gavaskar Vs Gundappa Vishwanath; Bjorn Borg Vs John Mcenroe; Illayaraja Vs MS Viswanathan; Rajni Vs Kamal; Balachander Vs Barathiraja.  Those days films would be released on Fridays – on Thursdays, one can see posters being pasted on streets.  Deepavali would be a bonanza for movie goers – a dozen films or more were released for 1980 Deepavali  including – Viswaroopam (Sivaji); Varumaiyin niram sivappu (Kamal / Balachander); Polladhavan (Rajni); Nizhalgal (Barathiraja).  My knowledge of cinema was slightly above zero and hence was a passive spectator in those arguments !    remember that in our school class room, one vividly portrayed Barathiraja calling Balachander – a week prior to Deepavali release, exclaiming that both of them had dwelt on the same subject [Unemployment – Nizhalgal & Varumaiyin niram sigappu] – he went on to say that an unperturbed Balachander replied that both had unique styles and need not worry about the other ~ not sure of its authencity – incidentally both flopped . ..

Those days it was intense rivalry between fans of Rajni vs Kamal.  Shivaji Rao(Rajinikanth) debuted in Tamil cinema with K Balachander's Apoorva Raagangal in 1975,  Kamal Haasan was already a seasoned actor.  Then for some time, it was Thala – thalapathi [Ajitkumar V Vijay] – there were some reports of skirmishes in theatre complex when both actor’s film were released. In neighbouring Kerala, the Malayalam film industry has been obsessed with two men in particular for nearly three decades now, much to their acting versatility and immense crowd pull. Mammootty and Mohanlal, have often locked horns at the box-office, but their cinematic rivalry has never affected their real-life friendship, which has spanned and survived the course of their respective careers.

The Astor Place Riot occurred on May 10, 1849, at the now-demolished Astor Opera House in Manhattan and left between 22 and 31 rioters dead, and more than 120 people injured. It was the deadliest to that date of a number of civic disturbances in Manhattan, which generally pitted immigrants and nativists against each other, or together against the wealthy who controlled the city's police and the state militia. The riot resulted in the largest number of civilian casualties due to military action in the United States since the American Revolutionary War, and led to increased police militarization (for example, riot control training and larger, heavier batons). Its ostensible genesis was a dispute between Edwin Forrest, one of the best-known American actors of that time, and William Charles Macready, a similarly notable English actor, which largely revolved around which of them was better than the other at acting the major roles of Shakespeare.

On May 7, 1849, three nights before the riot, Forrest's supporters bought hundreds of tickets to the top level of the Astor Opera House, and brought Macready's performance of Macbeth to a grinding halt by throwing at the stage rotten eggs, potatoes, apples, lemons, shoes, bottles of stinking liquid, and ripped up seats. The performers persisted in the face of hissing, groans, and cries of "Shame, shame!" and "Down with the codfish aristocracy!", but were forced to perform in pantomime, as they could not make themselves heard over the crowd. Meanwhile, at Forrest's May 7 performance, the audience rose and cheered when Forrest spoke Macbeth's line "What rhubarb, senna or what purgative drug will scour these English hence?"

After his disastrous performance, Macready announced his intention to leave for Britain on the next boat, but he was persuaded to stay and perform again by a petition signed by 47 well-heeled New Yorkers – including authors Herman Melville and Washington Irving – who informed the actor that "the good sense and respect for order prevailing in this community will sustain you on the subsequent nights of your performance”.

On the day of the riot, police chief George Washington Matsell informed Caleb S. Woodhull, the new Whig mayor, that there was not sufficient manpower to quell a serious riot, and Woodhull called out the militia.   By the time the play opened at 7:30 as scheduled, up to 10,000 people filled the streets around the theatre. One of the most prominent among those who supported Forrest's cause was Ned Buntline, a dime novelist who was Rynders' chief assistant.  Buntline and his followers had set up relays to bombard the theater with stones, and fought running battles with the police. They and others inside tried (but failed) to set fire to the building, many of the anti-Macready ticket-holders having been screened and prevented from coming inside in the first place.  The audience was in a state of siege; nonetheless, Macready finished the play, again in "dumb show", and only then slipped out in disguise !

Fearing they had lost control of the city, the authorities called out the troops, who arrived at 9:15, only to be jostled, attacked, and injured. Finally, the soldiers lined up and, after unheard warnings, opened fire, first into the air and then several times at point blank range into the crowd. Many of those killed were innocent bystanders, and almost all of the casualties were from the working class; seven of the dead were Irish immigrants. Dozens of injured and dead were laid out in nearby saloons and shops, and the next morning mothers and wives combed the streets and morgues for their loved ones.

Between 22 and 31 rioters were killed, and 48 were wounded. Fifty to 70 policemen were injured. Of the militia, 141 were injured by the various missiles.  Three judges presided over a related trial, including Charles Patrick Daly, a judge on the New York Court of Common Pleas, who pressed for convictions. The city's elite were unanimous in their praise of the authorities for taking a hard line against the rioters.  

To an outsider, it would sound – how insane ? – what is one actor was better than another ? – and by which yardstick – should people fight, kill, lose lives over such bickerings !!

Rhyming with MGR, NTR, SSR, there was KRR -  Kumbakonam Ramabadra Ramasamy  who worked mainly in Tamil theatre and cinema. He was born in Kumbakonam and was active during the early days of Tamil cinema.  His notable films include Velaikkaari, Gumasthavin Penn and Poompaavai. KRR acted in numerous stage plays and around 25 films in Tamil. He was also instrumental in funding DMK in its early days and later became a Member of the Legislative Council of the party in 1960.

So, no fight .. in the name of heroes !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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