With Pongal – the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu – nearing, the Jallikattu issue has once again reared its head.
On the one hand, animal rights activists allege that the sport, a version of bull-taming, is cruel to the animals involved. Supporters of the sport, however, argue that Jallikattu is part of Tamil culture and helps farmers identify bulls with superior genes which can be used for breeding. It has also been argued that the survival of indigenous breeds depends on Jallikattu being allowed in the state.
For those unfamiliar with Tamil Nadu, the vehemence of protests on the issue might come as a surprise. But Jallikattu is an ancient sport which has survived the onslaught of time and continues to be celebrated in Tamil Nadu. Not surprisingly, it has also had a continuing presence in popular culture, appearing as integral to the stories of a number of Tamil films:
This 1980 Rajinikanth film had the young Superstar taming a bull in a contest announced by the villain (Jaishankar). In the film, Kalayan has the reputation of being able to tame the wildest of bulls.
KS Ravikumar directed this hugely successfully film in 1991, on caste and family rivalry. Sarath Kumar and Vijaykumar play half-brothers in this film and the former succeeds in taming the bull to prove a point to his estranged sibling.
The 2004 Kamal Haasan-starrer, which was on caste politics and the death penalty, had a bull fighting sequence in which Virumandi tames the animal belonging to the heroine's family.
This 2016 period drama had Jallikattu in its backdrop. The director, Julian Prakash, was inspired to make the film because of his fascination with the sport.
Well, bull-taming is not seen as a sign of masculinity only in Tamil Nadu. Here's the famous scene from the SS Rajamouli extravaganza, which introduces Rana Daggubatti's character.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, as the sport has found its way into numerous films. Despite remaining a phenomenon confined to rural India, Jallikattu has a prominent place in popular culture, if cinema is any judge of the matter.