Anxieties around the appearance and audition of the female body and voice in Tamil cinema reveal a semiotic ideology of the image that does not fit neatly within the idea of cinema as representation. Instead, this ideology takes filmic images to be acts that performatively presence the actresses and singers who animate them, in other words morally charged acts for which such animators are held accountable. Drawing on linguistic anthropology and film theory, this article explores vision-image and sound-image as distinct modes of performative presence, noting the division of semiotic labor between them as well as their interaction and interdependence. The theoretical project, relevant to cinema and related media more generally, argues for the need to attend to those processes and factors that enable the performativity of images to be either elaborated and institutionalized or played down and attacked in any particular historical, cultural, or political context.
Vision, Voice, and Cinematic Presence
CONSTANTINE V. NAKASSIS is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Doing Style: Youth and Mass Mediation in South India (University of Chicago Press, 2016) and is currently working on a book manuscript on Tamil cinema titled Onscreen/Offscreen.
AMANDA WEIDMAN is an associate professor of anthropology at Bryn Mawr College. She is the author of Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India (Duke University Press, 2006) and is currently working on a book on the affective politics of playback singing in Tamil cinema.