Jallikattu: A Tale of Bulls and Balls

Social Commentary

Jallikattu: A Tale of Bulls and Balls

Illustration: Akshita Monga


he 1980 film Murattu Kaalai, loosely translated as “rogue bull” is an essential part of Tamil cinematic history on several counts. It proved to be crucial to Rajinikanth’s career, and cemented his transition from a mere actor to a superstar; its stunts inspired many subsequent movies; and it continues to be referenced in contemporary Tamil cinema. One of the landmark sequences of the film is built around the sport of jallikattu.

The rich, villainous landlord organises the game, and for the prize, offers both land and his sister’s hand in marriage. When one of the players injures himself, Rajinikanth falls into the fray when the villagers tell him: “Don’t go near the bull – just one hit, and your intestines will fall out.” This well-intentioned advice, meant merely to reinforce the danger attached with the sport, has the opposite effect of convincing him to participate. In that moment, Rajinikanth is only competing for the top prize – not the land or the hand of the landlord’s sister – but the chance to prove his masculinity to himself.