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What was in the rhetoric of Periyar that moved an entire people in a direction that has continuing political relevance? How does his style respond to concerns about how we may engage within contemporary political formations, especially given that his work continues to resist being co-opted by his detractors? Analysing the formal elements of a 1931 speech by Periyar, delivered at Nagapattinam, I investigate the movements in his rhetoric which repeatedly mobilises the self as a site of political action. I argue that Periyar’s presentation of the self provides a distinct avenue of political engagement that substantiates the notion of inner conflict as crucial to the development of the titular hero in the 2018 Tamil film Pariyerum Perumal. Methodologically, I draw on the work of the relational psychoanalytic thinker D.W. Winnicott; in particular, his concept of ‘playing’, which refers to the creative moment of passionate immediate engagement with the other that opens up a potent space of understanding and is vital for survival. I show how charting out the various dimensions of this moment of creative play in these two works is crucial to further our understanding of the politics of Periyar and the journey of Pariyerum Perumal.
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