Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai

Swarnavel  Pillai


  • Journalism


Dr. Swarnavel Eswaran is a professor in the Department of English and the School of Journalism at Michigan State University. He is a graduate of the Film and Television Institute of India, the premier film school in Asia, and the prestigious film studies program at the University of Iowa. He is an accomplished filmmaker, and his recent documentaries include Tsunami: Waves from the Deep (2018), Hmong Memories at the Crossroad (2016), Migrations of Islam (2014), and Unfinished Journey: A City in Transition (2012).  His research focuses on the history, theory, and production of documentaries, and the specificity of Tamil cinema, and its intricate relationship with Hollywood as well as popular Hindi films. His books include Manudamaum Mandiyiduthalum(Parisal, 2019), an anthology of essays on cinema in Tamil and Madras Studios: Narrative, Genre, and Ideology in Tamil Cinema(Sage Publications, 2015). His fiction feature Kattumaram (Catamaran, 2019), a collaboration with Tamil’s cinema’s leading director Mysskin, is currently on the film festival circuit.

Research and Teaching

Recent Journal Articles

“Dalit Life, Tamil Cinema and Masculinity: Interventions of Pa. Ranjith and Mari Selvaraj.Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, 50 (Dec. 2023).  http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue50/eswaran.pdf

“Leena Manimekalai’s Is It Too Much to Ask? — Tenancy, Transphobia, and Tamil Society.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 61 (Fall 2022), Ejumpcut.org. Accessed 23 Feb. 2023. https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive//jc61.2022/SwarnavalEswaran/index.html

“Maadathy - An Unfairy Tale: Caste, Space, and Gaze.” CASTE: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion, 3 (1) April 2022, pp. 163–180.

"Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan: History, Horror, and Culture.”  Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration. 6 (2), 2021. https://journals.kpu.ca/index.php/msq/article/view/1579

“Death Rides a Horse and Its Influence on Indian Cinema.” FemAsia: Asian Women’s Journal. 25 Oct. 2020. http://femasiamagazine.com/death-rides-a-horse-and-its-influence-on-indian-cinema/

“Contemporary Tamil cinema and Its Departure from the Mainstream: Manusangada/Cry Humanity and To Let.” Jump Cut (2019) 59 (Fall Issue), https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc59.2019/Eswaren-Tamil/

“Periyar as Biopic: Star Persona, Historical Events, and Politics." Biography (Winter 2017)  40 (1), pp. 93-115.

“Cinematography and the Poetics of 1950s Tamil Cinema: Maruthi Rao and Visual Style." Screen (2017) 58 (1), pp. 73-81. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/screen/hjx009

Recent Essays in Edited Collections

“James Bonds (OSS 117 and C.I.D. Shankar) in the Global South: Orientalism, ‘Mad Scientists,’ and Technology.” In Global James Bond: (Re)Imagining and Transplanting a Popular Culture Icon. Lisa Funnell and Klaus Daudds (eds).  Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2024.

“The Trajectory of Tamil in Cinema.” The Oxford Handbook of Dravidian Languages (online edition, Oxford Academic). R. Amritavalli and Bhuvana Narasimhan (eds),  https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780197610411.013.25 16 August 2023.

“Dravidian Ideologues and Tamil Cinema.” In Film Studies: An Introduction, Vebhuti Duggal, Bindu Menon, and Spandan Bhattacharya (Eds.). New Delhi: Worldview Publications, 2022, pp. 270-279. [Reprint from Madras Studios: Narrative, Genre, and Ideology, Sage Publications, 2015.]

“Post Millennial Tamil Cinema: Transitional Generation and the Traces of Continuity.” In Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas. eds. Tamil Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Caste, Gender, and Technology. Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2021, pp. 161-178.

“Tamil Comics: New Media, revival, and the recovery of history.” Reprint in Rajinder Dudrah and Dawosn Varughese E. eds., Graphic Novels and Visual Cultures in South Asia. New York: Routledge: 2020.

“The trajectory of Amitabh Bachchan’s Young/Old Man Persona From Mainstream to Indie Cinema.” In Ashvin Immanuel Devasudaram ed. Indian Cinema Beyond Bollywood: The New Independent Cinema Revolution. New York: Routledge, 2018, pp. 161-182.


Recent Creative Works: Feature Films and Documentaries

Kattumaram (Catamaran), 2019 (Writer, Director, and Producer), Fiction, 73 min.

Screening and Discussion, at Maine Film Center. Organized by Prof. Amrutha Kunapulli, Colby College. 15 November 2023.

Screening and Discussion at 122 Wells Hall, MSU. 22 September 2022.

“Film Screening and Discussion: Kattumaram (Catamaran).” Center for the Arts, Wesleyan University. 30 Sept. 2021.

Kattumaram: Screening and Discussion. “Seminar Series.” South Asia Institute: The University of Texas at Austin. 4 March 2021.

Official Selection Pink Apple Film Festival,
Switzerland, 22 & 29 at Frauenfeld, Nov. and 1 & 8 Zurich, Dec. 2020.

Official Selection, Perlen Queer Film Festival, 
Hannover, Germany.17 October. 2020.

Selected for Channel Four’s Prestigious Indian Film Season,
Telecast on 15 Sept. 2020.

Official Selection, AKS International Minorities Film Festival,
Lahore, Pakistan, 27 March. 2020.

Official Selection, Roze Film Dagen LGBTQ Film Festival, 
Amsterdam, 15 & 22 March. 2020. 

Official Selection, Annual South Asian/Bollywood Festival,
Honolulu Art Museum, Hawaii, 23 & 27 Jan. 2020.

Official Selection, Kashish Chalchitra Utsav/Film Festival,
Bombay Art Society, Mumbai, 19 Jan. 2020.

Official Selection, New York Indian Film Festival, East Village Cinema,
New York, 10 May 2019.

Official Selection, InsideOut Toronto LGBT Film Festival, TIFF Bell Lighthouse,
Toronto, 31 May 2019.

Official Selection, 10th Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, Liberty Cinema,
Mumbai, 15 June 2019.

Official Selection, London Indian Film Festival,
BFI Southbank, London, 21 June 2019.

Official Selection, 43rd Frameline LGBTQI Film Festival,
Roxie Theater, San Francisco, 23 June 2019.

Official Selection, 43rd Frameline LGBTQI Film Festival,
Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, San Francisco, 27 June 2019.

Official Selection, London Indian Film Festival,
Cineworld, Leicester Square, London, 29 June 2019.

Official Selection, aGLIFF LGBTQ International Film Festival,
Austin, Texas, 25 August 2019.

Official Selection, Regional Film Festival: New Genres in Indian Cinema,
Goethe Institute, Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, India. 31 August 2019.

Official Selection, Singapore South Asian International Film Festival,
Singapore, 1 Sept. 2019.

Official Selection, Lonavala International Film Festival,
Lonavala, Maharashtra, India, 14 Sept. 2019.

Official Selection, Chicago South Asian Film Festival,
Icon Show Place Cinema, Chicago, 21 Sept. 2019.

Official Selection, Scotland Queer International Festival,
Glasgow, 4 Oct. 2019.

Official Selection, 14th Tasveer South Asian Film Festival,
Seattle, 5 Oct. 2019.

Official Selection, Outwatch LGBTQI Film Festival,
Sebastopol, California, 5 Oct. 2019.

Official Selection, Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival,
Florida, 9 Oct. 2019.

Official Selection, Seattle Queer Film Festival, Three Dollar Bill Cinema,
Seattle, 16 Oct. 2019.

Official Selection, InsideOut Ottawa LGBTQ Film Festival, National Gallery of Canada,
Ottawa, Canada, 27 Oct. 2019.


Nagapattinam Waves from the Deep, 2018 (Director, Editor, Videographer and Producer), Documentary, 73 min.

Screening and Discussion, “Asia and Its Diaspora,” Panel, RMMLA Convention, Organized by Prof. Sri Craven,
Maryland Port University, 12 October 2023. 

Official Selection, Social Justice Film Festival, 
Chennai, India. 18 Sept, 2021.

Official Selection. Indian World Film Festival,
Hyderabad, India. 8 March 2020.

Official Selection. Darbhanga International Film Festival – 2019, Sahil Cineplex,
Darbhanga, Bihar, India. 2 Feb. 2019.

Official Selection. 6th Noida International Film Festival – 2019,
Noida, Delhi, India. 27 Jan. 2019.

Official Selection. 11th Jaipur International Film Festival – 2019,
Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. 22 Jan. 2019.

Official Selection. World Premiere. Madurai International Documentary and Short Film Festival, 20th Anniversary.
Madurai. 10 Dec. 2018.


Earlier, my decade long work- documentary on Tsunami relief and rehabilitation (2004 - 2014) at Nagapattinam, the coastal town in South India was screened for response and revisions. The First Cut. Chicago Tamil Forum.
Foster Hall, University of Chicago. 20 May 2016.


Related Work

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