The hype around the Tamil movie ‘Pari Yerum Perumal’,prompted me to watch this poignant story of discrimination based on caste.
The story is based in Tirunelveli, in Southern Tamil Nadu, known for its caste based classifications and violence. People got killed for marrying out of caste, though such instances are declining, thankfully.
This film talks about the heinous treatment met to the lowest strata of the caste hierarchy – the dalits – in a government law college. The story is poignant, direction excels, metaphors glitter and the movie leaves one with a deep sense of exasperation and helplessness.
Let me get this straight. This is one hell of a film that hits one on the face, with a sledge hammer soaked in the reality called caste discrimination.
But, why should this situation prevail after 70 years of national independence and a 40 year state rule by the so-called backward communities? Did not the ‘Dravidian Rule’ result in overcoming the past structures? This model of questioning would open up the simmering wounds that refuse to heal though artificially stitched for the last 40 years and made to appear as though all was well in the subaltern.
Were not Annadurai and Periyar Ramasamy Naicker, the much deified leaders in TN, supposed to have demolished the caste hierarchies in the state and made Tamil Nadu a ‘model’ , ‘rationalist’ and an ‘egalitarian’ state for other ‘backward’ northern Indian states to follow? What happened to the long handed out history that has been proclaiming from the rooftops of the dawn of such an elite state in India?
If the scenarios depicted in the film are true -yes, they are true as most of the incidents are from real life acts in the state- then should we rewrite the history books in Tamil Nadu and throw the names, Annadurai and Ramasamy Naicker, to the dustbins of history?
The ending scene where two glasses, one with left over tea+milk and the other with just tea, depicts the reality in the state – that caste differences exist. The subtle message couldn’t have been conveyed with any other metaphor, for the prevailing ‘Two-Tumbler’ system in Southern Tamil Nadu cannot be hid under the carpet to paint a rosy picture in the state.
Then there is the usual spineless caricature of the brahmins – the scene in TASMAC, the state run liquor shop, where a fellow drinker is shown as one wearing three strokes of the sacred ash and sporting a half open shirt that exposes a wrongly worn sacred thread while mouthing the peculiar lingo of the brahmins (‘mama jammnunu irukken paaru’). The liquor consuming brahmin had no role to play in the film. He appeared just for that scene. Then why should he sport the sacred ash, wear the sacred thread in a publicly visible fashion and mouth brahmin oriented lingo? Could that character not have been anybody else without any caste indicators?
No Tamil film worth its salt is complete without such a down right racist and wanton degrading depiction of the brahmin community. Unless rabid hatred is infused into the genes, such a depiction is not possible.
Let us look at some Tamil films that have such rabid anti-brahmin sentiments.
The case about Kalam Hasan’s film ‘Virumandi’ is worth a look here. Leaving along the conflict regarding the title ( Sandiyar Vs Virumandi), the movie depicted a conflict between the militant Thevar community and a numerically minuscule Telugu speaking Naickers in southern districts of Tamil Nadu. The irony is that there is no conflict between Naickers and Thevars, both being wealthy land owning classes from the feudal setup. The real conflict in the southern states was between Thevars, the feudal landlords and Dalits, the landless exploited group. But portraying reality could have cost the film its very right to be screened. Could any movie maker worth his name make a movie on the annual ceremony to the legendary freedom fighter ( and a representative of the Thevar community) Muthuramalinga Thevar and the rise in tension in the region due to Dalit resentment opposing the ceremony?
The recent Tamil blockbuster ‘Kolamavu Kokila’ had a Brahmin character, with a ‘Sri Churnam’ – the traditional red mark that the Iyengar brahmins wear on their forehead – playing the role of a pimp. What is the obsession with ‘Sri Churnam’ is a question for sociologists to answer.
Kamal Haasan’s super hit movie ‘Viswaroopam’ had him play the role of a spy in the guise of a Brahmin that cooked chicken for his Brahmin wife that loved chicken. The wife works in the USA as an oncologist and Kamal Haasan is a live at home husband that tutors girls in Bharatnatyam. The role of a docile Brahmin is in direct contrast to a jihadi hunting spy is an excellent contrast, no doubt, and brought the extreme traits meet at a common point. But why should Kamal Haasan be shown as cooking chicken which he admits not to consume it in the film? And why should the wife be depicted as consuming the same? What kind of a retarded depiction is this?
Yet another Tamil film by name ‘Joker’ had another ‘Sri Churnam’ sporting assistant to a minister. Nothing wrong except that the assistant utters holy hymns of the saintly Azhwars ( 8th Century Vaishnavite saints) at the most inappropriate of places and occasions, one being near a toilet. There was no connection what so ever. Any comical relief that was sought to be brought never happened.
Let us come back to Pari Yerum Perumal.
Take the case of the English professor who punishes the protagonist and his friend for being grossly ill-equipped in English. In the scene where he chastises the duo, he is shown with a clean forehead. In the scene where he recommends suspension of the protagonist for entering into the ladies’s room, the Professor is shown as wearing the ‘Sri Churnam’. Note the connection – Sri Churnam –> Iyengar –> English –> Punishment for not being proficient enough in English and therefore anti-dalit.
Would the film have depicted a devout muslim, wearing a skull-cap, consuming liquor or a christian, wearing the holy cross, chastising the Dalit protagonist? The film didn’t even provide a hint of the caste of the oppressors in the film. And that is ‘Social Justice’ for the uninitiated.
In spite of these traditional lacunae, the film ‘Pari Yerum Perumal’ is a tight slap on the collective conscience of the dravidian strain of politics in the “Rational Republic of Tamil Nadu’.
The vicious brahmin-hatred ingested into Tamil cinema’s blood stream in the last 50 years rears its ugly head in incremental fashion, from time to time, and makes its presence felt. Now the venom has permeated into the genes, thereby successive directors have inherited the trait and are depicting the same in some form and measure, without fail.
Compare these films with gems such as ‘Asthu’, a Marathi film, on the Alzheimer afflicted Sanskrit Professor. Though I would want to ask ‘When would Tamil movie industry produce such films?’, I don’t expect any introspection and correction in the Tamil cinema community, for the pedigree speaks for itself through the films it produces.