Tamil film Draupathi, shot within a Rs 50 lakh budget, is an abject failure, on many counts. Here are some pointers:
- Lacks technical finesse
- Characterisation sucks
- Characters speak dramatic lingo
- Screen play is a drag and is predictable
- Dialogue delivery is a drag too
- Too many issues to address – methane, hydrocarbon, sand mafia et al.
- Rushed scenes
- List continues …
With all the above, what is the need for this movie? Does it provide any entertainment value? Is it worth the time?
So, what did the movie Draupathi and its director Mohan achieve, if at all, in this movie that has all the above disdainful characteristics?
The movie and the director have:
- brought out the voice of the so-far-not-spoken castes of Tamil Nadu.
- made it known that alternate voices do exist in the state.
- debunked the ‘no-caste-in-Tamil-Nadu’ theory.
- punctured the utopian theories of dravidian politics that have so far sought to whitewash heinous crimes under the guise of ‘social justice’.
- established that while it is correct to talk about ‘honour-killings’, it is equally correct to talk about ‘staged-marriages’.
- established a new trend in Tamil cinema.
This film has evoked predictably lack lustre and downright irreverential response from The Hindu and The New Indian Express while evoking strong resentment from the so-called Periarists and Pseudo-Secularists. These make this film a mandatory watch. Even more predictably, the movie had met with resistance from the time its teaser was released.
In the late 80s, yet another Tamil film, “Ore Oru Gramathile’, a movie that was far ahead of its times to have portrayed a brahmin girl misusing reservation meant for scheduled tribes and becoming an IAS officer, was opposed tooth and nail by the dravidian parties who forced the director to make several cuts in the movie. ‘If any idea arises that contradicts the popular narrative, it has to be nipped in the bud’ was the version of ‘freedom of expression’ practised in the Rationalist Republic of Tamil Nadu, then. Much water has flown since, and therefore ‘Draupati’ didn’t meet the fate of ‘Ore Oru Gramathile’.
I had witnessed such orchestrated-love-marriages in Neyveli during the 80s and 90s. Every six months my father would come home from office and begin to narrate a melancholy – that of an Iyengar girl eloping with a dalit / christian employee. This became so predictable that when ever he came home angry and tired, we could guess some story on those lines.
Many years later I came to know about such orchestrated-love-marriages first hand. While I was a student of Salem Govt Engineering College in the early nineties, I had fallen sick. As I was running very high temperature in the dead of night, my hostel mate Vamsee had taken me to Omalur, a nearby village, in search of a doctor. The first one that we could find, after administering emergency an injection, began talking to me in brahmanical Iyengar Tamil. Flabbergasted, I looked up in surprise, even though I was dead tired, to hear a shocking truth. ‘I am an SC. My wife is a Thenkalai Iyengar from Sri Rangam. I have enjoyed government reservation in studies. But I wanted my children to be intelligent. Hence enticed an iyengar girl into falling in love with me. This is an organised cartel that funds such attempts’.
‘Why Iyengar girls?’ I had asked.
‘Suppose a dalit child and a paapppaara child ( brahmin child) return from school. While the paappaara child would start studying immediately after coming from school, the dalit child would go hunting and playing in the wild. To overcome this genetic trait, we get an upper-caste marriage for intelligent genes and reservation for studies’. The doctor had elaborated on several such episodes to a weak and ailing yours truly. ‘Would genes be intelligent? Would they get transmitted to the progeny in the right proportion?’ I had wanted to ask, but felt too weak to even wag my tongue.
That incident opened my eyes to another dimension in life. And this orchestrated-fake-marriages came to light in a 2014 judgement of the Madras High Court, which is what has been depicted in the movie ‘Draupati’. The courage to depict this almost- forgotten judgment is reason enough to view the movie.
Just because Dr.Ramadoss, the leader of a regional political party, had supported the movie, it doesn’t, in any way, eradicate and belittle the movie content or the truth embedded into the story of the film. While yet another brilliant Tamil movie about the atrocities on Dalits – Asuran – ( based on a novel by name ‘Vekkai’) was well received by movie loving Tamil Nadu and hailed as ‘true depiction of dalit oppression, it appears to be beyond reason not to celebrate ‘Draupati’ with the same euphoria and pomp.
While it is true that Vanniar community in Tamil Nadu has been majorly affected by the ‘orchestrated-love-marriage’ criminal act, there are other communities like Devar, Gounder, Chettiar and Pillaimar who have suffered to a great extent, so much so, that the wealthy Chettiars in villages around Panruti in Tamil Nadu get their daughters married off as soon as they enter colleges, lest they be subjected to such cheat-marriages in college. A Chettiar friend of mine from Panruti recently got his niece, a first year student in a local college, married off within his community. The girl, after marriage, would continue to be in her parent’s house and would move to her husband’s home on completing her studies. And this arrangement is guaranteed by the elders in the community. Call it innovation, but this is a trick to prevent a clear and present danger, for orchestrated-marriage racket happens mostly in colleges, especially during the summer vacations.
What irked me in the movie?
While no other caste is depicted explicitly in the movie, there is an exception to the caste of the sub-registrar who is shown to sport the Sri Churnam ( the yellow line in the forehead depicting Goddess Mahalakshmi) in the office scenes and to sport the traditional panacha kachcham at home and being bare bodied and thus exposing the sacred thread. I know that it is the norm in any Tamil movie to explicitly call out brahmin characters, so much so, that a do-gooder brahmin would seem utopian. I consoled myself with the thought that the evil sub-registrar was bare bodied and in a panacha kachcham as he was preparing to leave for Tirumala (not sure who would travel bare bodied all the way from Chennai to Tirumala). Also how many brahmin sub-registrars exist in Tamil Nadu these days?
Lest left-liberal-pseudo-secular-evangelical-luddites should pounce on me for supporting a supposedly mid-casteist film, here is my review of an out and out dalit film.
P.S.: I had not visited a movie theatre in India in the last 15 years. I made an exception this time, bought a ticket and watched this movie in a theatre in Chennai, for I felt that the director and his ilk needed to be encouraged to produce movies that reflect societal reality.
- News items in 2014 on Fake Marriages
- Ramadoss video on Fake Marriages
- Indian Express review of Pari Yerum Perumal
- The Hindu review of Pari Yerum Perumal
- The Hindu review of Draupathi
- Indian Express review of Draupathi