What does the film ‘Draupathi’ represent?

Tamil film Draupathi, shot within a Rs 50 lakh budget, is an abject failure, on many counts. Here are some pointers:

  1. Lacks technical finesse
  2. Characterisation sucks
  3. Characters speak dramatic lingo
  4. Screen play is a drag and is predictable
  5.  Dialogue delivery is a drag too
  6. Too many issues to address – methane, hydrocarbon, sand mafia et al.
  7. Rushed scenes
  8. List continues …

With all the above, what is the need for this movie? Does it provide any entertainment value? Is it worth the time?

Draupati Movie

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:

  1. brought out the voice of the so-far-not-spoken castes of Tamil Nadu.
  2. made it known that alternate voices do exist in the state.
  3. debunked the ‘no-caste-in-Tamil-Nadu’ theory.
  4. punctured the utopian theories of dravidian politics that have so far sought to whitewash heinous crimes under the guise of ‘social justice’.
  5. established that while it is correct to talk about ‘honour-killings’, it is equally correct to talk about ‘staged-marriages’.
  6. 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.

Ref:

  1. News items in 2014 on Fake Marriages
  2. Ramadoss video on Fake Marriages
  3. Indian Express review of Pari Yerum Perumal
  4. The Hindu review of Pari Yerum Perumal
  5. The Hindu review of Draupathi
  6. Indian Express review of Draupathi

 

 

Pari Yerum Perumal & others

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.

      

நடிகையர் திலகம் – Movie Review

The Tamil film ‘நடிகையர் திலகம்’ (Queen among the female actors) is a biopic that glorifies an actor to the extent that it does injustice to her husband.

Savithri, the erstwhile lead actor in Tamil that the film is based on, was supposed to have been the female equivalent of the then doyen of Tamil film industry – Sivaji Ganesan. There was supposed to be no role that she could not emulate.

nadikaiyar_thilakam

The film portrays the meteoric rise, the path of slow and painful decline and ultimately the pathetic end of Savithri. Gemini Ganesan, the then male superstar and heart throb of girls of that age, is painted in a bad light and is shown to be the precursor to the decline and demise of Savithri.

Given the headstrong nature of Savitri, she had never heeded sane advice and had ventured into uncharted territory – film direction and production.

The biopic could have covered the different conspiracy theories that had surrounded the life and times of Savithri and Gemini Ganesan. The film does not speak of the role of another leading female actor of those times, Banumathi, who was supposed to have enticed Savithri to produce films. What had made Banumathi to lure Savithri into this film production business, did Gemini Ganesan have any role in this, was there anyone else behind this ill-thought out move, what transpired between Savithri and Chandrababu, a comedy superstar who also had a sad end – the film could have investigated on these lines.

When Savithri, the then reigning superstar was undergoing such turmoil in her finances, what did the the other leading movie players do? What was Sivaji’s stand? Did MGR, an erstwhile superstar and the then Chief Minister of the state, do anything to ameliorate Savithri’s sufferings? What did the film industry associations do? Had these been addressed, the biopic would have given a complete perspective of the situation that prevailed in the state in general and Tamil film industry in particular. A chance missed.

The film meanders on an unnecessary love story of an investigative journalist while trying to provide a third person narrative to the biopic. The time spent in these sequences could have been better spent in going over the intertwining factors behind the decline of a gifted actor Savithri.

Malayalam actor Keerthi Suresh dons the role of Savithri and her performance is a treat. She speaks more through her eyes like what Savithri was supposed to have done. She emotes Savitri so much so that, at times, the viewer begins to see Savithri in Keerthi Suresh. Dilqar Salman, who plays Gemini Ganesan, does justice with the necessary dose of tom boyishness and grace.

The scene transition between two films that run in parallel and that too entangled with the personal lives of Gemini and Savitri, the color transition from black and white image to color costumes of the then real life characters, the then Madras’s imagery, the mellifluous background score and an outstanding song that brings out the romance between Gemini and Savithri and many more finer aspects of the movie bring out the needed talent that the Tamil movie industry has, but seldom uses.

‘Nadigaiyar Thilakam’  — one-sided biopic, supported well by the lead actors, but laid waste due to unnecessary characters and a not-so-needed sub-story line. The surprise upside – the discovery of a great talent ‘Keerthi Suresh’.

A welcome different attempt in the Tamil / Telugu film industry. Hope more of such emerge on the life and times of Jayalalithaa, yet another enigma and a power to reckon with until her mysterious death in 2016.

अस्तु – ( So Be It ) – Movie Review

What a movie! 

‘Asthu’ (अस्तु), a Marathi movie that revolves around an Alzheimer  patient excels in many spheres and takes mainstream cinema to a different level. 

Dr.Chakrapani Sastry, a retired Sanskrit scholar, afflicted with dementia, forgets even his daughter’s names, yet is able to recall relevant verses from ancient texts that suit the occasion. He gets lost, follows an elephant and is taken care of by the mahout’s family for a day. The struggles that Sastry’s daughter Irawati undergoes to find him forms the crux of the story.

astu-so-be-it-marathi-movieSastry’s slow descent into dementia is well captured. The scenes where the mahout’s wife takes care of the scholar have deep philosophical undertones bordering on Karma and the like. These scenes are bound to bring tears to the viewer.

The transitions from one scene to the other, through the eyes of the daughter, are well made , with an object or verse in the preceding scene acting as the connector to the succeeding one. Eg – The miniature elephant souvenir in a scene followed by the one that shows the actual elephant Lakshmi.

Irawati Harshe plays Irawati, daughter of Sastry. Her controlled and graded emotional outbursts are a treat to watch. Milind Soman plays a supporting husband and an understanding son-in-law. 

The mahout and his wife (Amruta Subash) glitter in their performances, the latter stealing all the scenes effortlessly. 

Dr.Mohan Agashe, a real life Psychiatrist, plays Dr.Chakrapani Sastry and anchors the film all the way through. A man that doesn’t remember anything, following an elephant that is supposed to remember everything, is an interesting aspect of the film.

I particularly liked the steady stream of jingling noise made by Irawati’s bangles. The Kannada-Konkani-Marathi lullaby that the mahout’s wife sings is bound to anchor you to the seat. The lullaby makes all the characters sleep, and that includes the elephant.

The mahout’s daughter is a silent performer. She never spoke a word, but captured my heart.

It is an honour to watch the film. I honoured myself twice.

Buddha in a traffic jam – my review

Disclaimer: I don’t watch movies. I watch documentaries. Hence my opinions about a movie could be farther away from the mainstream movie review industry.

‘BITJ’ is a lone right wing movie that has all the right content and intent.

BITJ speaks the truth about urban naxals, their methods and their infiltration in the mainstream world. While it is the obvious truth in India, one wouldn’t have heard of this being spoken in the public space. For, the space is occupied by the urban naxals themselves.

BITJ speaks truth to the untruthful world, but does a lack lustre job of painting a cohesive picture.

The film looks at the dichotomy in the world through the eyes of a management student. The student gets to know about tribals, naxalites, government forces out to destroy the naxalites, some lessons on socialism, academic infiltration by the naxalites, love, middlemen who prevent genuine development of the tribals and many other things. The film is all over the place.

The movie shows elite, ever-smoking, ever-boozing students in an even more elite business school. Probably, the only time the guys and girls don’t smoke is when they sleep.

BITJ is a valiant attempt at portraying truth, but seems to meander around with lectures and pontifications.

In any case, the director Vivek Agnihotri deserves praise for his avant garde effort to speak a truth that is not spoken at all, for the repercussions from Bollywood, academia and media would be too heavy to bear. He withstood the media onslaught, physical violence unleashed on him due to the film, and a general exorcism by the media-academia-industry establishment.

His soon to be released book by name ‘Urban Naxals’ is expected to speak on the trials and tribulations that the director had to undergo prior to and after the release of the film.

Kudos to the director-author Vivek Agnihotri.