“Caste is the foundation of our society; discrimination is in the air we breathe. These are our realities.” – Nagraj Manjule
Cinema industry in India has played a vital role in shaping, appropriating-inappropriating and constructing perspectives in the dominant imagination of the Indian society. Among many such perspectives, a perspective on caste is under-developed, which often distorts how one views the existence of caste.
There are many people who have produced appreciable work in the domain of cinema. But more often we find while creating a discourse about imagery and existence of caste-identities in cinema industry, the interpretation is that the movie either celebrates such identities or glorifies them. Just as Dalit Literature has never found ‘Samiksha’ (Critical Analysis); same is the case with identities and imagery that belongs to or refers to a person of caste as an object of the movie. Much of the thesis done on what constitutes as cinema today, is about language, casting and newly invented topic of caste. There was a discussion on how Kabali (Ranjith, 2016) acquired an imagery of a Dalit in the movie. However I argue, Rajinikanth alone does not represent ‘Dalit imagery’. It is the people involved in the process of making the movie who equally involved the creation of these identities and imageries, in relation to exploited castes. Thus, being visual artists for and disseminators of a certain kind of screen within a caste-based society, the agenda of this project is to recognize the existence of ‘non-brahmanical aesthetic’ within cinema, caste in cinema and the identities involved with it. This projects also aims to delve into aspects such as the difficulty in making cinema, with use of ‘uncommon’ tools of modern technology.
Why the aesthetics is important?
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- Why there is lack of ‘Samiksha’? – A significant and subconscious fact of cinema
There has been many ‘mainstream Dalit’stories and characters appeared on the screen in more than 100 years of Indian cinema. The more powerful explorations of caste issues have been in the parallel films and in the Southern states of India; but there these spaces too, they come intertwined with larger themes of poverty, rural feudalism and exploitation. “There is a tendency to mask the caste issue with subaltern imagery,” says cultural commentator Sadanand Menon (The Hindu)
- What is going to be produced? Content will illustrate the occurrences of technology being employed by the downtrodden sections of society and thus critically analysed through and from their perspectives.
- Objectives of the project – This project is aimed at discussing‘Dalit (Non-Brahmanical) Aesthetic’ which are used in relation to mentioned ideas and their relevance with the society. We believe that any artifact is are a petition of the society as well as it often manipulates or appropriates the imagination about a weaker but assertive section of the society; in this case, Dalits. Such manipulation of the imagination of a particular section of the society develops negative perspectives which either stereotype or criminalize a section of the society. The language used for the presenting this repetition -imagery through movies on screen has many facets as well as the subconscious bias embedded in the heart of popular imagination. This project attempts at exploring the ideas discussed above.
- Video structure – Videos will be shot at various places with the background of identities exploration and discussing related ideas. Video will be shot in front of the green or blue screen so that related videos of chosen idea can be played in background Timeframe – 20 films will be produced in 20 weeks.
- Requirement – The requirement is to have 20 films for 8-10minutes each. Each film would highlight such ‘non Brahmanical aesthetic’ of involved in an area of the cinema. The film should bring out: The movies/actors/artists agenda – subconsciousness of the performance; the difficulties faced by a movie; and how a movie is going to be fit in the current positionality of a particular section of the society.
- Background and Mix – We are currently in the process of finalizing what kind of movies we can produce which will deal with caste and its existence in cinema. We are also parallelly researching movie personalities from such caste-background made impression on the larger audience and has got an opportunity to reflect on themselves while being the part of the huge cinema industry whose existence so far has brought almost no changes in the social psyche of the society.
Below are the Examples
A singer, dramatist, musician, a poet, an actor and an activist, who believes in Ambedkarism talking about a memorable song of his life, which made him understand the socio-political condition of 1990s. A song from the film Swarg (1990) directed by David Dhawan and acted by leading star cast like Rajesh Khanna, Govinda, Juhi Chawla, Madhavi and Paresh Rawal with the music of Anand-Milind Srivastav.
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Anand-Milind were a hit music duo who produced music for hits like Eena Meena Deeka, Bol Radha Bol and Baghi. One of the songs from Swarg, Kaise Kate Din, (How will these days pass?) was sung by Mohammed Aziz and Anuradha Paudwal. The song’s narrative is of two people who are in love but belong to different social backgrounds. The love story in the movie is of a loyal servant, Krishna (Govinda) who works a for a rich family which lives in a mansion named, Swarg (paradise). Krishna saves Jyoti (Juhi Chawla), a daughter of the rich family when she is in danger, and further earns the trust of the family. When the rich family is betrayed by its own relatives, and as a result they lose all their wealth, Mr. Kumar (Rajesh Khanna), the Sahabji of Swarg house, decides it will be only him and Jyoti that has to migrate to a slum. Krishna, who wants to follow them, is falsely accused of stealing, beaten and sent away by Sahabji, who wants him to carve out a better future for himself. Krishna migrates to a big city and finds his soulmate and friend in the form of Airport (Satish Kaushik), who he lives in Bombay slum. Krishna, by chance appears in front of a movie director while working as laborer (This category is in formal and un-recognised from beginning of the cinema industry). Eventually, he becomes a star. Meanwhile, Jyoti starts dreaming about him, in the form of the song Kaise Kate Din. The lyrics of the song communicate a painful nostalgia, which is reflective of the mood of the Indian working class in the 90s, where liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation caused a high rate of migration. Cassette culture also contributed to the large scale demand. It is within this context, Charan Jadhav is singing and sharing his own experience of the song. .
Fandry (2014) is a milestone in Indian cinema as far as depiction of Dalit lifestyle goes. ‘Fandry’ is a story of power dynamics through the failure of love and imagination. Fandry shows an innocent love of ‘Jabya’ (Somnath Awghade) but also simultaneously explores the multi-layered caste hierarchy of the evil Indian Society. In the movie, ‘Jabya’ is a lower caste boy and ‘Shalu’ (Rajeshwari Kharat) is an upper caste girl. Being set in a rural area of Maharashtra, the ‘societal norms’ which are traditionally passed down from the ‘Manusmriti’ are of a peculiarly rigid nature.
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‘Fandry’ is the face of teenage love, on one hand dreaming and on the other facing the harsh truth of a rigid caste system. When one looks beyond the screen, apart from Kishor Kadam, all actors are debutants in movie. The treatment is of a different substance, and is to be credited to Nagraj Manjule’s writing and direction. Although Fandry is a representative story, it can easily relate to anyone who is socially ostracised. Jabya’s father Kacharu Mane (Kishor Kadam) is a good and obliging man of the society. He knows his son, Jabya’s actions, though innocent are not good for their family. Kacharu also has two daughters; the elder daughters’ life was shown to be ruined as she was a divorcee whereas the younger one was yet to be married. He works very hard to collect her dowry. ‘Pirya’ (Suraj Pawar), is Jabya’s best-friend, and accompanies him everywhere. In our society, a pig is a symbol of pollution, but the one whose occupation is to catch pigs, is considered even more disrespectful, but their (Jabhya and Pirya’s) friendship rises above all this and they consider each other their soul mates. ‘Pirya’ is always with him, be it even for catching a black sparrow. The capture of a black sparrow is the theme of the movie. It is referring to a superstition in rural Maharashtra that if the ashes of a black sparrow, a rare creature, are thrown on someone, it makes them fall in love with you. The ashes are supposed to caste a spell. In similar vein, Satyajit Ray has shown a similar situation in one of his movies, called ‘Pratidwandi’ which depicts a youngster, seeking a job, dreams about a searching for a bird which can give him happiness. But here, the society believes if you can catch a black sparrow then your wishes will come true, especially about love. The old women suggested Jabya that, ‘black sparrow is Brahmin, if Jabya (an untouchable ‘Kaikadi’) catches her, other Brahmins will kill her. Through this act, the viewer is jarringly reminded of Jabya’s reality. Jabya is a teen-aged student from Kaikadi community. He loves an upper caste girl in his class. His love is one-sided. He and his family live in small village, Akolner, in Ahmednager district, where misbehavior in the name of caste is rampant. Despite the bad experiences that he goes through in this society, he decides to express his love to Shalu, the upper-caste girl from his school. To impress her, ‘Jabya’ and his friend ‘Pirya’ always wander and roam around the hills and far spaces of village, chasing her. In school, he is part of a band which gives rhythm for ‘lezim’, and in the village fair, he tries to impress her with his talent of ‘Halagi’ (a musical instrument which is traditionally played by Dalit boys). Meanwhile, his family takes on any and every odd job to earn their bread and butter. Just like his family ‘Jabya’ also takes up odd jobs for supporting his family, which is an underlying fact throughout their life. The Kaikadi community is known for catching pigs. Kacharu Mane (Kishor Kadam) is called for by the upper-caste families only when pigs give problems to the villagers. In the village fair, ‘Jabya’ and his family sell things like wooden baskets and brooms, which are caste-based occupations. Generally ‘Jabya’ is shown taking part in such odd jobs, but when Shalu is in the front of him, he hesitates and denies working. As a result of this the ‘Sarpanch’ (Patil) complains to Jabya’s father, when he refuses to listen to him. In the village fair, when Shalu arrives, Jabya hides under a basket and tries to disappear. But at his father’s insistence he reluctantly joins his family to capture a pig along with his family: the situation of pig and the simultaneous screaming of his family is so jarring, it makes the viewer uncomfortable. In my opinion, it is rather romanticized. In the Kaikadi language, ‘Fandry’ means Pig. This word has become the identity of ‘Jabya’s’ family. Not many in the audience know the meaning of ‘Fandry’ is. It, of course, obviously follows that no one knows the condition of these people, the exploitation and humiliation that these people undergo at the hands of all the other communities. From the beginning till then end, the audience is shown the hierarchies of the Hindu caste society and the consequent exploitation, ignorance, misbehavior, rebellion and resistance. ‘Fandry’ is a story of societal norms and the burning problem of caste system, in the form of a love story. Owing to Jabya’s family status, if someone from the upper castes, hits him or ill treats him or abuses him, Jabya does not say a single word. The humiliation is reflected in Awgadhe’s eyes. Chankya, the village drunkard (Nagraj Manjule) and Jabya share a rather unique relationship. The viewer sees them converse on various perspectives on caste, tradition and love that breaks down the boundaries created by ‘Manusmriti’. Chankya lends his Halagi to Jabya to impress Shalu at the village fair. But when Jabya also tries to join the dance, the upper castes (see forehead) do not allow him to dance, hit him. Even then, Chankya comes, lifts Jabya onto his shoulders and dances like a mad man, till everyone distances themselves from the duo. In the last scene when ‘Jabya’s’ family catch pig and is going on their way home, in the background, Nagraj shows the images of Babasaheb, Shahu Maharaj, Sant Gadgebaba and Savitrimai, all of whom are symbols of the fight against the caste and class system. The images communicate to the audience that, ‘fighting for equality is not enough, we have to fight against Brahminism which comes in the face of technology, materialistic life and education’. In the very state that Phule, Shahu and Babasaheb Ambedkar were born into, caste still exists. There are ample books and discussions describing this caste system, but reality is more dangerous than in the books and discussions. The patient Jabya and the rebellious Jabya is a beautiful synthesis shown in the movie, so much so that it can be another characteristic of the movie. The images also play a very symbolical role in the movie. The situation of the village fair is very beautiful in the sense that it shows Chankya helping Jabya publicly, a symbol of a Dalit standing up for another Dalit. I don’t know how other people read this situation, but personally, I have often observed in rural festivals like fairs, the lower caste youngsters always get beaten up publicly in the name of dance. Chankya’s occupation is to repair cycles in village, but he is still known to be a superstitious man and a drunkard, as he thinks nothing suits him better. Jabya also does so many odd jobs for fulfilling his responsibility for his family, but the idea of the black sparrow is so alluring that failure makes him lose his mind and he breaks his cycle, out of frustration. Chankya gives him support during this frustrating phase and tells him, ‘not to worry as these things happen’. It must be noted that this is only possible when someone is aware of the caste system and which Chankya does, eh also understands Jabya’s stiuation, as he himself must have probably experienced it too. In Chankya’s shop, there is a photo of Annabhau Sathe, one of the finest writers to be born in Maharashtra. Sathe was a communist for which he was ignored by his own community and also an untouchable, for which he was deliberately ignored by his upper caste Communist comrades. The scenes in the movie explain situation of the village (society) through photos of Annabhau Sathe, Dr. Ambedkar, Savitrimai, Shahu Mahraj, Sant Gadgebaba in the background. Nagraj Manjule’s ‘Fandry’ is a coming-of-age love-story, set in a caste abiding society, his ability to narrate these parallels on screen is truly remarkable. As for the commercialization, the viewer can safely say it’s not a documentary. There are some movies which never live up to the criteria for a movie but instead, they define what a movie can be, ‘Fandry’ is on such movie. Somnath Avaghade, Suraj Pawar, Rajeshwari Kharat, Chhaya Kadam, Pravin Tarade, Kishor Kadam and others have ornated the movie with their excellent acting skills. Somnath and Suraj behave like it’s not a movie, its their reality and that is one of the many high points of the movie.
Examples of non-brahmanic aesthetic in South Indian films
Thithi – Thithi is a Kannada language film released in 2016. Based in a remote village of Karnataka, the film’s plot revolves around the funeral of a 101 year old man, Century Gowda and his following 3 generations – a free-spirited bearded old son who spends his time roaming around the village smoking beedis and drinking country liquor, the more materialist grandson who is interested in the property being signed off to him and the teenage great-grandson who is a nomadic tribal girl and drinking and gambling with his friends.
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Century Gowda, the irate old man, whose comic death the movie begins with, belongs to a land-owning dominant caste in erstwhile Mysore state, now Karnataka (Gowdas) who were generally appointed as village administrative heads. The surname itself does not indicate the caste, but a community that was responsible for administration duties of a village. There are at least 1-2 dominant OBC communities such as Gowdas of Karnataka in South India, like the Reddys and Kammas of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, Thevars and Goundars of Tamil Nadu, and Nairs of Kerala. These dominant castes, are lower caste who have gained power and social status due to the nature of their duties and have Brahmanised themselves over a period of time. One can see that in the proud gait of Century Gowda and how he insults people around him, as he considers himself socially above them. However the non-Brahmanical aesthetic to which the film lends to is the funeral around which the plot of the film revolves. Funerals have been the domain of Dalits, ex-Untouchables, the dead human body is considered ritually polluting by Brahmins. The music, too at a funeral is also the duty of the Dalit.