How Malayalam film 'Kammatipaadam' shatters stereotypes about caste and complexion

Sreedhar Pillai

May,26 2016 18:01 34 IST

Kammatipaadam, a pro-Dalit gangster movie with a difference, directed by cameraman and director Rajeev Ravi, is turning out to be a trendsetter in Malayalam commercial cinema.

The film, which released last Friday, has the young star Dulquer Salmaan in the lead, along with an array of actors like Vinayagan, Manikandan and Shaun Romy. Through a history of blood and violence, Ravi chronicles the transformation of Ernakulam (Kochi), as a metro city full of skyscrapers and a concrete jungle, from its lush green past of paddy fields.

Rajeev Ravi, Anurag Kashyap’s regular cameraman (Dev D, Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 & 2, Bombay Velvet etc), is born and brought up in Kochi and did his college at the prestigious Maharajas College. He knows the city like the back of his hand as he spent a major part of his childhood in Kochi. Ravi has earlier directed two critically acclaimed Malayalam films, the romantic hit Annayum Rasoolum (2013) and Njaan Steve Lopez (2014).

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A still from Kammatipaadam starring Dulquer Salmaan. Image courtesy: Global United Media

Ernakulam was a small town, and during the first communist government of EMS Namboodiripad in 1957, small tracts of farm land were given to the landless, mainly from the Dalit community, under the Land Reforms Ordinance Act.

But following the Economic Liberalisation of 1991, Kochi boomed into a metro city, and real estate skyrocketed. The then government set up Greater Cochin Development Authority, which helped the real estate boom, all the while paddy fields were converted to housing boards, luxury villas and apartments.

In Kammatipaadam, Ravi shows how the Dalits were forced to sell out their lands by their own brethren to upper caste real estate sharks, mainly the Syrian Christians. In the film, the land mafia uses dark skinned Dalit gangs mainly from the Pulaya community to usurp real estate. The hero, a middle class Ezhava man named Krishnan (Dulquer), grew up in the slums along with his best friend Ganga (Vinayagan) and his thuggish brother Balan (Manikandan), who mentors them into a life of crime and violence. Krishnan is also in love with Ganga’s cousin, a fellow dark skinned girl, Anita (Shaun Rommy).

The use of complexion reveals a lot about how Ravi wants to shatter the false image of beauty and fairness.

Malayalam commercial cinema has always been dominated by Hindu upper caste and Muslim superstars like Prem Nazir, Jayan, Soman, Sukumaran, Mammootty, Mohanlal, Jayaram, Dileep and new generation actors like Prithviraj, Dulquer and Nivin Pauly. The only Dalit actor, who to a certain extent made it to the top was the late Kalabhavan Mani.

Post Kammatipaadam, the bad guys played by Vinayakan and Manikandan, who debuted with the film, are now being flooded with offers. Both actors have gained quite a cult following post the film. There is enough evidence to believe that their popularity is increasing because of a sense of identification coming from movie goers, on actors of darker complexions playing important roles.

In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, director of the controversial film Rajeev Ravi, opened up about the film.

“I went through hell getting the film censored. It looked like they didn’t want the film to come out in the form that I conceived. The censors wanted all caste references, especially the word Pulayan in a background song to be removed, along with a lot of dialogues. Finally they reluctantly cleared the film with an A certificate with cuts, saying there is violence in the film,” said Ravi.

On the positive reviews to his film, he added: “I’m very happy with the emotional response of audiences across India (the film was released simultaneously across India with English subtitles). I grew up in Kochi of the 1980s and 90s, and at that time it was a small town. But post liberalisation and the gulf boom, real estate mafia took over the city and the poor and marginalised lost all their land. I wanted to convey that development is like cancer and only a few, mainly from the upper echelons of the society, benefit from it.”

About his idea of casting black skinned actors, Ravi said, “Except for Dulquer who is fabulous as a middle class guy, all other characters are from the lower strata of society. I feel it suited my characters, and the way my story unfolds. Vinayagan and Manikandan have done a superb job along with Shaun Romy. In a way I wanted to break the conventional commercial cinema concepts. I hope these new actors make it big as the audiences have given thumbs up to them.”

Kammatipaadam has definitely shaken the edifice of Malayalam commercial cinema as it will turn profitable for its makers Global United Media from its theatrical and television rights.