Kaala, Aramm, Pariyerum Perumal: Dalit-themed films are getting mainstream acceptance in Tamil cinema

Haricharan Pudipeddi

Jan 06, 2019 10:00:18 IST

Tamil filmmakers for long have feared to make Dalit-themed films, but with exceptions like Pa. Ranjith, Gopi Nainar and Mari Selvaraj, whose movies Kaala, Aramm and Pariyerum Perumal made a hard-hitting impact among audiences and at the box-office, it’s safe to assume that the shackles of caste are finally coming off and this could easily be the best phase in Tamil cinema where Dalit-themed films are gaining mainstream acceptance.

Kaala, Aramm, Pariyerum Perumal: Dalit-themed films are getting mainstream acceptance in Tamil cinema

Rajinikanth in a still from Kaala. Image via Twitter

At a recent media event, Pa Ranjith said that casteism still exists in the industry and it creates fear among filmmakers. “In cinema, everything is seen from the perspective of business. People want their films to be sold. Dalit-themed films are not being made more often because several attempts in the past have failed to interest the audience. It’s a very biased industry, and filmmakers fear the restrictions they have to face.”

Ranjith said before he started making films, Dalit characters never bagged the leading roles. “I was really glad when Rajini sir agreed to play the hero of the oppressed castes in my films. It changed a lot of things in the industry and gave other actors the courage to take up such characters.”

Tamil cinema is unveiling a new genre of films, directed by young, fearless Dalit filmmakers who have presented powerful stories. Filmmaker Gopi Nainar feels films of Pa Ranjith have raised a lot of pertinent questions about the representation of Dalits in our society. His work has also given confidence to many filmmakers to talk about Dalits and the politics revolving around them more openly. Nainar’s Aramm, featuring very strong Dalit characters and Nayanthara in the titular role, made an important political statement about the state’s indifference to the marginalised.

“As a Dalit filmmaker, I made Aramm to create social awareness. I’ve faced discrimination as a Dalit, and I wanted to use cinema as a medium to address that discrimination. Be it Kabali, Kaala or Pariyerum Perumal, these are Dalit stories told by Dalit filmmakers. These films are not sympathetic to Dalits, but films on the oppressed made by the oppressed and this is what makes these attempts very legitimate,” he told Firstpost.

The industry grapevine is buzzing with news that Nainar’s next film is about a Dalit boxer and his fight for identity. “It’s too early to talk about my next film. When it’s time, I’ll talk about it.”

Nayanthara in Aramm

Nayanthara in Aramm

Mari Selvaraj feels the recent clutch of Dalit films have been politically-correct. “Films that claim that talk about Dalits don’t really capture the true Dalit lifestyle. The representation has always been skewed. It was Ranjith who made politically-correct Dalit films and brought about a change in the representation of Dalits. His voice for the Dalits is growing stronger with each film,” he said.

While Selvaraj is glad that his debut film Pariyerum Perumal, which revolves around a Dalit boy and a girl from an upper caste and boldly touched upon caste killings, emerged successful at the box-office; he feels it will take a lot of time to see real change in the society. “On the 50th day of Pariyerum Perumal in cinemas, the horrifying news about the killing of TN couple Nandesh and Swathi really shook me up. It was these caste killings that inspired me to write Pariyerum Perumal, and it was heartbreaking to see yet another case of caste-based killing at a time we were celebrating the film’s success.”

Last year saw the release of Amshan Kumar’s Tamil indie drama Manusangada, which managed to have a theatrical release a year after it had its premiere at Mumbai Film Festival. The film is based on the premise of denying someone the basic right to bury or cremate on the basis of caste. A gut-wrenching drama based on a true story, the film didn’t get its due in cinemas but definitely deserves a mention for openly talking about issues that are primarily caused due to caste division.

It will be really interesting to see what kind of change these filmmakers can bring upon with their films this year. As Mari Selvaraj pointed out, it also needs to be seen if the efforts of these filmmakers will have any impact on society.

Updated Date: Jan 06, 2019 10:21:24 IST

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