Disclaimer: I am one among the many fans of Pa.Ranjith, the south Indian Film Director who wish him success in his endeavours to make the society more progressive whilst bringing Dalit issues to the mainstream focus and attention.
If you haven’t had an opportunity to watch his latest work, Sarpatta Parambarai, please give it a try. Ever since his first movie, Attakathi, Pa. Ranjith has progressed into a force to reckon with in bringing issues of oppressed communities to the mainstream and the recognition and pay that it brought to him has made him to invest in initiatives such as Casteless collective, Koogai Thirai, Neelam Social and much more.
Coming from a Dalit background, Pa. Ranjith never hesitates to discuss his identity and upbringing. This is much against the usual stereotype of a Dalit who uplifts himself (say, as an IAS Officer) and conceals his identity for the fear of retribution amongst his colleagues as someone who took advantage of the quota system — a trump card played by the dominant caste Hindus. Ranjith never shies away from questions on his identity and why he has taken it as a motto to cover the lives of oppressed class of people and bring them to the mainstream theatre/OTT audience.
Sarpatta Paramabari is the second such attempt from Ranjith with focus on North Madras community after his earlier successful attempt, Madras. If mainstream audiences were treated to stories that centered on a Brahmin’s life in Vietnam Veedu, or Thevar pride in Thevar Magan, or Kounder pride in Chinna Kounder, there is absolutely no shame in Ranjith focusing on Dalit lives through his movies as his movies offer a completely different perspective to the earlier stated mainstream movies.
His movies talk about relationship, the role of women in their household, daring and bold and wouldn’t hesitate to hit back in the face of intimidation from Authority or Oppressors, the constant struggle by the oppressed against a segment of well established network of Oppressors who perfect the art of oppression through their nexus with forces meant to maintain the same Law & Order by unleashing violence.
Ranjith has provided a platform for other movie makers to openly discuss caste based discrimination. Notable mention includes, his Neelam Production’s “Pariyerum Perumal” by Mari Selvaraj, “Karnan” and Vetrimaaran’s “Asuran”. The hesitancy to provide a screen space to Ambedkar has been shattered by Ranjith’s initiative to include Ambedkar prominently in a shot framing. Such is the position given to Dr. Ambedkar, a visionary law maker and economist in the history of Indian Politics and a key member in drafting the Constitution of India.
If it took 43 years since independence to recognise and bestow Ambedkar with the highest civilian honour, “Bharata Ratna”, imagine the plights of other Dalits? Gandhi, a high caste Hindu, was considered above awards such as “Bharata Ratna” whilst the likes of Ambedkar who argued vociferously for the rights of oppressed class were sidelined systematically. Ambedkar did win his share of getting reserved constituencies and reservation for scheduled castes and tribes as a form of social justice for years of oppression by the caste system.
From this social and political background, one has to analyse the work and growth of Pa. Ranjith, a complete outsider to the Film industry and worked his way to establish his identity. “Sarpatta Parambarai” has brilliant staging, art direction, cast and crew, who have put in their best effort. Ranjith has ensured that actors go through a process of preparation and experience life as boxers by roping in former boxers and coaches. Since it is a period movie that is set in the mid 70s to early 80s, he has researched about the history of boxing matches during British India days and how the tradition continued in the current day North Madras area until it was banned by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.G. Ramachandran. Boxing was seen as a liberating sport for the labourers and fisherman in the community.
If you ask me about my pet peeve, I would have requested Pa. Ranjith to have tried casting “Attakathi” Dinesh in the place of Arya. Arya is a terrific person but I somehow felt he could have done justice in a different role. Both Dinesh and Arya are Director’s ideal clay to be moulded and shaped. Although Pasupathi was great, Lal of Malayalam film industry could have easily fitted in.
There is a good amount of political undercurrent in the movie. Ranjith subtly explores the political understanding of grass-root level organisers in both DMK and AIADMK, political parties — how emotionally driven, AIADMK political workers are and how ideologically driven, DMK political workers are. The Justice Party, DK and subsequently DMK have been champions of most backward communities with some soft stance on Dalit rights.
I would disagree with Ranjith on his statement that this movie is about economic Class difference. It is clearly a political movie and he knows best where his heart lies — the post interval block of the movie is clearly about Kabilan, the lead character, on how he loses direction in the absence of his mentor and coach, Rangan, and wavers into the caste politics played by Thaniga while being associated with an emotionally driven Vettri (Rangan Sir’s son).
It is a fairly predictable sports centered drama and in the climax, Kabilan’s victory serves as a celebration of the oppressed over the Oppressors. Whether you celebrate Parasurama’s victory over Mahabali or the other way around — i.e. celebrate the glory of Mahabali and his just rule — is up to you.
The movie will certainly be considered another milestone for Ranjith. But I sincerely believe he or Mari Selvaraj should explore the sub-caste divide among Scheduled Castes like the discrimination between Parayar / Arundhathiyar / Chakkiliyar / Pallar communities.
I am eagerly looking forward to some progressive relationship between Ranjith and T.M.Krishna, the carnatic vocalist, who is seen as a progressive face in his ultra orthodox community to openly discuss Dalit issues.
Wishes to Pa. Ranjith and team!