It all began with Madras. Then came Kabaali, Kaala, Parierum Perumaal, Magamuni and now Asuran- all dealing with lives and struggles of lower class people. Sensational blockbusters, every single one of them. These are films that shouldn’t be missed. Not only due the exceptional story line in each of them, but due to the message that’s conveyed.
Tamil cinema has come a long way from being an entertainment only medium to a full blown learning/movement medium now. The hero who once got his claps by mocking women’s dresses in his movies, acts in a woman empowerment movie and earns claps by showing how men should respect women. Goes to show that many directors and actors have realized the power of movies and have become more responsible in choosing what they want to say to the world.
When it comes to messages, people were able to understand why ‘Ner Konda Parvai’, ‘Bigil’, or ‘Viswasam’ were taken and what people can learn from them. But what about movies like Asuran and Parierum Perumaal? Are people getting the right message from these movies or shrugging it away because it wasn’t meant for them?
I ask because when I recently asked a close friend of mine why she hadn’t watched ‘Parierum Perumal’, , she said it was too hyped up and she couldn’t understand why this movie was even taken. Her argument was if these movies were taken to make casteist people change, that won’t really work because they might not be willing to even see such movies. Those people, she felt, would ever be rigid in their ideas/beliefs, and might not change by watching a movie or hearing another person’s view.
As for her disinterest in these films, she said she will never treat a person based on their caste, so she didn’t want to sit through a movie which she can’t relate to, either as the victim or the abuser. In other words, she didn’t want to watch a caste based movie which is in no way related to her.
Will save the argument we both had for another time, but her words made me think. Are there lots of people out there who didn’t watch Parierum Perumaal or Asuran because it was about something they can’t relate to? Damn!
I really wasn’t able to understand where she was coming from, because when it’s a movie on women empowerment – we forget our gender, and think it’s a good message for everyone, (which includes little boys and girls) and watch these movies with pride; but when it’s a movie on caste based differences that existed/exist in the world, why not set aside your caste and understand the message for the wellness of human race?
So back to my question, are we getting the right messages from these movies? Do you think these movies were taken just to show us the sufferings of lower caste people? Like my friend, do you wonder what is to be gained by watching such movies?
If you are one of those people whose only review for Asuran was if Vetrimaaran hadn’t touched the caste subject the movie would have been National award worthy, news for you my friend – these movies are part of a movement. These movies are the means to show that lower caste people have a voice. It is the age of Asuras (the word btw is a topic for another conversation). Beginning with the subtly implied life of lower caste people in Madras, to the boldly depicted struggles of them in Asuran – these movies gave a new image to the SC/STs or Dalits instead of imagining the worst of them. I remember once a Dalit doctor friend telling me that a friend was surprised to know he was a SC because he didn’t look like one. I wonder what image of SC he had in his mind then… Something to think about.
So yes, these movies are a movement. A film like Kabaali broke records not only because of the acting prowess shown by our Thalaivar but also because he shattered the impression which many people carried about Dalits. Ranjith and Rajinikanth gave people the strength to speak up a little more. These films gave them the solace that their stories are finally said, those feelings which they couldn’t express by mere words were portrayed in films for all to see.
A lot of us can empathize with a closeted LGBT person, but there are lot of closeted Dalits who are still struggling to be openly Dalit. Strange that our history books had the struggles of slavery system that the black community faced, but it didn’t lace out our own lower caste people’s struggles. So when a powerful entertainment medium shows us something that hasn’t been said for years, it should be welcomed and watched by everyone.
If you weren’t traumatized by the abuse our quiet Kathir and his dad goes through in Pariyerum Perumal, then you aren’t human. Urinating over a person to let him know his place, removing an elderly person’s veshti and shaming their entire community are scenes that would leave a mark in your soul forever. In Magamuni the scene where other upper caste people didn’t want to be on the same boat with lower caste Maga and he swims across the rough waters to get to the other side with Thirukural tied to his chest will leave you something to think about. In Asuran, the scene where Mariamma was made to walk with slippers on her head or the scene where an entire family was burnt for standing against the upper class’s atrocity are stories based out of real life but not many are aware.
And most importantly, these movies apart from being the voice for lower caste people, have made people google about Nilam engal Urimai and Panchami land and learn about the history of Dalits a bit more.
So do you still wonder why lower caste or SC/ST based films have to be taken? I hope not.
A powerful movie is one which goes beyond tugging the hearts of crowd to make them think. You don’t have to be a woman to watch a feminist movie, but it will help you understand their struggles or what goes in their mind a little better. The same way, you don’t have be a victim of caste based abuse to watch movies like Parierum Perumaal, it will help you empathize with them and try to understand them better.
Vetrimaaran didn’t bring Asuran to the theaters with the sole notion of making money. He could have made so much revenue by doing a crime thriller just as easily. Ranjith could have just as easily made use of Superstar to make a full blown masala block buster hit. Parierum perumaal could have just been about a sweet love story.
But all of these movies’ notion was to bring to people’s attention to the stories of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe community. The loud atrocities we see on film may not be ones all of us are familiar with. It may not be those that we see in our city or abroad life. But don’t let that stop you from watching these movies.
These movies bring awareness to people that the unnamed Dalit you frowned upon of having lost your college seat to, has a background too. In Parierum Perumaal, Kathir studies in a good college, and wears good clothes, same as his upper class good friend Yogi Babu. But there are some experiences which Kathir will never be able to talk about openly to him. Not to belittle the struggles of Yogi Babu, but you get the idea. So open your eyes and heart, before opening your mouth.
So, cheers to all these film makers, for taking Tamil cinema to a whole new level! So to all those people who you haven’t seen these movies till now, you are missing out on being part of a movement, right under your nose. Don’t be that guy.