As Papilio Buddha reaches cinemas today, actor and co-producer of the film, Prakash Bare, talks about the film and the struggle to ensure its release in theatres
After a protracted struggle, Papilio Buddha will soar into theatres today. Directed and scripted by Jayan K. Cherian, Papilio Buddha tracks the perilous journey of the marginalised Adivasis and Dalits of Kerala, their struggle for a place of their own, the atrocities against them and the polymorphic manifestations of caste that have given them a raw deal. With an interesting star cast that has a Dalit activist in the lead role of Kandal Kariyan, the film explores their battle for land and rights. Although, initially, the Censor Board showed the red flag, producer-actor Prakash Bare and his team refused to give up and fought on various fronts to enable the film to be screened in theatres. Prakash talks about the film and his long battle to ensure that the film is seen by viewers at large. Excerpts.
Why did you choose to make Papilio Buddha? So far, most of the films produced by you have been based on literary adaptations.
I was always keen on working with Jayan. He is a filmmaker and academic who graduated from Hunter College and has a post-graduate degree in Fine Arts from the City College of New York. There are many works in films and art that chronicle the black movement in the United States and their struggle for dignity and their rights. This theme caught my attention because there are not too many films in India that talk about the Dalit movement from their perspective. So I felt this movie would fill that vacuum to a certain extent.
The film shares its title with the name of a butterfly…
Yes, a protected species that is endemic to the Western Ghats. This is a butterfly that lives in the heights and descends only for nectar. On account of environmental destruction, the butterfly is in danger of losing its habitat. I felt that the Adivasis and the Dalits, like the butterfly, are losing their eco-system, livelihood and way of living. They are being evicted from places where they have lived for years and years.
And the filmmaking…
We did not want to make any compromises vis-a-vis the story, the language or the characters. Usually most films are made with an eye on the box office and an eye on the socio-political equation to ensure that the film does not raise the hackles of the powers that be. But we wanted to be honest and make the film as close to reality as possible. As a result, there were no compromises made at any point of the filmmaking. The entire film was shot in Wayanad and there are references to the tribals’ struggle for land at Chengara and Muthanga.
The cast has an interesting mix of actors
Since we wanted the film to mirror real life as far as possible, it was not easy to find the actors to play the lead roles. We went through several auditions before we decided to cast Kallen Pokkudan as the protagonist Kandal Kariyan. Kallen is a Dalit leader whose life, in a way, was changed because of the caste system that has insidiously crept into all the levels of the establishment and the political system and oppresses the Dalits and their aspirations. Initially, many in our team doubted if he would be able to do justice to the role. He appeared to be so rigid. But when David Briggs saw him he remarked that if he was in the frame, it would be tough for the other actors. Initially, we thought he was saying that Kallen would not fit the bill but, later, he explained that what he meant was that Kallen was so authentic in his role, it would be difficult for the others to reach that level. We gave him the dialogues and he said that in his own dialect and pace. Since we had synch sound, the whole thing sounded so natural. When he saw that we made no effort to restrain him, he became comfortable in his role.
And the others in the cast…
Padmapriya acts as the Collector and I play a cop. Theatre actor Sarita has a done a brilliant job as Manjusri, an auto driver who is targeted on account of her gender and her caste. David dons the role of Jack, a lepidopterist who has come to India to study the Papilio Buddha.
Sreekumar and Thampy Antony, who has produced the film along with me, play the other important characters. M.J. Radhakrishnan is the cinematographer.
Why did the Censor Board object to the film? Has the film been changed to get the certificate from the censors.
Three objections were raised against the film. The Central Board of Film Certification denied it certification claiming that there was denigration of national symbols, use of expletives and nudity. The censors alleged that the movie denigrated national leaders such as Gandhiji, EMS and Ayyankali. They asked for 26 cuts. Finally, they agreed to do away with the cuts. But we blurred certain scenes and muted a few lines. But I must add that all that we have shown have been documented in written records and there was no absolutely no attempt to denigrate anyone.
The International Film Festival of Kerala kept out our film without even a valid reason. Even a private screening was stopped. I feel that we have not come a long way since the days when P.K. Rosy, a Dalit who was the first heroine of Malayalam cinema, was ostracised by the then orthodoxy.
And now to the theatres
Papilio Buddha will have its world premiere at the British Film Institute Festival. It is the only Indian film to be selected this year with 60 other international films in three categories. It will be screened on March 19 and 20. Moreover, we are getting a lot of demands to have the film dubbed in different regional languages. So, it has been worth the struggle.