Filmmaker Amudhan's documentaries screened recently by Vikalp-Films for Freedom capture the dehumanising work of the Indian dalits
"Shamelessly shot,edited, producedand directed byAmudhan R.P."scrolls up in the credits in"Vande Mataram - A ShitVersion" and "Shit". Starkfacts and realities about thebrutal 5000-year-old Indiancaste system essay Maduraibaseddocumentary filmmakerAmudhan RamalingamPushpam's documentaries,screened recently by Vikalp-Films for Freedom at the Centrefor Film and Drama.
As "Vande Mataram - AShit Version", A.R. Rahman'sversion builds up to a pitchthere are brief moments capturingthe humiliating and dehumanisingwork of India'sdalits. From manual scavengersin the garbage, sanitaryand crematorium setups,quick snippets with startlingfacts about the employees ofthe Madurai Municipal Corporation(MMC) make up thisvisually-telling documentary.
"Shit" follows the individualstory of manual scavengerand dalit Mariyammal who isalso employed with the MMC.And as the camera follows heron her daily work of cleaninghuman excreta, ironically on astreet known as TempleStreet, adjacent to a temple,she shares her degrading journeyof 25 years with the Corporation.She cleans the shit,bending over like how someonewould serve food on bananaleaves at a typical Indianfunction. And as she becomesmore comfortable with thecamera, she is able to challengeand rightfully threatenthose who shamelessly chooseto line the street with theirexcreta, despite communitytoilets.
"The Road" is another shortdocumentary filming the displacementand usurpation ofland and housing that the NationalHighways DevelopmentProgramme (NHDP). Lost livelihoods,identity and belongingsmark this ironicalroad to development, whichprovide no access to nearbyvillages and make travellingdangerous for villagers.
"Night Life" is a poetic attemptto capture a homelesswoman sleeping on the dividerin blurring shots in the fastforwardmode. While "Notesfrom a Crematoriam" yetagain films the unhealthy professionof manual scavengingin MMC a crematorium, crueland harsh facts about discrimination,death and the poignantsong of "Where is thepoor and the king/Where isthe intellectual and the idiot/Only place in the world whereyou'll find reconciliation"rings in your mind.
"Seruppu" (Footwear) capturesthe pathetic condition ofthe Catholic Arundhatiyars ofDharmanathapuram in Tiruchirappalliin Tamilnadu whomake footwear.
As caste-based discriminationpersists in Tamil Nadu,neither the Church nor theConstitution takes responsibilityfor the centuries-old situationof these dalits. And asan Arundhatiyar remarks: "Itis an ad that people aresuffering."
R.P. Amudhan's documentariesare simple and straightforward.They do not usesophisticated camera shots tohighlight the state and positionof dalits today. Their apparentsituation is captured inthe work they do and the livesthey still lead, 5,000 yearsthence.AYESHA MATTHAN