Parallel track Movies

Shackles of caste

A still from ‘Aaradi’

A still from ‘Aaradi’  

Aaradi, one of the movies selected for the Malayalam Cinema Today section of IFFK, peels off the veneer of progressive idealism to expose the lurking vestiges of caste that still exists in society.

For some people, life itself can be the biggest scourge and it ends only with death. However dark and ominous it may sound, that is the plight of many people living on the margins and for some, the curse follows even after death. Aaradi — one of the movies selected for the Malayalam Cinema Today section in this year’s International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) — deals with such an instance.

Directed by Saji Palamel, Aaradi is based on a short story by E. Santhosh Kumar. “The story had hit me hard when I first read it and inspired me to explore its visual possibilities. Then I discussed it with the film’s scenarist, Prasanth C. It was a long journey spanning over three years,” Saji says.

Saji Palamel

Saji Palamel  

Aaradi had to overcome several constraints during its making because of lack of funds as a producer backed out in the initial stages. “We tried crowd-funding through Facebook and collected an amount which we duly returned when a friend of mine came forward to finance the movie in part,” Saji says. They took just 16 days to finish shooting.

Aaradi invites us to witness a crucial day in the life of a young Dalit-wing leader of a major political party. It peels off the progressive garb of today’s society to reveal its atrophied interiors. Kunjikkoru Master, a prominent freedom fighter, dies and his grandson, still struggling to find his feet in life and politics as his scholarly ancestor did not care to amass wealth from public life, runs from pillar to post for some space to cremate the body. The film ends when the quest is resolved but leaves open many uncomfortable questions for the largest democracy of the world that also propounded the idea of Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam (the world is one family).

A still from ‘Aaradi’

A still from ‘Aaradi’  

There was no attempt at roping in stars for the film, and actors like Irshad was keen to be part of it on account of the theme. Theatre artiste Madhu Vibhakar has donned the main role with Hima Sankar Seematty in the female lead. “I have stuck to the original story and have maintained a tone of sarcasm and satire,” the director says. It is through an ‘uncle’ character played by himself that Saji brings in these elements.

Aaradi assumes significance against the backdrop of assaults on Dalits and minorities in places such as Dadri and Una. It also has a fleeting reference to the cow-protection brigade. But the situation was not so appalling when the filming started three years ago. His many years of experience as a panchayat president informs the narrative, Saji says.

While the film leaves one hoping for a less amateurish making, the movie succeeds in depicting the sense of alienation in its most hapless sense. Saji says a preview of the film had him thrilled to bits as critics and common people alike had related to it so well. “I have caricaturised a particular political party in the film and was sceptical of the party men’s response. But every one saw the issue beyond political lines.”

The filmmaker is extremely pleased that his debut feature, after four short films, was selected for the IFFK. “Having admired the work of KPAC, I can vouch for the fact art art has a prominent role to play in reforming society. It was the drama ‘Aswamedham’ that transformed an entire community’s attitude and destigmatised leprosy.”

And he believes in the power of cinema. Driven by technology and a desire for good cinema, today’s youth can use it for social change. “It is indeed heartening to see banners like LJ Films coming forward to promote small, meaningful cinema,” Saji says.

Films like Aaradi and Manhole (dealing with the silent yet prevalent practice of manual scavenging) being featured in the IFFK will hopefully make the larger public sit up and notice lives that remain in the dark, even after the end credits roll.

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Printable version | Mar 24, 2020 5:36:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/Shackles-of-caste/article16455091.ece

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