‘Madras, a critique of Dalit politics’

Filmmaker Pa. Ranjith attributes the success of the film to the way it offers a fresh perspective on life in north Madras. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Filmmaker Pa. Ranjith’s recent hit, Madras, has triggered a debate about how Tamil cinema tackles issue of caste and representation of Dalits and their lifestyle.

The film, which deals with the impact of party politics on the youth of north Madras, is being hailed for breaking away from stereotypical depictions of those living in the city’s underbelly as lumpen elements.

In an industry where films that celebrate caste supremacy have been hugely successful, Ranjith says that he wanted to make a film which shines light on how the system maintains caste hierarchies. “It’s basically a critique of politics from within the Dalit community. It is not a film which celebrates caste; rather it calls for its annihilation through rational progressive politics. It’s not a ‘Dalit movie’. It is a mainstream film which has documented the vibrant culture of the oppressed,” he says.

Many on social media have pointed out how reviews by mainstream media have missed the references to Dalit politics in the film while Tamil bloggers were quick to pick it up. This was considered symptomatic of the caste and class bias in mainstream media.

When asked what he thought of it, Ranjith replies, “The film is not shy about the politics it is talking about. The signifiers are very overtly placed. For instance, the hero reads a book, Theendadha Vasantham, a very important book in Dalit literature. Also, the colour blue — usually associated with Ambedkarite political parties — has been used prominently in many frames. These are hard to miss.”

Ranjith attributes the success of the film to the way it offers a fresh perspective on life in north Madras while staying within the contours of commercial cinema.

“For many years now, all the facets of life of people in north Madras have been heavily misrepresented in popular culture. While Bob Marley, hip-hop and football are the in thing among the youth there today, Tamil cinema still has them speaking the good old ‘Madras Bashai’ and depicts them as rowdies. The Tamil slang has evolved,” he says, adding that a departure from such stereotypes has provided much needed relief to the audience and been embraced.

(For the full script of the interview, go to: view)

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 4:28:33 PM |

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