Real art lies with the Dalits, says Marathi film director

Nagraj Manjule’s films have been winners in several categories at the National Film Awards.— Photo: Annie Philip  

Real art lies with the Dalits, but they have been unable to take it to the world, says National award-winning Marathi film director Nagraj Manjule.

Mr. Manjule, who is from the Wadar community in Karmala, Solapur, Maharashtra, was in Puducherry to attend the two-day national conference on ‘Hindi Cinema: Dalit and Tribal Discourse’ organised by the Department of Hindi at Pondicherry University on October 5 and 6.

Both his films, Pistulya and Fandry have been winners in several categories at the National Film Awards, with the latter picking up awards at several film festivals. Both reflect the struggle, reality and everyday lives of Dalits. “If you look at ‘Tamasha’ (a folk art of Maharashtra that includes ‘Lavani’ which is erotic song with dancing) and ‘Lavani’ or ‘Lokgeet,’ these were historically with the Dalits. They were appropriated and marketed by others. Ironically, while films based on ‘Tamasha’ have done well, people who have performed it traditionally do not garner much value,” says Mr. Manjule.

Dearth of Dalit writers, directors

Mainstream films, especially Hindi films, have done little to reflect the art or lives of Dalits. “There have to be Dalit writers and directors, how else will stories about the community and India’s diverse people come through in films,” asks Mr. Manjule. It must also be remembered that Dalits and their stories from each region differ from each other, just as much as a Dalit woman’s story would be different from any other Dalit story.

One way to deal with this gap is through film education, which is to get more Dalits interested and educated about films. The other is the opportunity for Dalits to learn from life and art, says Mr. Manjule. He lauded efforts like the conference at Pondicherry University. “A platform like this helps me not only as a filmmaker but also in widening my personal thought process as well. I get to know different points of view,” he says.

‘Need more schools like FTII’

Films have been viewed as an expensive profession, one in which only those with money can invest their time in. On film schools, he says there definitely needs to be more places to learn filmmaking and about films. However, these need to be able to be inclusive and open to all. “We need more places like the Film and Television Institute of India,” he says.

Strength and weakness of language in film

On films in different languages, Mr. Manjule says, “Films do not need knowledge of a language as much as literature does. A film like Fandry would lose its essence as a Hindi film. In Bengaluru, where the film was screened, a sweeper girl who happened to be at the place understood the film.”

However, it is also true that films made in regional languages do not receive a large audience. “Language can be the strength and weakness of a film. There has to be better coordination among filmmakers and the government to ensure films from across the country have the opportunity to be released in multiple places,” says Mr. Manjule.

His next film, Sairat , in Marathi, is a love story which he hopes bridges the gap between commercial and art films.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 3:19:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/real-art-lies-with-the-dalits-says-marathi-film-director/article7733045.ece

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