A mov(i)e to enlighten Dalits

The film-maker, R. Padmavathi.

The film-maker, R. Padmavathi.  

GUTSY. THAT IS how film critics call R. Padmavathi's film on B.R. Ambedkar, considering the attempt and performance.

"The film is a result of the burning embers in me to protest atrocities committed against Dalits," says Mrs. Padmavathi, a professional doctor herself.

Born in a Dalit family in Andhra Pradesh, she had the spark in her right from her childhood days. "My father A. Ramaiah, a head constable, used to tell me umpteen number of true stories of atrocities against Dalits and untouchability practices," she says.

Inspired by her father's commitment, she wished to emancipate Dalits. "Though I knew it would not be that easy to `bail them out'. I continued with my efforts and am still continuing," says Dr. Padmavathi.

"I first got the spark that I should create an awareness among Dalits that they are being oppressed and I wanted to tell them that there are people who can help them out of their predicaments. I required a mass media to reach out to my fellow beings effectively. Hence, I chose the film medium to inspire them with the life history of the great leader, Ambedkar," she says.

Then, she had no idea of the problems she might have to face in the future. But started doing the homework for the movie. She travelled intensively throughout the length and breadth of the country to collect details on Ambedkar.

It took almost seven years for her to finish the movie after burning her midnight oil. She realised the bitter realities only then, when she had to run from pillar to post to get it released, but there were no takers.

With no financial assistance, she went on her own releasing the movie. To her dismay, she found even her targeted audience (Dalits) did not turn up for the movie.

"It pained me a lot. I sold all my property just to create an impact on the oppressed lot. But the movie went well in the coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh. The people turned up in large numbers. Not only from the Dalit community, but also the people from other sects, which was a welcome sign," says Dr. Padmavathi.

A mov(i)e to enlighten Dalits

As the movie was filmed in Telugu, the reach was curtailed to Andhra Pradesh. Since she wanted to reach out to larger audience, she had the idea of dubbing the movie in other Indian languages. But once again she had problems aplenty.

"I had tried my level best to dub it in top languages but to no avail. As I am already running huge debts, I am not in a position to mobilise funds. Hence, I am looking forward to any one who can serve the purpose, as it would be of great help to me. All the more, they would have the credit of enlightening the oppressed sections in the society," she says.

But what she had done was she had the movie subtitled in English and released it in Tamil Nadu. Already the movie has been screened in Neyveli, Chennai, Coimbatore, Vellore, Kancheepuram, Karaikal and Madurai. The film will be screened next in Palayamkottai and then in Pondicherry.

"I am deeply moved by the response I have got in Tamil Nadu. I am thankful to P. Ratnam, coordinator of People Movement for Human Rights and his colleagues," says Dr. Padmavathi.

"After taking up Dalits' cause, now I get invitations from various political parties during election time. But they are all trying to gain political mileage and use me like their pawns," she says.

Even after 10 years, she has been struggling to get this film registered in the minds of Dalits. On Sundays, my husband, Jyotiram Singh, who is also a doctor, and I, visit remote villages and conduct free medical camps. We never fail to make them aware of their plight with inspiring ideologies of Ambedkar," she says. Though she had not succeeded in her ultimate mission of Dalit empowerment, she made everyone talk about her work. "With indicators predicting a bleak future, the situation will not improve unless a Dalit rises up to the occasion," she says and hopes for the better.

By Saravanan T.

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