Art of the Oppressed: Politics of Existence

Why Sarpatta Parambarai holds an important place in Tamil film history? It not only has convincing arguments for Dalits and women but raising questions against the dominant images and ideas.

 Sarpatta Parambarai

A Tamil film, Unnal Mudiyum Thambi  (‘you can do it brother’ ) released 33 years ago,   directed by a prominent dialogue writer cum director K.Balachander, who directed hundred films in his career. The female protagonist of the story comes from a village Dalit background . However the film described her in the course of a cautious dialogue as ‘Harijan’ from Gandhian perspective. The hero of the film belongs to saiva vellala pillai – ‘an upper caste’ in the graded hierarchy, who falls in love with this courageous Dalit girl. In a sequence of their second meet the hero wants to know her name curiously as usual. She answered as L.K.Malam,  ‘malam’ which literally means in Tamil language human excreta. In this introductory scene of the character the director wants to disclose her position in the caste structure. The characteristic expression refers an age old humiliation on her deliberately in the name of romance. Narrating the story in this way is a sophisticated idea from the Brahmin director’s point of view.

Non-dalits write Dalit stories with nebulous concept by some means of speaking the pain smoothly not from reality. There was Brahmin, Gounder, Devar, Vanniya and Vellala hero movies but not Dalits. From ‘above to below’ have been a way of dealing things in Tamil cinema where each caste group has its politics and play a role of its pseudo pride, also each caste portrays Dalits constantly as falsehearted, idle, cruel, lustful and victims. ‘Son of filthy caste’ ‘dog’ ‘son of chandala’ ‘son of illegitimate’ is regular phrases that have been used for Dalits in the caste centric subjects.

At this juncture, it is appropriate to revisit what the film Sarpatta Parambarai entails, the film about Madras Boxing clans, released three weeks ago and well received by the writers, audiences and the critics, directed by Pa.Ranjit, an anti – caste activist, labelled by Aljazeera news media some months ago. It has done a justice in portraying Dalits within the emancipatory framework as his other film does. Dalit film does not mean to showing Ambedkar’s statue or eating beef or cleaning drainages. The higher priority must be given to questioning the power, critical of the state apparatus, presenting rational legacy, stubbornness of women, importance of education, labour rights and relations, ethical roots of the oppressed, association of subaltern literature, Buddha and Blue colour and above all the presence of Dr.Ambedkar. The film extraordinarily gives importance to theses aspects. On the one hand Ambedkar’s photographs appeared with insufficient places, other hand it is clearly visible at the equal length to the face of the ‘social criminals’ in most of the courtroom trial scenes.  While the majority of Indian film directors have completely silent about Ambedkar in showing his image  or in any form symbolically, Sarpatta shows him explicitly with the word pronounced on the screen ‘find your chance, nobody can help you’.

The best way to surmount the hidden history is to pull the truth out which have evidently been portrayed in this film. ‘Use every means to prove yourselves’ ‘bounce back’ ‘this is your game’ ‘don’t wait for the chance’ ‘you are the light and you are the way’ ‘Don’t be passive’ ‘we should create our own path’. The strong dialogues of the film by the characters would be appropriate in the present politico – cultural scenario of Dalits and none of these ever sounds in the Tamil silver screen earlier.

The protagonist of the story is Kabilan – one of the Buddha’s names, has intentionally given to the outlook by director. The antagonist is Raman, this also circumspectly named. B.R. Ambedkar has affirmed critically in his writings that ‘The history of India is a history of mortal conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism’ that reverberated in the sport of boxing. Raman might have been a ‘perfect image’ of Brahmanism or the ‘saviou ‘for Gandhi but the Buddhist point of view, He is evidently weaker than kabilan or Buddha and Raman has defeated by Buddha historically. Raman, in this film, has been weaker, backstabber, crooked and failed man. This is an inevitable aspect in the eyes of Ambedkar and moreover Pa.Ranjit seized every opportunity to register an insinuation from Dalit history through a name or number or colour. Thus, nobody plays an urgent character in this story, all the characters has a purpose to deliver a message to us.

The language spoken in this film has a strategical sequence that must be highly noticeable. The director consciously omitted the name of the former chief minister M.Karunanithi or any other name of the Dravidian leaders but strongly registered the association of Dalits with Dravidian ideology in the seventies. At the same time, the protagonist, a Dalit worker, might have started his career as DMK supporter but ended with Blue colour of Ambedkar’s Republican party of India and got sensational victory in his battle.

At the climax, symbolically befits to the political life of Ambedkar, The master, says to the disciple also to the audiences that ‘with great difficulty I have brought this caravan where it is seen today, if you are not able to take the caravan ahead do not allow the caravan to go back’ was however a political statement come out from the lips of the character was vehemently delivered by Dr. Ambedkar at first and so the film echoing the past and the future of the Dalits. It would be a big step in disseminating an authentic account of Dalits without caste pride or misogynic statements or misrepresentation of minorities in the milieu of Indian cinema. The film aggrandizes Dalit politics in the visual medium and takes the viewer to the inner world of wounded psyche.

B Prabakaran is an Ambedkarite, Author, Translator and regular contributor to countercurrents, can be contacted at [email protected]

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