Saturday, October 20, 2012

Shudra: The Rising?

Did you hear about this film, titled ‘Shudra: The Rising?’, before? I did not, until I saw the poster of the film in Pune Times two days back. The film was released yesterday and The Times of India gave it three stars, meaning that the film is ‘watchable’. The poster too is impressive, which features a shadowy lean, emaciated man in loincloth wielding a spiked mace; it reminds you of those covers of small-times graphic novels. My interest was piqued, starting with the name. Who dares to name a film ‘Shudra’, which refers to the ‘varna’ (caste) system of ancient India, and get away with it? It understandably is a loaded word; it refers to a long, discriminating history, and our political correctness doesn’t allow us to use the word, very much like the word ‘Negro’. A person from the community can use it, but not an outsider! (I wonder how it would sound like when I’d stand in the queue at E-Square and say: ‘Two tickets for Shudra, please!”)

Like political correctness demands that we call a Negro black, we must call a Shudra a Dalit, which literally means ‘downtrodden’ or ‘disadvantaged’, I think. But, Dalit is a more inclusive term, which not only includes the Shudras of the traditional Hindu system of social hierarchy, but also other disadvantaged communities, outside the cultural hegemony of traditional Hinduism, the so called subalterns, as politicised by Mahasweta Devi and Gayatri Spivak.

I was also intrigued by the second part of the title, ‘The Rising?’ yes, rising with a question mark (reminds you of Ketan Mehta’s Aamir Khan disaster; more about Mehta shortly.). But, what does the question mark suggest? That the rising the film proposes to present, show and tell, may not be a rising after all? Thereby hangs the tale.

Then, I searched the net. There’s precious little information. I found a trailer in youtube, very low-res. But, it gives you an idea what the film is about; it’s about how the untouchables in India has been oppressed by the other clans, and how it should stop. I was expecting a politically motivated argument. But, it turns out to be more humane plea to treat human beings as they are, not by their class, creed et al; it’s not someone fault that he is born a dalit, an argument which I strongly believe. The film uses a quote by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: “Religion is for man, man is not for religion.” I agree.

But, how the film beings home this message? With visceral brutality. The two-minute trailer showed every kind of brutality, an old man is denied water and dies, a man is beaten brutally, a woman is raped, and more gruesome, a child is skinned for uttering a holy mantra. Atrocious, scenes which will make any person worth his/her salt angry. If this was what the maker of the film, Sanjiv Jaiswal, wanted from his audience, then, I believe, he succeeds. The film will evoke anger, certainly. But, about the rising part, I’m not sure.

Talking about the film in The Times of India, director Sanjiv Jaiswal said the film is only an attempt to portray the truth: “If we can be proud of our history, we should also have the courage to be ashamed of our past. It is only after we accept the wrong doings of the past that we can attempt to bring a change in our present... ... The censor board claimed that the name will be disrespectful to the community and this issue alone took about four months to resolve until the time we could convince them....”
More here.

Of course, the censor board was apprehensive. Yet, whatever I’ve seen in the trailer, the film looks serious than something to court cheap controversy. Still, there was controversy, with the right wing demanding a ban, to begin with. Reports The Times of India: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrag Dal (BD) on Saturday demanded censor board of India to ban release of the movie 'Shudra- The Rising'. They raised questions over the content of the movie and said that it will cause ill will among various Hindu castes, thus vitiating social harmony and peace of the country.

The movie, the two organisations said, as it appears from the trailer, has shown upper castes - Thakurs and Brahmins -- subjecting Shudras (dalits) to atrocities and inhuman behaviour which were prevalent earlier, but things have changed after independence and dalits now have equal rights, Rakesh Verma, Bajrang Dal, Uttar Pradesh coordinator, told reporters on Saturday. He said that today dalits are not only allowed to enter the temple but have also been made priests at several places.

VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders said the movie shows that the Brahmins have banned the entry of dalits in temples and severe the tongue of the son of a dalit for chanting mantras. Similarly, they added, the Thakurs have been showed to be committing atrocities which cannot be said or described in words. Hence, the movie will cause ill-will among upper and lower castes, divide Hindus and may lead to violence, instead of bridging the gap between various castes and sects.

The saffron brigade also asked the Uttar Pradesh government to stop release of the movie, or else will take the shelter of the court and take to streets. However, the two organisations, which are also known for hardliner Hindutava ideology, admitted that there was a time when dalits used to be subjected to atrocities but in today's hi-tech world such things are impossible. "Now upper and lower castes have started visiting each other, sit together and share food," they said.
More here.

The film is now released and according to the Times of India review (I did not see any other reviews so far:), Shudra is a heart-breaking film. It's emotionally disturbing as all you watch is pain and suffering. The film is more of a documentary on the kind of crimes that were committed on the 'untouchables'. In spite of the film being extremely tragic, it works, as the storytelling and setting is authentic. The actors perform exceptionally well. The outfits, makeup, art direction, cinematography is first-rate. The music is touching and meaningful.
More here.

But, who are the target audience for the film. In Pune, the film is being shown at several venues, including the multiplexes. But, I doubt, the so called multiplex crowd will patronise the film, which they should. Whatever I have gathered from the internet, it tells me that the Dalit community however has embraced the film wholeheartedly. According to the film’s Facebook Page, the film had screenings in places like Jalgaon, or Amravati, essentially non-metro places, and had a huge turnout. The page also boats a large number of write-ups in the local media, in Hindi, and Marathi as well. By the way, the page has got, so far, 30,822 Likes.
The Facebook Page of Shudra: The Rising Here.

The preview of Shudra: The Rising in Youtube Here.

The website of Shudra: The Rising? here.

As I write this, I remember another film, another great film on the subject, and it’s not Jabbar Patel’s Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, which, of course, is also a great film. It’s Ketan Mehta’s directorial debut, the Gujarati, folk drama inspired Bhav ni Bhavai (1980). The national award winner is an entertainer and a educative at the same time. This is the film that told me more about casteism than academic articles, and then there was Naseeruddin Shah as the comical king, who would shout, “yeh gand kyu band nahin hota?”

Bhavni Bhavai (tale of the life in English) is a 1980 Gujarati film directed by Ketan Mehta. Ketan Mehta's debut film is a successful adaptation of folk idioms into cinema. The film is dedicated to Bertolt Brecht, Goscinny and to the inventor of the Bhavai, Asait Thakore, who was a Brahmin outcast and lived among the lower caste communities. His descendants, the Targalas, are the traditional Gujarati performers of the plays he wrote. The Bhavai evolved into one of India's most energetic folk music and dance-dramas. The film is in the form of a story told by a group of Harijans migrating to a city pausing for a night. Documentary footage of India's freedom struggle as well as references to contemporary violent caste riots in Ahmedabad and severe drought in North Gujarat is employed in the film. The plot involves a king who wants his vav (Stepwell) be filled with water. To get the water, a batrish lakshano (person with 32 qualities) needs to be sacrificed. Unfortunately, that kind of person is among the Mahyavanshi. The Mahyavanshi put up a resistance to give the kid up, but then they have to give up the kid for the sacrifice. The film won critical acclaim when released, though more for its format than the story.
More here.

If you have time, and don't mind watching low-res, grainy arty films, you can watch the entire film in Youtube, Here. I wonder if the film is available in DVD, and if someone would remaster the copy; it’s an important film for Indian Cinema.

No comments:

Post a Comment