Actor Suriya’s release of the film poster for ‘Jai Bhim’ has turned the attention of social media towards the movie. The actor’s film ‘Surarai Potru’, which was a narration of Dravidian politics, released on Amazon Prime, was a success. The title of his next film ‘Jai Bhim’ has led to an impression that he is trying make use of Dalit politics for the film’s success this time. ‘Jai Bhim’ too will be released on Amazon Prime on Deepavali day.
Though a film’s story and its theme cannot be concluded from its first look poster, Surya’s appearance hints that he has likely played the role of a lawyer fighting for the cause of the poor..It is also said that the story is based on an incident when Justice Chandru during his career as a lawyer appeared for an Irular woman to get her justice. However, the poster may well be a deliberate ploy to create an impression that the film discusses Dalit politics.
It is common among movie makers to follow the trend of a successful film and Dalit politics in cinema has become fashionable after director P Ranjith’s ‘Madras’ and the director was invited by top star Rajinikanth to make his next film. Though ‘Kabali’ was a Rajini film, it did not have the traits of any of the actor’s earlier movies. By acting in ‘Kabali’, Rajinikanth’s image underwent a transformation from a hero of the poor to champion of Dalits.
In Kabali, the actor, clad in a suit, tells the Chinese villain that if his progress is a problem for him, he would definitely progress. This created an impression that Rajinikanth has become the voice of Dalits.
Rajinikanth seemed so taken in by the Kabali tropes that he booked Ranjith for his next movie ‘Kala’, which resembled ‘Kabali’ in expressing Dalit defiance. As Rajini’s consecutive movies confirmed the existence of a market for a new brand called Dalit cinema, a series of films like Pariyerum Perumal, Asuran and Karnan followed the same theme, further strengthening the impression of a market for Dalit cinema.
However, Ranjith is not the first one to speak about Dalits. The theme is as old as director K Subramanyam’s ‘Balayogini in 1936. The film had many scenes lashing out at caste discrimination. In one of the scenes, caste chauvinists set on fire the house of a Dalit worker for giving refuge to a Brahmin widow. Another film ‘Thiyaga Boomi’ (1939) directed by Subramanyam showed temple entry of Dalits.
Though the association of top actors like Rajinikanth, Dhanush and Surya in films narrating issues faced by Dalits is a healthy trend, films propagating Dalit liberation cannot be made under the shadow of such actors.
‘Ore Ratham’ (1987), penned by former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, portrayed oppression of Dalits. In the film, present Chief Minister MK Stalin donned the role of a Dalit youth, Nandakumar, who is murdered. The film came down heavily on the two tumbler system of discrimination against Dalits.
A song written by lyricist Ilaya Bharathi and tuned by Ilayaraja, calling Dalit youths to protest against injustice in Vijayakanth’s movie ‘Alai Osai’ (1985) is still popular. The film was branded a commercial movie and did not draw the attention similar to today’s Dalit cinema.
However, Ranjith is not the first one to speak about Dalits. The theme is as old as director K Subramanyam’s ‘Balayogini in 1936. The film had many scenes lashing out at caste discrimination.
Though the misery of Dalit people had been highlighted in the past, those films did not acquire the name ‘Dalit cinema’ since non-Dalits were voicing concern for Dalits. That situation has changed and Dalit directors have entered the celluloid world and speaking for themselves. Unlike the past, the basic difference is that the voice for Dalits comes from within now.
However, films like director Amshan Kumar’s ‘Manushangada’ and Leena Manimegalai’s ‘Madathi’ failed to attract the same attention received by ‘Madras’, ‘Pariyerum Perumal’ and ‘Karnan’. This may well be due to the absence of popular heroes.
In ‘Sarbatta Parambarai’, a few sentences about lack of opportunities mouthed by characters standing in front of Ambedkar’s photo may have invoked Dalit concerns. But, Sarbatta can hardly be called Dalit cinema, in any sense of the word.
When viewed with the same perspective, it is doubtful if actor Surya’s ‘Jai Bhim’ will narrate Dalit oppression. Since, the film is set in the background of Irular life, if the film speaks about the issues in their life, it will be laudable. But, it may also be another bid to use Ambedkar’s shadow for commercial success. For Kollywood, an Ambedkar photo, a Buddha statue and a blue-coloured coat may be enough to ride the Dalit cinema bandwagon. And it is not expedient for Ambedkar’s core thoughts to be reflected in the theme.
A film hero is not concerned if the colour of shirt is blue, black or red but their sole objective is the success of their movie. Though the association of top actors like Rajinikanth, Dhanush and Surya in films narrating issues faced by Dalits is a healthy trend, films propagating Dalit liberation cannot be made under the shadow of such actors.
Society must not be trapped in a dangerous cycle of worshipping film heroes as liberators of Dalits. Such a trend would again move towards films of heroism. Whether a film of heroism is made by the oppressed or the oppressing class- both trends are perilous and Tamil cinema must not be trapped in such a quagmire.