There is a scene in Kabali, the Rajnikanth-starrer released two years ago. Rajnikanth, who is in jail, has in his hands My Father Baliah, a book by Y.B. Satyanarayana and published by Harper Collins – a famous autobiography that has plenty of references to the Dalit movement in Telangana. Ambedkar’s photos can be seen in some of the other scenes. Now, it seems as if all these scenes were a rehearsal for the full-blown political content in Kaala. For me, watching Kaala was an astonishing experience. The film blows to smithereens the various tales in the puranas that have lent immortality to Brahmanism through, for instance, a parallel Dalit rendition of the story of Ram and the humanistic attitude towards the Asur tribe. A tale, which has been said a thousand times and which holds no surprises, has been repeated in Kaala. But what is astonishing is the new rendition of the old story. Just imagine, what would happen if you make Ram the villain in the story of Ram, instead of Ravana? What would happen if Durga, the one who killed Mahishasur, is presented as a scheming woman and Mahishasur as a people’s hero? These are the kinds of renditions of the old stories that are being propagated as part of the Dalit discourse over the past some years. This is what led to the banning of an issue of the Forward Press magazine and objections in Parliament against anti-Dussehra slogans raised in JNU.
I was very happy when I found this discourse in Kaala, albeit in the form a story. Kaala is the first film of Indian cinema in which the characters raise the slogan “Jai Bhim”. In Gujarat, Jignesh Mewani alone is proving more than a match for BJP’s politics. At a time when atrocities against Dalits are on the rise, voices from Una to Koregaon are reverberating throughout the country and the power of Dalit unity is reflected in the successful Bharat Bandh, it is the responsibility of literature and cinema to take notice. The forcefulness with which Kaala espouses the cause of Dalit politics made me wonder why the status quoist censor board did not block its release. For some time now, the censor board has been nipping in the bud efforts by filmmakers to present a new discourse before the people. That makes me feel that the big stars should not be wary of making a political statement through films. They should come out openly, for that lends strength to the discourse.
In Kaala, Dharavi symbolizes Ravana’s Lanka and is the biggest obstacle in the path of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign, besides being a thorn in the flesh for the hollow slogan of “Digital Mumbai”. Rajnikanth is the hero in this struggle of the workers and the poor and they only listen to him. The system wants to liquidate Rajnikanth. Like “Lanka Dahan” by Hanuman, Kaala’s Dharavi is also set ablaze. With strong allusions to the story of Ram, the film tells the story of Kaala’s murder and also how, at the end, every deprived citizen becomes a Ravan. All of them become Kaalas and jointly massacre the contemporary symbols of politics representing Ram. The climax has been shot in three hue, black, blue and red, all of which are anathema to the Savarna politics of today.
Kaala’s director Pa Ranjith had directed Kabali, too. Beginning his career in 2012 with a romantic comedy, fame came the way of Ranjit with his 2014 film Madras, a political drama. Kabali only shows only a shadow of Pa Ranjith’s political views. In Kaala, the shadow turns into a huge Banyan tree, crushing the political beliefs that are thousands of years old. I don’t know how politically alert Rajnikanth is. But his starring in Kabali and then Kaala seems to indicate that he is well aware of the need of the hour.
I am of view that those who are waiting for a new and alternative politics to emerge in the country should definitely watch Kaala. In a sense, it is the fictional version of Anand Patwardhan’s famous documentary Jai Bhim Comrade.
(This piece was originally published in Hindi on UC News.)
Translated by Amrish Herdenia
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