Monday, May 22, 2017

Baahubali Review De-cast(e)ing Rajamouli


Cinema either shown in VCR or projector or in theatres or in multiplex or recently in websites have one agenda in common to reach the maximum viewership. Most of the time movies tend to reach larger audience keep the story that echo the popular feel of the masses. I believe movies dont start influencing the society but rather it authenticates and popularises the commonness. Most of the time the victims of such stories are the oppressed. Its important as a friend of mine, Associate Prof. at the English and Foreign Languages University, used to argue that movies are an important form of oppression that reinforces prejudices. Dalits should pay more attention to critically examine these movies rather seeing it as a public spectacle. Most of the critiques at least those are populist narration dont seem to have critiqued on these oppressive ideologies. This article closely interrogates the prevalent and reinforced oppressive ideologies. For the present discussion I am casting SS Rajamouli movies to examine.

A short review on SS Rajamouli’s work..
Like many directors he too has a skill to make a story unique and makes the audience to stare the screen till it comes to an end. All of his movies have a very good graphics at least comparing to the earliest Indian movies. I suppose the best was ‘eega’(2012) [Tamil].. Then his “Chiruthai”(2011)[Tamil] and “Magadeera”(2009) [Telugu]. All have different stories that are knitted in his unique way. Baahubali: conclusion the story was just like repetition of the first but still Rajamouli gives audience a different experience. As a matter of fact the movie moves forward not with story but action, dialogue, populistic caste arrogance of kshatriya along with graphics.  

In “Eega” the story mostly surrounds between three characters, the villain, hero and the heroine. We can associate  the characters to class where the villain is from a upper class and the hero from a proletarian. Apart from this there is no explicit caste symbols in this movie. The other movie “Chiruthai”, caste is explicitly shown in Telugu version. The Rathod, the police officer is introduced with a usual Telugu dialogue.
“Chaavu ante bayapadanaki alladabaala galliyilo thiruke koondalan koduku annukunnara, Rathod..” 1:18:17 - 1:18:26
[death cannot scare me as I am son born not born in a colony but Rathod"
The story shows like dalits (villagers) are oppressed by the feudal caste hindu, who is supported by government. Rathod comes to save dalits, there is a dialogue in the final scene where the hero asks people to retaliate, the villan says these are slaves and goes on to slur the members.

2:24:21 oor andharni baanga pogaresaavu ra, veelallo nanni erurinche mogaaduni raammannu... vaalu kundalo undethi nethuru kaathuraa baabuji muthiram..” “ni chitukeisthe chaalu moguduni kaatheni naatho kaapurom cheyenikki osthaaru..”

This dialogue is normalized by showing a women stamping the villain. But what else one can say of these casteist and misogynist dialogue.  The underlying story line that only a rajput can come and save dalits, and dalits cannot and should not retaliate, if at all they did they would be met with violence. its funny the hero of these movies come from the same caste the villain is. So why save dalits, rather remove this caste so all can live happily.  Its important that we recall all the atrocities are the result of retaliating and opposing the oppression. Same for women too, that the movie offers only the good caste Hindu masculine men can save them.  This is the same story line we see in most feudal movies.  Such a narration is widespread from Devar Magan (1992), Chinna Goundar (1991), Swades(2004), also Baahubali : The conclusion(2017).  This genre of film I call a ‘Gandhian’. In Baahubali 2, we find the slave (Kattappa) himself taking the leg of Baahubali and keeps on his head. Oppression of dalits and women are voluntary and those are not enforced, a new theory that is being developed by Gandhians in Indian Anthropology and Sociology.  

A dialogue in Baahubali: Conclusion, between Baahubali and Devasena.

Baahubali: Ennodu kaithiyaaga vaa (Come with me as a prisoner)

Devasena: en manathai vendru edutha maaveerar neer, un pani pennaaga varasonaal naan maranamvarai naan aanantham aaga varuven. Aanaal enn maanam elanthu kaithiyaaga oru adi eduthu vaika maaten. (you are the person who stole my heart, ask me to come with you as a working women, I would come till your death bed, but will never keep a step with losing my self respect.)

Like the slave of Kattappa here the women herself voluntarily gets into the cage of patriarchy, and the key to the cage is with Baahubali, the perfect good masculine kshatriya men. As a matter of fact Devasena is literally put into a cage, and most think its normal.

Its a dominant ideology that says dalits wanted to be oppressed because they choose for it.
It reminds the BJP candidate in UP, who sat down on the floor and took a separate glass with him. Did this candidate was given an option to choose? Never, there was only one option for the candidate to accept oppression. This is the status of SCs in political parties and Baahubali depicts similar to it. Kattappa is shown taking his food and baahubali goes to share food, kattappa rejects to share and warns the prince not to eat it is, as its prohibited according to the caste norms. The prince rather changing the caste system he orders them to serve. He follows exactly the caste system that Kattapa was not given an option rather to abide his order. For Baahubali he is eating equally with an untouchable, but for Kattappa its just an order he is following. Most of it we should remember Kattappa is older and the child, Baahubali, still hold the power to order. This is not merit its pure caste that elevates and over rides anything that is democratic.  So everything can only be through orders, even if it is emancipation in caste ridden society. Its utter mockery of the theory of emancipation.

One can also equate in the first part, the ‘’Kshatriya hero’ shown successfully climbing a steep hill, no adivasis climbed before. Only this Kshatriya hero can climb. This is one more crap that we should believe.

Or after the climbing the hill and reaching the kingdom, the camera shows Hundreds of ‘slaves’ are not able to stop the falling statue but one ├žaste hindu Kshatriya masculine can stop it. That is baabhubali..

Gandhian Film
An undercurrent ideology of a Gandhian film would be to depict the dalits or valorize their depiction and show that a caste hindu (oppressor) can only come and save dalits. In other words Gandhian dont prefer dalits to speak for themselves, rather only the oppressor should speak, this is the undercurrent of Gandhi’s ideology. Also promoting village panchayats, and its setup. Largely the cameras in a Gandhian movie would be fixed in a caste Hindu feudal men house and the village panchayat will have a Khap court.. In the feudal house the cameras will go into every room including the bathroom, but only when a women is taking bath. But the toilet of these movies wont be shown or only when a comedy is made, but the toilet itself would never be a subject. Apart from the house then there is the dalit subjects who would be mocked or shown as helpless then the camera goes back to the feudal house. Interestingly these movies also have another character to valorise the masculine. Not any masculine but the best masculine (hero) who always wins the bad masculine. For one masculine, a women would go after for the other the bad masculine should go after.

An Ambedkarite ideology would be where dalits speak for themselves, in other words all the oppressed speak for themselves. Ambedkar’s ideology is always misinterpreted as though its about who can speak and who cannot? Its rather an ideology to see the world not through caste hindu eye or the oppressed but seeing through holistically or pragmatically. When this fails then dalits are reduced to questioning the experiences of the so and so person for their stand.  Gandhian ideology is rampant everywhere, film industry, academia, industrial, political parties, TV channels. I believe the popular of Gandhi is not for non-violence or for any other aspect that caste Hindus uphold him rather for this very aspect that caste hindus love and shield Gandhi for their own personal goals, which is the oppressor should speak for the oppressed.

As I wrote in an earlier article with very minimal access to theories on media that most of us are force fed this very Gandhian ideology. Its this makes my parents or myself cannot imagine an ideology where dalit on the screen retaliate and fight the injustice. In the present format such movies would be marginalised and will never become popular. In this background Ambedkarite perspective are circulated or viewed only through documentaries. Sadly even if dalits make movies the caste Hindus in power underplay it. Take the recent movie on Poorna Malavath, the first girl to climb mount everest. She was not treated fairly then or even after her movie was made. So this society again needs a caste Hindu to come and talk about dalit revolution like in recent times Pa. Ranjith revolutionised the approach. He used the Gandhian method and Ambedkarite approach and showed in his movie  Kabalai (2016) that ambedkarite approach can also be fed to the mainstream. However not exclusively but with few dialogues and symbols, even this is difficult to make in movies. In other words not through the story line but through dialogues and visuals. This was not accepted by many who did to other movies rather many critics said there are unnecessary comments on Ambedkar and the emancipation of dalits. These dialogue the critic refer did not attack caste Hindus. However I would personally dont mind to see a movie to attack the caste Hindus, they deserve a critical attack to stop their nonsense.   The critique like Prasanth basically asked to avoid such dialogues and he said many did not like the movie due to these dialogues. what a shame! The same critiques dont find problem with Baahubali dialogues and scenes depicting dalits in bad light. We call them as Critic.

I received a mail when I circulated the You Tube review I made in a Google Group

“If you look at the script and the story line that is depicted I would say it belongs to may be an era that could be 1000 years old. But what were the rules and regulations during that time? and that is what this guy depicted. It belonged to the time when caste system was rampant and caste superiority was enforced.”

Can we accept if someone makes a movie on Manusmriti?
I place two arguments against the above narration. Will the film industry or the CBFC or the public agree to see on the screen the stories of women oppression during the early 19th century, or as many argue brahmins historically eat beef, can a scene be there, or even now in Kerala, Bengal, Tamilnadu and in many states beef is ate, can a scene be shown in a screen. Will these caste Hindus agree.?  Few years before Brahmins came to street protesting against a telugu film “Denikaina ready”, a movie depiction women in brahmanism. Secondly if this movie is made to depict before 1000 years, were the costumes same.

It may be argued but remember in those periods the demarcation between kshatriya and brahmin were strong and both are getting incorporated only recently. Let's not forgot the fight between maratas and brahmins both claim Shivaji as one among them. (Funny because India is always against merit, and its these meritorious caste Hindus talk about merit in India. What a merit argument!) Might be worth referring to director shankar’s movie Gentleman (1993), here the brahmin who is the hero becomes violent and a different person once he removes the brahmin thread, similarly in Anniyan (2005) movie. Also in Shankar’s movie mostly we find brahmin vs the rest, however the markers of the rest would be connected to dalits. In the case of SS Rajamouli who is from a kamma caste shows the hero wearing the brahmin thread and also claiming kshatriya status. So a new depiction is shown in this movie such as Kshatriyas and brahmins together Vs dalits. A trend which is also explicit in the ground were the non-dalits grouping against dalits. If the caste Hindus on the ground violently attack dalits, its the brahmins in academic and political arena harass dalits. In other words it can be argued non-daltis Vs dalits is the new trend.

Patriarchy can be seen as an universal phenomenon but in India it mixes with caste and becomes so vehement and too dangerous. While the caste Hindus can silently accept patriarchy and address the oppression through legal mostly unsuccessfully. Though this might not be the rule for all but certainly there are large number of people who are in a position to address patriarchy only on the surface level, never deep. Most of those articulating against patriarchy dont go deep to the root, henceforth we find patriarchy root growing without any hindrance. The major gap I feel those arguing patriarchy dont seem to understand the caste oppression. The caste Hindus who talk patriarchy find it too comfortable in shielding their casteism behind it. Whatsoever its very important for dalits to engage with debate on patriarchy. Dalit feminism and black feminism are the way forward to address our own societies patriarchy ideology.

I am not here to point SS Rajamouli alone but there are many. The problem comes when one celebrates him and not looking for the values he is being celebrated for. But SS Rajamouli has a bit of misogynist view in most of his movies.  Until now I have hardly found anyone critiquing him for the way he depicts women in all his movies. But I remember when Sairat or in Kabali when directors shaped women characters away from the normal way of depiction all went against the directors in different ways. It is possible SS Rajamouli depicting anusha (Devasena) and thamana (Avanthika) as warriors can be influenced by Sairat. The simple reason none of his earlier movies had slightest respect for women.  

In eega the hero is murdered by villain and the hero comes back and takes revenge. The villain kills the hero only to break the love and to force her to love him. So here the heroine has to be saved, so the hero who is dead comes back as a fly and takes revenge and saves the heroin. The story line may not be a problem as we see it, but if we start asking simple questions like when a fly can kill but a women cannot kill? Certainly Rajamouli thinks only men can save women, that can even be a fly. All his movies have this one line theme. In Chiruthai the hero is introduced when a woman, who is a wife of a police officer is forcefully taken and raped by the villain. Hero shows his heroism in saving her. In Mahadeera again the hero has to save the heroine from villain marrying her. In Baahubali:  the beginning Baabhubali goes to achieve the goal of a Avantika’s dream. They should not be a warriors, and even if she has a goal to do as a warrior the men should take the burden to fulfil the woman's dream. Same the case in Baahubali: Conclusion, all decisions of Anushakas are made fun or underestimated, including Ramya krishnans’(Maharani Shivagaami). In both Mahadeera and Baahubali 2 we find the hero teaches the heroine how to use the bow and arrow. Rajamouli likes teaching skills to women in his movies. Also we find only a slave Kattappa apologies but Baahubali never in the entire two parts, even though there were instances he made mistakes and others took the burnt. On the other hand we find Kattappa keeps apologising, part one, and even in part 2.

Its important to note that in all these movies, women wanted help, and the hero emerges to help. In the first part the hero is shown as though helping but Rajamouli did not know that it was a violence and the hero literally strips her, but in the second part the heorine is not shown in ‘bad clothing’, rather she is introduced with ‘beautiful’ makeup, which automatically avoids the rape.  But in the second part its her mother who says “are we preparing her for marriage or for war” and men dont say it explicitly. When Anushka is molested by a chief she cuts his fingers. For which she is called to the court and during the interrogation Prabhas enters and asks what happened and then he says its wrong because you did not cut his head. So everywhere the men has to overrule and to be shown as smarter than the women. Even when anushka is introduced as a great warrior, still she has to be taught by Prabhas about the arrow technique. These bits and pieces may not in itself form a problem but if we see as through the story line it becomes a serious problem the way women are depicted. Its as though like the caste system is not bad but some parts of it can be tinkered.

Dalit women bodies
The scene Devasena cutting the palm of Sethupathiy for molesting women. This scene narrates the position of dalit and caste hindu women in contemporary Indian society. Sethupathi starts molesting women and Devasena sees it while walking in the row. She cuts the finger of Sethupathi only when he touches Devasena. Even if we take it otherwise this becomes more clear when in the court, Devasena says he was molesting women and also tried to molest me, I cut his hand. Devasena never tried to stop Sethupathi (Kyastriya men) molesting dalit women, also doesnt show agitation but opposes only when he does it on her. Even in the court dalit women bodies are never discussed further. Maybe as dalit women have been arguing the society has not seen them has human beings, leave alone gender.

Baahubali says you did is wrong because you should not cut his fingers but head.
In other words it means the caste Hindu (Sethupathi) can molest dalit women in the row but not the caste Hindu women. Both will not be treated equally. Even when a caste Hindu women protests the caste Hindu patriarchal man says what you did is wrong and I will do the right.

Caste Hindu (Patriarchy) survives because of its inbuilt dual character. At one level the men becomes a controller of women and another he becomes exactly the opposite against whom he was controlling the women. Like a split personalities, he changes the role when he sees a dalit women and a caste Hindu women. It might be the reason dalit women bodies are always seen exact opposite to women bodies like the above, where it naturalised for people to treat it as normal.
“ The later Vedic texts provide more direct evidence: the Satapatha Brahmana, for example, expresses fears regarding the sexuality of women not directly under the control of men, especially husbands.  It refers to the fear that the wife might ‘go to other men’” (Gendering Caste, Uma Chakravarti)
The uniqueness of caste like good and evil, pure and pollution, femininity were also classified as pure and impure bodies. These ideology were rooted in religious texts.  In during the ages these ideologies were given shape to the subjects. These ideologies no more considered as ideologies on abstract rather most often discuss with the subjects. I suppose historically these dual character were underestimated and was shown as a singular entity, only discussing about the ‘priviledged’ pure.  And the other was treated as just a reflection of the actual subject. However I argue these two were never separate but one lived with the others presence, exactly like the idea of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. Also the inside was always a singular and the outside were always the plural. This is the undercurrent of the caste domination.

While dalits are still struggling to understand caste in this complex narration left in front of us, the caste Hindus are expanding their theory of domination in different spheres, movies, academia, politics, and now in TV debates. All of them are working hard to maintain the staus co of dalits and adivasis. Their infights (family feuds) became the national spectacle and we dalits are forced to be part of this spectacle. We should not forget that most of the times dalits appear only to be humiliated, otherwise we are always the spectators.  It's time we reject these ‘popular’ spaces and engage with our own. The main reason for rejecting these spaces are exclusively there are no options shown for dalits, rather they depict two option among the caste hindus for us to choose and we unconsciously choose this. This cycle has continued from my parents and going to role further but atleast it wont work with me. Film critique have hardly engaged in caste, because the academicians have not let dalits to think. Maybe this is the reason that AISA in one of its wall painting in JNU has a picture where a boy is shown throwing books over the police barricade. While AISA likewise and other organizations like SFI, etc (expect BAPSA and other dalit students movement) wanted to do a revolution outside the classroom while their caste brethren like chatterjee, Banerjee, Brahmin professors in classroom hold the class as an agrahara. Its irony even when the entire JNU protested against the political interferences in the unviersity, we only find the outside spaces were converted into a classroom and never for once they argued to democratize the inside classroom.

To the caste hindus: we are like the water dropping on the rock, you will find one day that your rock like mentality will be broken into pieces. We will drop till you break.

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