New York City will host its first Dalit Film and Cultural Festival on February 23-24. Mari Selvaraj’s Pariyerum Perumal, Pa Ranjith’s Kaala, and Nagraj Manjule’s Fandry are some of the films that will be screened at the festival.
Talking about the inception of this festival, an initiative of United States Ambedkarites, Suraj Yengde, one of the organisers, says, “This idea was brimming in my head for two years, ever since I encountered African-American films and was awed with the way citizens —white and non-whites of this country (US) — show reverence to their craft. It took one year of constant thinking to give shape to the idea.”
With the first edition of the festival already receiving a warm welcome, Suraj believes the takeaways from the event will be threefold. “First, injecting Dalit pride, second, acceptance of Dalit humanity, and thirdly, the production houses should pay attention to this genre and give chance to Dalit filmmakers,” he says, adding that it also aims to provide much-needed attention to the under-resourced Dalit womenfolk. In addition, Dr Jayashree Kamble, one of the other organisers, says, “Hopefully, this will encourage a dialogue on the lack of representation and diversity in Indian and South Asian film industry, especially on the experiences of Dalit lives.”
While speaking about the space for Dalit-centric films in the ‘mainstream’ sphere, Suraj says, “Dalit films are the mainstream. They always have been, but the Brahmin-Baniya never let it flourish. They suppressed it under the cauldron of hegemonic casteist norms and therefore the subaltern character does not feature as the hero, when in fact he is playing one.”
Discussing the importance of this festival, Jayashree says, “I would say that we’re at the dawn of this movement. Masaan, Sairat (among other works by Manjule), and the work of Pa Ranjith straddle the art cinema/commercial cinema divide and are expanding the socio-political depth of the form.”Apart from full-length films, the festival will also showcase critically-acclaimed documentaries like Kakkoos and The Battle of Bhima Koregaon. Ranjith, Nagraj, and actor Niharika Singh will inaugurate the event.