Filmmakers often tend not to take the bull by its horns when it comes to caste issues on celluloid. Among the rare exceptions is debutant director Vijay Kumar’s Uriyadi, which attempts to show how the innumerable, influential caste-based outfits operate. Not the layered and subtle kind, the film confronts such outfits. Set in the late 90s, the film is about four engineering students who ran into trouble with the underlings of a caste outfit. The film was released with an ‘A’ certificate. Srikkanth Dhasarathy catches up with Vijay Kumar (38), who is also the film’s producer and protagonist, to discuss caste, censorship and our cinema.
Why did you choose a caste-centric subject for your first movie?
A: I believe that there should be a takeaway from a film. Cinema, to me, is the most powerful medium. Even Russian leader Lenin has said so. (Incidentally, Kumar’s character in the movie is named Lenin Vijay). Such a powerful tool should be made to reflect a societal issue, like any good work of art. I am not saying it should be preachy or we should offer solutions. But, reflect.
Moreover, I respect my time as well as that of the audience. Just because something has worked for the majority, I cannot afford to waste my time. It’s two hours for you, but for me, it can be two, three or more years. That’s why I chose an issue. Caste outfits, though widely prevalent, have not been dealt with in our films. However, I would stop short of putting my film just under the umbrella of caste.
Q: How do you see it then?
A: I would say it’s against ‘divide and rule’. (Kumar, for a moment lets the engineer in him out). Let us say casteism is X. X is a variable that I have applied in the film. Replace X with a, b, c and so on with each denoting region, religion, language, country and so on. That’s how our vote bank politics works, right? Divide and rule.
Q: Have you targeted any caste outfit in the movie?
A: No one outfit in particular. Actually, if we know our land and our politics and take note of the nuances, every outfit is built on similar pillars. So if it is about one particular outfit, it would be wrong on my part.
Q: The film is topical even now, but any reason why it is set in 1999?
A: Exactly for this. For this question to arise. You shift the story to any time period – 20, 30, 50 years from now or 50 years earlier – the story would still hold. We have allowed such outfits to prevail and grow. It’s a point conveyed. The year 1999 is technically previous millennium and what was the situation then holds good even now and it would hold good even in 2099.
Q: What about the Censors?
A: Very discouraging. There were so many cuts. The movie is about minor details. Some action scenes, which are being talked about, were cut by 50 per cent. But, I am not blaming them. They have their guidelines and they did their job as I did mine. But system is not correct. Give me a double ‘A’ certificate if you think it’s too violent. Censorship for cinema makes little sense, especially when no such thing exists for television. They show murder on live television. When parents are not there, a child can turn on TV and watch it all.
Q: The Censor Board officials didn’t have any reservations on references to caste outfits?
A: I feel they didn’t like it. I was advised, Edhuku jaadhi lam vechu padam eduthuktu? Adhelam edha short film-ah eduthuthurklam (Why deal with caste and all in movies? Those can be dealt with in short films).
Q: You say cinema as a powerful medium should reflect societal issues. Which is your favourite film with caste as a main theme?
A: Vedham Pudhidhu, the 1987 film directed by Bharathiraja. Filmmakers who care about society and want to make issue-based movies are at times lacking in craft and vice versa.
Q: Among your contemporaries, who would you say can make such movies?
A: It is Pa Ranjith (who directed Madras and the upcoming Rajinikanth-starrer Kabali). I remember watching Madras and feeling excited the whole night. I was restless. I was asking the boys of Government Fine Arts (Ranjith’s alma mater) for his phone number to thank him for giving us such a movie. Another film maker I respect, even more than Ranjith, is Santha Kumaran, who directed Mouna Guru.