Need dialogue about caste, so that it eventually ends: Nagraj Manjule

Manjule said that caste and its repercussions should be routinely talked about, and not brushed under the carpet to create a happy illusion that it doesn't exist.
Nagraj Manjule. (Photo | Twitter/ @Nagrajmanjule)
Nagraj Manjule. (Photo | Twitter/ @Nagrajmanjule)

MUMBAI: Likening caste-based discrimination to a "sickness" that's not talked about as often as it should be, filmmaker Nagraj Manjule says his intent as a writer-director is to bring those stories to the fore that have been sidelined.

Manjule, whose latest release is the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer "Jhund", said caste and its repercussions should be routinely talked about, and not brushed under the carpet to create a happy illusion that it doesn't exist.

"The irony is, if you talk about caste, you're called casteist. Those who are actually casteist, they are never told anything. It's a dangerous thing. If I don't know my sickness, how can I be cured? For years, our unfair, unwanted reality has been wilfully ignored. It'll end only when you look at it. We need to address it to end it," the director told PTI in an interview.

As a storyteller, Manjule believes in furthering the conversation that greats like Mahatma Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule and Shivaji Maharaj, among others worked for in their lifetime.

"We need to talk about caste, so that there is a dialogue and it eventually ends. If we pretend that nothing wrong is happening, the sickness will only increase," he added.

This is why the 44-year-old filmmaker often returns to the stories of caste oppression and its devastating effect on young lives in his cinema.

In "Fandry" (2013), Manjule's feature debut in Marathi, he chronicled the life of a Dalit family living on the margins of a village, who are required to do menial jobs, like catching pigs, which the people from upper castes consider 'impure'.

His 2016 Marathi blockbuster "Sairat" followed the story of young lovers of different castes and how their romance meets a chilling fate.

The filmmaker, who grew up in Solapur district of Maharashtra, explored the story of Dalit oppression in his debut short back in 2010, "Pistulya".

The National Award-winning film followed the story of a Dalit boy, who faces several challenges for simply wanting to attend school.

Manjule said his father was a stone-crusher, who was also required to catch pigs, and he drew from his experiences to craft the story of "Fandry".

Now that he has a platform and a voice, he will use it to talk about those who were forever relegated to the background, added the director.

"If I hadn't done 'Fandry', 'Pistulya', who would have? My intent is to tell my stories, stories that I know of. If I'm a competent filmmaker, maybe I'll be able to tell it better. But at the end, mujhe kahani kehni hai meri aur aise bohot saare logon ki (I want to chronicle my story and the stories of several people like me)."

"Since time immemorial, these people have been in the background. I want to tell their stories, they should be the hero of such stories. If I don't, despite having the chance, then it'd be so unfair," he pointed out.

"Jhund", which will be released on Friday, marks Manjule's Hindi directorial debut.

The film is headlined by his idol Bachchan, who features as Vijay Barse, a Nagpur-based retired sports teacher who pioneered a slum soccer movement.

In the trailer of the film, Bachchan is seen standing next to a large portrait of BR Ambedkar, a rare image in Hindi cinema with court scenes being an exception.

The Nagpur-set film also brings back "Sairat" composers Ajay-Atul, who have created a dance number for "Jhund" where the kids from the slum are celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti.

Manjule said it was important to depict the birth anniversary of the Dalit icon in the film.

"We see a lot of things on screen, we see a lot of festivals in films, but rarely do we see the pride of Babasaheb Ambedkar. We see his portraits hanging on the walls only in sequences of courts, never outside of that."

"When we talk about slums, we don't talk about the people living in slums. We make it all about class, we simplify it. My attempt is to go into details. It's amusing if this hasn't been done before in Hindi films," he added.

The director came on board "Jhund" shortly after the release of "Sairat" when he was approached by producers Savita Raj Hiremath and Meenu Aroraa.

Manjule said he was instantly drawn to the core of the film: How a man spots potential in kids of the slum, who the society believes are best ignored.

"When I met Vijay Barse, I was fascinated by his life and what he was able to achieve. It is a remarkable feat. Then, when I met the kids, I was moved. All of them had their individual stories. Stories of struggle, oppression, poverty, and discrimination. But all of them chose to rise above and break the barrier. Their story had to be told," he added.

The film is produced by Manjule, Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Raaj Hiremath, Savita Raj Hiremath, Gargee Kulkarni and Meenu Aroraa under the banners of T-Series, Tandav Films Entertainment and Aatpat.

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