Hitting the bull’s eye: Tamil documentary reveals mystery around Jallikattu

A 90-minute Tamil documentary, set to release this month, unravels the mystery around Jallikattu––Tamil Nadu’s controversial cattle sport

Published: 19th June 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th June 2022 07:49 PM   |  A+A-

Palamedu Jallikattu

Jallikattu (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

Jallikattu is a longstanding subject of contention, even without the legal back and forth on the right to preserve the tradition. Yet, even from the side championing its cause, have you ever heard about this bull sport outside the dialogues on Tamil pride and the future of native cattle breeds? How often has anyone explored the efficacy of the ecosystem that is supposed to preserve indigenous animals? Chances are that not many can answer. Which is why Rinesh, cinematographer and director, has taken it upon himself to look for the answers in the documentary, Kadaisi Thundu (Last Towel). The film is set to release on the OTT platforms by the end of June.

Jallikattu is a traditional sport conducted in Tamil Nadu on the third day of the Pongal festival that falls in January. A bull, particularly of a native breed, is released into the crowd as contestants try to hold on to its hump and stop its run. There are many variants to the game, which are said to be held to protect native breeds. The Chennai-based Rinesh himself had been largely unaware of and certainly untouched by Jallikattu’s controversial issues.

Making of Kadaisi Thundu

It was only after he chanced upon the violence meted out to some of the participants that he embarked on a truth-finding mission. “Observing the men being beaten up, I assumed it was because they had done something wrong. When I checked, I heard that the beating was given to a lower caste man for tackling the bull of an upper-caste person. It was only then that I realised how much caste plays a role in the sport,” he shares. It seemed to be just the start of everything wrong with the culture around this game of fame.

This 90-minute documentary looks into three main aspects of the Jallikattu ecosystem, says Rinesh. This is his first full-fledged film. So far, he has only assisted other documentary filmmakers. “We’ve examined the decline of native cattle breeds, offering plenty of supporting data. There are many government orders and provisions that directly counter the well-being of these animals. The Forest Act denies access to reserve forests as pasture grounds. Luxury resorts in the guise of estates encroach upon tiger reserves. The Tamil Nadu Bovine Breeding Act, 2019, allows for breeding only through a cumbersome process of registration and places further stipulations on the actual process. Then, there’s the Rashtriya Gokul Mission that stresses artificial insemination to eliminate the birth of bulls, for this only looks at cattle from a milk economy perspective.

Secondly, there are caste-related problems and perils; it is only in Nedumaram in the Kanchipuram district that for 38 years Dalits have been organising a Jallikattu event of their own. And lastly, the absolute lack of support or compensation for injured or killed players shows insensitivity towards a game that is part of local tradition. The mandatory order to insure the bulls and players before an event is largely ignored. Private insurance companies see insuring Jallikattu players as a liability, details Rinesh. This is inspite of official instructions to bull-tamers to apply for insurance under the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana scheme in January 2019.

Kadaisi Thundu explores the indigenous knowledge of the Keethari people who are goatherds and cowherds, who have for generations raised native hill cattle. It is from them that the young, virile Jallikattu bulls are purchased, says Rinesh, while adding that very few people even know about their existence. Detailing everything that is wrong with the system, the director through the documentary raises questions about the need for such a dangerous sport. For those who answer yes, he calls for action to fix the failures of our own making.


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