CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu, though continues to be a caste-ridden society that it is, has a tradition of celebrating and honouring the voices that critique the hierarchical social order at its best. When Mari Selvaraj presented his Pariyerum Perumal in 2018, he made himself amply clear that he is here to make us rethink, unlearn and relearn the Tamil society and get over our prejudices.
Karnan, starring Dhanush and Lal, which released last week, is filled with history of the oppressed, symbolisms, reverence to nattar deivangal or siru deivangal (small gods), subaltern cultural undertones, social mobility of the Dalits, and many many.
What forms the crux of the movie is Podiyankulam villagers’ demand for a bus stop and transportation service. The issue can be seen as an approximation of various seemingly petty issues faced by Dalits away from the concretised urban agglomerations. The assertion of Dalit identity and the indisputable right to freedom of movement for the oppressed people that organically happens in the movie’s course.
The timing of the movie sends chills down our spine as the incident of two Dalit men allegedly beaten to death by dominant caste men for canvassing votes for a particular political party near Arakkonam happened just two days before the release of the movie. Reacting to the comparisons drawn between Pariyerum Perumal and Karnan, people belonging to the Dalit community told Express that Karnan is a warrior who fought for community rights, while Pariyan, the lead character of Mari Selvaraj’s previous movie, faced discrimination while doing his college education, which became possible only because of the struggles carried out by characters like Karnan.
When asked if artistic contributions of people like Pa Ranjith and Mari Selvaraj can be construed as the resurgence of Dalits, a Dalit scholar said, “The Dalits have always been fighting for their rights and only in Tamil Nadu, there is a history of such struggles in the last 150 years. So, this is an ever-existing phenomenon. But, the mainstream has always portrayed them as pity-seekers and beneficiaries of the agitations carried out by political parties and their leaders.”
He accused political parties of hogging the credits for the developments that are born out of peoples’ struggles. “None of the governments has volunteered to do good for Dalits in the last 100 years. They have always taken reactionary measures,” he said. Dalit writer Stalin Rajangam said the movie has portrayed the violent face of southern Tamil Nadu. “The place where the story of the movie unfolds has Devendrakula Vellalars in large numbers and they have been victims of oppression meted out by the State machinery. Rajangam, however, wanted the movie to talk more about the nexus between politicians, police, and other stakeholders as they all connive to perpetrate violence,” Stalin said.
Politicians laud creators
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin tweeted, “Watched Karnan. This movie has to be celebrated because it has shown the pain and rights of the oppressed community in a non-exaggerated way. It may be noted that three days ago, former Chennai Mayor Ma Subramaniam also appreciated director Mari Selvaraj for the movie.