Director Pa Ranjith says casteism is widely seen in the film industry, and this creates a fear among directors to make films on Dalits. He was speaking on the topic ‘The Self in Cinema: Articulating The Anger’ at the India Today South Conclave 2018, Vishakapttinam, on December 21.
At the event, Ranjith responded to a question about why his films focused on Dalit violence, and said, “Caste has become so important that it travels with us from the birth till the death. I grew up with the word Dalit, and this has had great influence over me. I watched international films that connected politics and society, it was these films that gave me an idea of what I should write about.”
He always found that in cinema Dalits played smaller roles, “I looked for my place in cinema. I saw that Dalits were among character artistes and not leads or sub-leads. When someone else is giving us their point of view of our lifestyle and culture, I thought why shouldn’t I make films, and tell my story through the lead.”
He spoke about caste violence shown in Pariyerum Perumal, and said cinema was casteist just like all other fields. “We are all rooted in casteism, and everything is seen as a business. Everyone wants their product to be sold, so filmmakers fear making films on Dalits because it has failed to interest the audience before. It is a biased industry, and filmmakers fear the restrictions they have to face.”
He also said, “We have an issue when Barathiraja can speak with the background he comes from, but we cannot. In the same way when Periyar raised his voice, it was for the whole society. But when Ambedkar raised his voice why was it was seen as only for his community?”
Ranjith spoke about working with Rajinikanth, and said he was glad Rajini agreed to be a hero of oppressed castes in his film. “Rajinikanth is a complete actor. His previous films have not spoken about politics, except for a few political digs he takes at times. So it is great that he accepted to act as the hero of oppressed castes in my film.”
He added further added, “He loved my film Madras. So, he wanted to try something similar to that. He told me ‘I want a film that my fans will love. But I want to be seen differently, so I am choosing to work with you’.”
At the event Ranjith also said that media coverage was for Dalit issues was always different. When Ram Nath Kovind became the President, the coverage was not the same as for other Presidents in the past. He also accused BJP of trying to perpetuate caste, and said, “In India where there are many Dalits, we have been affected by the BJP and its saffronisation.”