Utpal Borpujari

September 14, 2010

Indian films in Montreal Film Fest throw light on caste evil

By Utpal Borpujari

The deep-set caste prejudices in the Indian society came under the spotlight at the just-concluded 34th Montreal World Film Festival, thanks to works by a veteran Indian director and a first-time French filmmaker.

French director Sophie Azemar’s Le Dernier Parmi Les Hommes (The Last Among the Men), shown in the Documentaries of the World Section at what is one of the world’s most-prestigious festivals, is an unflinching comment on the practice of untouchability and the resultant societal discrimination against Dalits.

Shot entirely in Tamil Nadu, the film goes deep into the religio-historical reasons that makes eradication of the social evil difficult.

The film argues, with comments from Dalit activists like J C Anthony and Vincent Manoharan of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, that perpetuation of the caste system by vested “upper castes” has led to continuing social persecution of the Dalits.

In a telling comment about how the system pervades the Indian society at large, Dalit journalist M Punitha Pandian says at one particular moment in the film that the late K R Narayanan could not escape his caste label even after death as he continues to be referred to as the first Dalit President of India.

Where the film fails is, however, its limited vision of implementation, something which documentaries like Indian filmmaker K Stalin’s much-acclaimed India Untouched had been able to overcome to present a very comprehensive viewpoint on the subject.

For example, Azemar’s film Dalits have continued to face similar prejudices even after conversion to other religions from the unofficial “upper castes” in those religions.

The film also completely fails to bring out the aspect of Dalit politics in the country which has led to emergence of powerful leaders like the late Kanshi Ram and Mayawati.

On the other hand, veteran Bengali director Pinaki Chowdhury’s Aarohan (Ascension), starring thespian Soumitra Chatterjee and award-winning actress Rituparna Sengupta, takes a philosophical view on the caste-system even as it explores the meaning of life and death.

Screened under the Focus on World Cinema section in the presence of Sengupta, “Aarohan” lacks in technical finesse but scores in its exploration of how the caste system can assume different meanings under different circumstances.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 12-09-2010)



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