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A Study of Kaala and Karnan as Debrahminising Narratives

Ms Aazhi Arasi A.

PhD Scholar, Department of English, Stella Maris College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India


Pa. Ranjith’s Kaala (2018) and Mari Selvaraj’s Karnan (2021) are two of the most important anti-caste films to have come out recently in Tamizh. These films along with Madras (2014), Kabaali (2016), Pariyerum Perumal (2018) have been significant in transforming the caste consciousness of the Tamizh film industry. The question of caste which has thus far been conveniently ignored by many Brahmin Savarna directors is taken up by these anti-caste Dalit filmmakers. The films offered from a Dalit-Bahujan gaze challenge the normalised Brahminical aesthetics. The filmmakers’ approach to caste is refreshing as these narratives do not follow a cliched, weary and sobby depiction of Dalits as mere unaware victims but portray them as people with agency who fight for equal rights. The plot, characters, and subject matter are set in a way to challenge and subvert various aspects of the dominant Brahminical ideology including Hindutva, patriarchy and caste dharma.

The movies offer a strong critique of Brahminical Hinduism. The narratives, revision and subvert the Brahminical epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Kaala is likened to Raavana while Haridada who is determined in establishing Ram Rajya becomes the villain and in Karnan, Kannapiran (Lord Krishna in Tamizh) is a police officer who strives to uphold caste dharma. The antagonists are viewed as symbols of Brahminical ideology and are representative of the oppressive Brahminical state and it is their vanquish that is desired in the movies.

The movies are in line with Periyar and Ambedkar’s anti-caste ideologies and it is necessary to place these debrahminical narratives in the socio-political context of Tamil Nadu with respect to the anti-caste Self-Respect movement led by Periyar in the 20th century. The Self-Respect movement which held rationalism as its core idea strived for caste and gender equality in the casteist patriarchal society. Periyar viewed Brahminism as the source of all inequalities and fiercely advocated “anti-brahminism”. He believed only the destruction of oppressive Brahminical supremacy in all spheres would give way to establishing an egalitarian society. According to Periyar, anti-brahminism “was not an opposition to a single caste but a comprehensive critique of religious, cultural, political and philosophical system(s) that were based on social hierarchy, inequality and denial of freedoms” (Manoharan, Periyar: A Study in Political Atheism).

The paper intends to read closely the anti-brahminical elements present in Kaala and Karnan, in terms of treatment of religion, patriarchy and brahminical state, in light of Periyar’s ideas.

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