Theorising the anticaste movement: A critical analysis of Pa. Ranjith’s Kaala
Mr Neeraj Bunkar, PhD Scholar, Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom
I aim to offer an examination of anti-caste cinema as critique of Indian caste society and a new means of manifesting anti casteism. Anti-caste cinema is a recent phenomenon intent on challenging the stereotypical gaze associated with Indian cinema, which portraits Dalits in a degrading and subjugated way. In this context, Nagraj Manjule’s Fandry (2013), Sairat (2016), and Jhund (2022), Pa. Ranjith’s Kabali (2016), Kaala (2018), and Sarpatta Parambarai (2021), Mari Selvaraj’s Pariyerum Perumal (2018), and Karnan (2021), and Vetrimaaran’s Asuran (2019) are the prime example of anti-caste cinema.
The iconography of Buddha, Phule and Ambedkar in these movies represents the history of anti-caste movements. My focus in this paper is on the analysis of Kaala to highlight and explore its anti-caste aesthetic and assertion. Kaala is directed by Pa. Ranjith, whose strong Ambedkarite ideology was nurtured by the anti-caste movement in Tamilnadu, creates the narratives that challenge the stereotypical way of portraying Dalits in films. The film presents a new way of looking at the inhabitants of slums which disturbs the conventional denigrating view of depicting Dalit lives in slums.
I deal with questions such as why there is a need to bring anti-caste narratives into the domain of films and how it helps in strengthening the anti-caste struggle. Kaala highlights the assertion of the Ambedkarite-Buddhist community which is rarely seen in the cinematic space. Colour ‘black’ is shown as a symbol of resistance and the colour of the proletariat, whether it is in the form of the protagonist’s name or the colour of his dress. It also breaks the perception of white as superior and black as inferior. That’s how Kaala presents a perspective from below. Depicting the ‘Buddha Vihara’ as a cultural and ideological ‘space’ is the reflection of the anti-caste struggle as well as the reclamation of dignified identity. Dalits have a long history associated with land and how they have been treated by the landholding (landlords) communities for centuries. I will explore how land in the film has been shown as a symbol of domination and power.
Kaala offers a fresh cinematic expression; it depicts the assertion of Dalits with strong will power to fight against the odds and gives us a new way of looking at cinema as a medium to express Dalits’ struggle and strategy. This paper examines such anti-caste narratives and aesthetics in the film Kaala and focuses on alternative discourses in the cinematic space.
Key Words: Anti-caste, Aesthetic, Assertion, Land, Colour, Resistance, Ambedkarite, Buddhist.