Conventionally, caste has been a sombre subject in popular culture that mainly offers with Dalit characters. Rajesh Rajamani reverses the gaze on Savarnas, and inserts humour into his movie.
A number of years in the past, a movie manufacturing home shared a casting name on Facebook for ‘an actor who looks like a Dalit’. It brought on livid outrage on social media and the submit was ultimately taken down. This real-life incident sowed the primary seeds of the now viral quick movie The Discreet Charm of the Savarnas, written and directed by author, movie critic and comedian artist, Rajesh Rajamani.
Presented by Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions, the movie alludes to Luis Buñuel’s film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. It follows a trio of upper-caste filmmakers from South Bombay on an pressing quest to discover a protagonist who, of their phrases, ‘looks like a Dalit’ for his or her movie shoot the subsequent day. Over 20 transient minutes, this ingenious satire takes a tough take a look at caste dynamics in up to date society whereas additionally regaling viewers with the failings and hypocrisy of its characters. The radiant cinematography by Vinay Aravind and a mellifluous background rating from the Imphal Talkies add to the movie’s mild and breezy vibe.
As a outstanding anti-caste voice within the media, Rajamani had quite a bit to say concerning the movie.
Conventionally, caste has been a sombre subject in popular culture that mainly offers with Dalit characters. What made Rajamani reverse the gaze on Savarnas and insert humour into his movie? His response is two-fold, “I think increasingly in academia, news media and popular culture, caste has become synonymous with Dalits and it’s almost as if the rest of society is distanced from caste. Films on caste too are obsessed with dark and depressing themes like honour killing, sexual violence or, at times, reservations. For instance, Article 15 is like a collage of atrocities on Dalits. Mainstream cinema is obsessed with the death of the Dalit.”
Citing the main focus of anti-caste leaders like Phule, Dr Ambedkar and Periyar on Brahmins when speaking about caste, he provides, “In reality, caste is not about Dalits, they are its last symptom. Caste comes from the power centres which comprise the Brahmins or Savarnas. But today, instead of talking about them, we talk about the people who have the least control over the structure of caste. Dalits are a product of caste — not its creators. So I thought, why can’t we do the opposite of this? I felt it was important to put the limelight on those upholding the structure and reverse the treatment too, so we made it a fun movie with colourful clothes and happy music. We inverted everything a caste movie is generally about.”
Characters from marginalised communities are sometimes depicted as one-dimensional beings drowning of their victimhood – mere caricatures. In upending this gaze I ask Rajamani if he too supposed to caricaturise the upper-caste characters in an act of celluloid justice that reinscribes energy hierarchies. But Rajamani insists that he needed to keep up a steadiness between realism and caricature. “We wanted the audience to have that conflict, to think this looks exaggerated and comical, but it also looks very real,” he considers.
Mainstream in style tradition is slowly waking as much as the truth that caste-based oppression is a dominant socio-political power in India. However, when upper-caste filmmakers have broached the topic of caste, they have typically met with extreme criticism. Is it more durable for privileged filmmakers to inform efficient tales about caste? And is there extra room for subversion and innovation when tales are informed from marginalised views?
“I think there is a lot of scope for both Bahujan and upper-caste filmmakers to make important commentaries on caste. The latter have access to places that Bahujans can’t even enter. They are better suited to understand, reflect and critique it,” replies Rajamani. And yet we don’t see this happening because engagement with these issues remains superficial. “Unfortunately stories on Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims have become very commoditised. It’s become an easy way for upper-caste filmmakers to seem progressive and popular when they tell these stories. If one honestly engages with the issue, it will reflect in your work in any case,” he provides.
The movie sharply captures the recognition and maybe flippancy of wokeness in up to date discourse. One character drops limitless references about Black intellectuals whereas one other is a feminist who continuously updates her male colleagues on political correctness. However, their wokeness stops quick at caste sensitivity. “I think the most progressive and radical upper-castes understand the problem of race which is kilometres away from them, they understand gender issues and climate change, but often they don’t see caste – a structure on top of which they stand. Many discover caste in their later years, in contrast, I don’t think any Bahujan person has that luxury, they’re forced to know about the violence and vulgarity of caste from a young age, even before they’re prepared to do so,” Rajamani says.
When requested if he confronted any obstacles or censorship in filming such a delicate subject, Rajamani reveals that the quick was self-funded on a shoestring price range that ultimately escalated. The generosity of the actors in accepting small charges and even appearing free of charge as a result of they preferred the storyline, helped in adhering to the tight price range. As a fan left a touch upon YouTube saying that Netflix India ought to contemplate the movie a pilot for a collection, I needed to ask Rajamani if he had hopes of such tales being picked up by bigger platforms. “While the industry seems to be stuck on sad caste stories, I think production houses will pick up on what seems like good business. So perhaps this is a matter of time,” he hopes.
Adivasis, Dalits, ladies and gender non-conforming individuals are steadily subjected to unflattering portrayals of themselves in mainstream cinema. Conversely, on this movie, it’s upper-caste individuals who would most likely be made uncomfortable. Rajamani is unconcerned about this as his major objective was to make movies for fellow Bahujans. “Often films telling our stories only depict violence. The idea was to make a film where the gaze is not on us but rather on the ruling classes. I also think Savarnas are powerful enough to digest whatever discomfort you throw at them and move on to supersede you,” he quips.
At a promotional presence Rajamani was requested what some consider is maybe the movie’s most urgent query – what does a Dalit appear like? “I don’t want to answer that, the movie deliberately chooses not to explain that at all. We don’t use any adjectives or explanations except for the Black face right at the end, which is also a reflection of what happens in mainstream cinema. But apart from that we don’t point to anything because I think that stereotype already exists in the Savarna imagination,” he asserts.
In truth, besides for 2 lone scenes, the movie doesn’t reveal a Dalit individual. “I feel even as we critique Savarnas we shouldn’t end up mocking Dalits or Bahujans to create humour. It would have been tempting to show that in trying to find a Dalit-looking person they approach a gardener or a watchman or poor people in the area. We deliberately didn’t do that because then the humour would have been at the cost of the Bahujan,” says Rajamani.
This movie then just isn’t involved with what these notions are, however moderately why and the way they exist and proceed to be perpetuated. Interestingly, a mainstream on-line publication shared a hyperlink of the movie with the caption, ‘This short film highlights stereotypes associated with Dalits’ and missed the purpose by a mile. Contemplating this misinterpretation, Rajamani says with a chuckle, “In spite of my deliberate measures I’m very amused that they’ve managed to make it about that.”
Watch The Discreet Charm of the Savarnas:
Nolina S Minj is an Adivasi feminist author and researcher. She tweets at @knowleena
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