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PT threatens stir against 'Maayi'

By Radha Venkatesan

CHENNAI, MARCH. 18. After `Water' and `Hey Ram', another desi film is now snarled up in a political controversy. This time, caste is at the centre of the row, and the protest is emerging from the Dalit outfits spearheaded by the Puthiya Tamizhagam.

Though films with `caste' titles and `caste' themes have come a dime a dozen from the Kodambakkam dream factory, the Sarath Kumar-starrer `Maayi' has caused a pre-release stir of sorts, with the Puthiya Tamizhagam threatening to stall its release. ``The film shows the 1957 Muthukulathur riots, but totally blacks out the Dalit hero Immanuel who died in the riots. Instead the Thevar community has been lionised,'' fumes Puthiya Tamizhagam leader, Dr. K. Krishnasamy.

Though the film director Mr. Surya Prakash insists that his maiden venture has only commercial colour and certainly not caste colour, the Puthiya Tamizhagam has decided to take the matter to the streets and the Censor Board as well. ``The State Government has wiped out the caste leaders' names of bus corporations and districts. But who will stop the films with caste names and themes which create more social discord?''asks Dr. Krishnasamy.

The controversy, if anything, has turned the archlights on the politics of caste-based films in Tamil Nadu. Ever since `Thevar Magan' and `Chinna Gounder' made to the box- office in 1992, the Tamil film industry has been churning out at least one film a year with blatantly casteist titles. While films sensitively exploring caste inequities were a feature of the past , in the last few years, caste motif has turned into a commercial hardsell.

In the past, film directors mainly looked to women audience. Now, it is also `caste audience.' Says Tamil film industry chronicler, Mr. P. G. Anandan, ``This trend began only in the early 1990s with the release of `Thevar Magan' which tended to project a particular community''. So much so, even dubbed films which were not set far from the Tamil Nadu social milieu, were given caste titles like `Thevar Samrajyam', `Thevar Vamsam' and `Gounder Ponna Kokka'. Add to this list, `Thevar Ponnu', `Seevala Peri Pandi', `Pasumpon', `Periya Marudhu', and `Aruva Velu' which all featured a macho hero from a particular community.

``Films glorifying a particular community is bound to cause casteist tension,'' agrees senior political leader Mr. Vazhapadi K Ramamurthy. Though the release of caste-based films and a rash of caste riots in the Southern districts in the early 1990s could be a sheer coincidence, senior film makers admit that these movies do reinforce caste systems and boost the macho image of certain traditionally belligerent communities.

Here is a typical line from one of the caste films which struck it rich in box office. ``Naa maravan da...unna summa vidamatten (I am a maravan and would not spare you).'' Though this fiery dialogue may just wash over the motley audience, for the community in question, it could give a `dopey sense of superiority', say sociologists.

With caste-based politics deeply entrenched in Tamil Nadu and only a wafer-thin line dividing politics and cinema, a few filmstars either identify themselves with particular communities or, are appropriated by leaders of certain caste outfits.

Veteran director K. Bharathiraja denounces films with strong caste overtones and says, ``it is the duty of the Censor Board to reject such films.'' However, his suggestion is not greeted with all-round nod. Says Mr. M.S.S.Pandian of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, ``There is certainly the problem of film heroes being appropriated by some communities.... But anti-caste politics will not work without acknowledging the existence of castes.''

With Censor rules silent on playing up communal images, film makers will continue to zoom in on `caste' for a box-office boom.

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