To start with a disclaimer: I believe in equality and my views should not be twisted in the name of religion, caste, colour or creed. My view is that when we observe things, be it a movie or a theatrical or an event, we are influenced by our upbringing and our own biases, beliefs and ultimately we see it through those multi-coloured lenses. Some quotes to start setting my write up:
Desmond Tutu “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”
EVR : “While all men are born as equals, to say that Brahmins alone are the highest and all others are low as Pariah (the Untouchables ) or Panchama is sheer nonsense. It is roguish to say so. It is a big hoax played on us”
Swami Rāmānuja (Sri Vaishnava Guru) the first of his 82 commandments “Serve all devotees without regard to their status.” For the uninitiated, Swami Rāmānuja’ espoused equality and sought a lower caste “guru” to initiate himself and then went on to do social engineering (and this was a 1000 years ago and during a period when discrimination was supposed to be at its heights and none of the western religions or EVRs weren’t even around). The irony is that today within Swami Ramanuja’s context, even amongst the Srivaishnavas themselves, one does not get equal treatment, let alone Dalits or Thirukulathar, the way Ramanuja named them to socially blend the downtrodden.
Pa. Ranjith’s Kaala is quite contextual to read alongside these quotes. It’s a movie of struggle for land ownership among the downtrodden and can be seen as anti-establishment (especially the current Indian ruling party) as well as anti-Hindu.
Kaala has reminded me of the purpose to which I had aspired in my earlier parts of the life. Even though I have been cocooned in a plush environment in the last 15 years, during my schooling, I grew up in an economically challenged situation back home. Those days, there was a rebel in me that helped to see things differently. But being a rebel is not enough to understand a Dalit’s mindset and struggle. I had an opportunity to spend some time through the அறிவொளி iyakkam to serve the downtrodden in 1994. Though an overnight camp was enough to give a feel for the pain, to understand truly, one needs to experience it inherently from birth.
My immediate honest reaction after the movie was sheer frustration and that Rajini has fallen!
Then my soul searching and questioning mind took over. These key questions came up, also I read a negative review about the movie. Sometimes to see light, one needs to experience darkness. The negative review made it clearer or gave me an opportunity to look positively. In my view Kaala brings many contradictions and nuances. I sincerely hope everyone takes a positive bit out of it, as opposed to get blinded by their inhibitions and beliefs.
Contradictions and nuances: (the way I see them...)
- Why would a spiritualist like Rajini agree to a movie like this especially when he is allegedly associated with the ruling party’s principles ? He’s someone who’s acted Raghavendara to Linga all that espouses hard work, spiritual quest etc. He is also known for selecting his movies carefully.
- If he wanted to cover communities for the sake of votes, he could have done a Muthu.
- Is he that gullible to fall into Pa. Ranjith twice!?
- If he believes in the superficial script of Kaala, why say the exact opposite in Tuticorin?
- Kaala's son a vegetarian but also a body builder - goes on to save his dad
- Beef shop just in front of Kaala's house
- Rap Song after the death of an young guy
- Ravana kavyam in the background with Ram followers trying to usurp the land
- Kaala has a big image throughout the movie, but only once he gets into a fight and rest of the movie he is being protected by his people
- He doesn't drink, except for once when he drinks, something bad happens and he regrets for that
- He almost romances his ex-lover and manages his wife as well (as opposed to a conservative cinematic view)
- Both Kabali and Kaala have pro-Dalit themes
The biggest nuance of all, is that for many years Kaala, the leader has done little for his people, yet lives in a spacious big individual house, has his family around him, all his kids are educated in one way or another, and well settled. He has a nice sporty, trendy jeep for himself, but hasn't done constructively anything for his folks in the slum, not even a decent place for morning doodies. This is the hidden biggest message that Ranjith tries to portray in my opinion.
The so-called leaders are not prioritising what needs to be done and are unable to make step-change or a systemic change to the lives of downtrodden. Sometimes to win the war, some battles have to be lost - to move from an underdog status, Kaala doesn't think strategically but carries his battles for another day. This is the biggest contradiction of all. - Do we go with development or deal with slow, yet steady change? (and the rappers would sing, tell us kaala, now what to do? - he doesn't have any answers?!)
The problem of land struggles, discrimination, step-motherly treatment by the establishment etc. are problems, not just for India, across the world, for a long time such struggles are going on. Maybe that is why African return Zaareena featured in the movie as Africa return. (Hence my quote from Desmond Tutu). Well known is the fact that China has been usurping Africa and its natives, so did the west in the yester years. West or East, Capitalism or Communism, governing powers maybe seen as discriminating and marginalising the downtrodden. Africa is the biggest living example. Should India allow itself to be manipulated in the name of anti-development or should it 'sacrifice' and develop its people in the Capitalist model? If the answer was so easy, we wouldn't have this movie or we would have developed the whole world.
We are in times of conservative nationalism and protectionist regimes, in such times, it takes more guts to treat everyone equally and it's not easy. Kaala asks probing questions to both left and right, to the ruling and opposing and to the downtrodden and the so called 'settled'.
Kaala can come back to life in reel-life, but not in real life - so do you fight and loose the opportunity to live now? Hari dada has everything and continues to live happily (even after Kaala kills him, his family would continue to enjoy the benefits), Kaala has enough comforts and his family surrounds him during fun and grief; whereas the ordinary is left to dream for a future and doesn't seem to have an answer to live for the day. That's the take-away Pa. Ranjith wants everyone of us to think! The clue is in Rajini's interview where he says Pa. Ranjith is such a nice guy, his best quality is he wants everyone to live happily. To live happily compromises are necessary.
The way i see it, Rajini initiated himself into spiritualisim mainly through self-made gurus and not the usual 'madams' that espouse the varna system. This is where Rajini's true spiritualism shines. Both Kabali and Kaala with Pro-Dalit themes have found support from Rajini and he may be purusing a systemic change by appealing directly through their view of the world.
Swami Ramanuja knew equality was difficult to attain, but livelihood and day to day living is more important, hence he reset the system in Srirangam and brought people from all sects to participate in temple administration, this was a step-change and systemic-change in 1100AD. That gave a way for people from different sects to blend socially and a means to feed the starving as well as the hope that one day we will be equals. We needed a spiritualist to do that. At times i think the DMK patriach Kalaingar realised very late and the best he could do was telecast Swami Ramanuja's life and the need to do something here and now, but not oppose everything just for the sake of opposing.
Can Rajini reset the system and bring a spiritualistic progress where everyone has a means to live with a level of satisfaction?
All views are strictly personal