The film speaks about Bahujan resistance against the dominance of caste feudal lords across generations in a town in Andhra Pradesh. The enslavement of the Bahujan bodies for the political gains of privileged castes, upper-caste exploitation of the Bahujan labour force, the abuse of Bahujan muscle power, deceptive and treacherous nature of the ruling castes are explicitly conveyed in the movie. Unlike Pa. Ranjith movies of reading between the frames, Karuna Kumar’s Palasa 1978 uses ‘dialogue’ as a major tool that benefits the passive viewers to easily understand the essence of the movie. The film also addresses the issue of institutional murders in universities, atrocities against the lower castes and educational and political deprivation of the underprivileged. A path-breaking movie that hits hard the popular narratives of film content in Tollywood.
The story is set in 1978, Palasa, a town in Srikakulam district of Northern part of Andhra Pradesh, known for its cashew nut production and is one of the largest cashew processing centres in India. The ownership of these centres lies in the hands of the dominant castes and the Bahujans work as mere labourers at these places. The film concentrates on this exploitative relationship between the Bahujans and the upper-castes.
The protagonists of the movie, two brothers from a Dalit family, fight against the inhuman treatment meted out to them. The duo questions the prohibition of access to water for them, and sexual violence against their women. In the movie, the protagonists harshly confront the antagonist when the Dalit women are subjected to sexual advances. The upper-caste male gaze and the perverted nature of the dominant castes is a blend of their Brahmanic patriarchal mindset and caste supremacist attitude.
Denial of education, devoid of opportunities, lack of access to material wealth leads them to a life of a subservient class. Though they are skilled singers who perform occasionally in carnivals, they work in the cashew nut processing centres for their livelihood. The politics of award distribution according to one’s social location is neatly portrayed in the movie. The protagonists gradually start understanding the differential treatment that they are undergoing because of their caste identity.
The valour and muscle power of the Bahujans is always used as a wall of physical protection by the dominant castes in India. They were tuned to go to any extent in order to save the life and property of their ‘master’. Everything remains fine as long as lower castes doesn’t question their lowness. The battle begins when they ask for their constitutional political rights. Upper caste bodies rage in anger when the Bahujans ask for their political representation and their rightful share in common public spaces. The ruling castes disallow the Bahujan participation in decision making bodies and force them to remain as bearers of the palanquin, forever. They appoint the lower caste men as henchmen and place them as signifiers of loyalty.
The most interesting part in the movie is that the upper castes’ multiple attempts to pit Bahujans against Bahujans which is rebuffed with double force. Bahujans don’t get sold to the purchasing power of the dominant castes. Instead, they act smart and stay united.
A tough and law abiding Dalit Christian police officer gets appointed as the new Sub-inspector of police to deal with factionism in Palasa. Inspired by Babasaheb Ambedkar, he was brought up to be a police officer overcoming many vulnerabilities as a dalit. Hailing from a scavenging caste, he shares his lived experience of pain with fellow Dalit protagonist whom he is supposed to shoot to kill, as per government order. Being a strong believer in the justice system, the officer fights vehemently to nab the culprits, but eventually fails in doing so.
On his suggestion, one of the lead characters goes in search to find out the situation of the lower castes in various parts of the country. He realises that the hierarchical brutal caste order is at practice in all spheres of life in the country even in the 21st century. In a scene, he reads Mr. Kalyan Rao’s book titled ‘Untouchable Spring’ that speaks about the venomous nature of caste and the arrogance of the ‘Kammas’ in eastern belt of Andhra Pradesh.
Following the principles of Babasaheb Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, the director of the movie, Mr. Karuna Kumar, suggests political power as the master key to solve the problems of the Bahujans. He also speaks about the institutional murders in university spaces, Chunduru and Laxmipeta atrocities on Dalits. He focuses on a larger Bahujan unity to not fall for the deceptive nature of the upper castes. The film had opened a new platform for the young generation to address the issues of concern that were never told in Tollywood. It is a ray of hope for the upcoming budding Bahujan film makers and story writers. Like Pa.Ranjith for the Tamil industry, Karuna Kumar is here for the Telugu film industry.
Shiva Thrishul is pursuing his Ph.D from the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Osmania University. He also teaches media studies to undergraduate students in Hyderabad.
Image courtesy: the internet.