“Be thy own light- Atta Deepa Bhava”
“You must abolish your slavery yourselves. Do not depend for its abolition upon god or a superman. Remember that it is not enough that people are numerically in the majority. They must be always watchful, strong and self-respecting to attain and maintain success. We must shape our course ourselves and by ourselves.”
~ Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar, Vol 1, Page 212, BAWS..
A few days back the Tamil movie Sarpatta Parambarai was released on Amazon Prime. Directed by Pa Ranjith and starring actors like Arya, Pasupathy, John Vijay, John Vijay, Dushara Vijayan, Kalaiyarasan, Shabeer Kallarakkal, etc. The film is a tribute to the greatest sportsperson of the world, the boxer Mohammad Ali.
Got the chance to watch the movie a few times. Sharing some of the patterns that I could understand with my limitations of not belonging to Tamil Nadu and not knowing the language (Tamil). The film is essentially based on the boxing tradition of North Madras in 1970s. It is the story of Kabilan (Arya), coached by Rangan (Pasupathy), who boxes for his clan. I will not go into the plot of the movie but will try to share my understanding of the several themes shown in the movie.
1. Realisation of Self-Awareness
The entire movie revolves around finding your own path. As the Buddha says “Atta Deepa Bhava”, means ‘be your own light’. The greatest challenge for any human being is to realise who he/she truly is and whatever they do is not to prove to anyone else but their own self. This is the underlying message. The hit song Neeye Oli, that has taken the world by storm has its lyrics exactly on those lines.
2. Connect with viewers
Boxing is sometimes complicated to understand with the points system..
What Pa Ranjith does in Sarpatta Parambarai is he makes normal viewers follow the movie with ease, not burdening them with the rules. He doesn’t bring the points system into the picture. It’s always a simple knockout winner.
This is important for non-boxing viewers to get engrossed in the fights. Also, there is no sporting jargon used. From a movie perspective this is important, especially in a country like India which doesn’t understand many non Cricket/football/hockey sports. Even the boxing commentator in the movie uses a language that is easily understood by the audience mixing reality with his own dose of humour.
What it also does is enable the viewer to connect with the sport of boxing, which means the movie doesn’t only have a local relevance but also a global appeal and audience.
3. The understanding of the working class native culture
The movie shows that the director Ranjith has immense understanding of the working class North Chennai culture and the love for boxing. Even the dialect used in the movie is more of North Chennai dialect. It transports you back to the 70s effortlessly. The costumes, the lights, the hairstyles, clothes, etc of those times are shown.
4. Socio-political understanding
The movie clearly shows the situation during Emergency of the 1970s in India, the ruling party in TN at that time, DMK, being firmly in opposition to that. The circumstances are shown brilliantly. It depicts the arrests, the different thinking of people like MG Ramachandran (MGR) vs the late Karunanidhi. During MGR’s regime, things like gambling and alcohol were promoted and this is shown in the movie. When the coach gets released from prison, the music played by the band is associated with the AIADMK, which makes the coach unhappy with his son as well as Kabilan.
5. Humanisation of the Oppressed
The oppressed are not being shown as victims here but as victors. There is a certain dignity in how their lives are depicted, how they sing, dance, eat, work together. There is an ecosystem in place where the Dalits, Muslims (most likely from Pasmanda castes), Christians (here for the first time the Anglo Indian community gets a place) live together in the same locality.
Success is celebrated together. Even the wedding between the lead characters is very unique. It is solemnised by the coach. There is no Brahmin priest in it. Also a lot of local gods, goddesses’ names are invoked and that too from all religions.
Even during the boxing matches the victories as well as defeats are felt by the community and the importance is shown.
The daily lives of the people are captured beautifully. For example, the romance as well as feud between Kabilan and his wife Mariamma.
There are various instances where the caste angle is portrayed in a subtle way. Like when the villain tells Kabilan to do the same work that his caste people would do–cleaning carcasses and sewers.
6. Dangers of the Social Ills
The dangers of drinking alcohol are touched upon very clearly in the movie when Kabilan gets lost in life and almost loses his life under the influence of alcohol. This a rampant problem in many communities and it’s the women of the households who have to face the brunt of it. Ranjith seems to carry the same message from his earlier blockbuster movie Kaala where the lead protagonist also regrets his accidental drinking of alcohol.
7. Use of icons
Knowing Pa Ranjith’s ideology, he smartly uses pictures, frames of icons at different areas in the movie. He used Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar’s image in the background whenever the issue of fighting for your rights comes. He used images of the Buddha wherever the point about finding your own path and destiny comes about. At many places like the factory, houses there are paintings of Ambedkar subtly shown. Ranjith ensures that it doesn’t overpower but at the same time creates a connect with the audience. Images of Periyar and Karunanidhi are also shown a few times.
8. Performances of the supporting cast
There are some terrific performances from the supporting cast. In fact it would be fair to say that the performances of the supporting cast is way better than the lead actor Arya’s efforts as well. The ones that come to mind are the actors playing the roles of Daddy, Coach Rangan, Dancing Rose, Vembuli, Mariamma, the friend Gautham, Beedi Thatha, Thaniga, the priest,etc.
Overall, this is a highly recommended film and another gem from Neelam Productions and another feather in the cap for Pa Ranjith who continues to prove strong with his ideology as well as smart in his career. It warrants multiple viewings. I admit that I would have still not caught some of the finer aspects as I am not entirely conversant with the local Tamil culture and happenings. It shows the love for people that Ranjith has that he is able to show do a fusion of a sports movie and social realities in 70s Chennai (erstwhile Madras) with the subtle rise of the oppressed.
JS Vinay believes in the principles of the anti-caste movement and works in the corporate sector.
Images courtesy: Amazon Prime and the Internet.