Vicky Nandgaye, Manoj Meshram
Prelude: Central Theme and Cast of the Movie
Recently a Marathi movie ‘Jayanti’ was released on the big screen in Maharashtra. Jayanti is a Marathi word denoting birth anniversary. Here it discusses the birth anniversary of Ambedkar. Santosh Narwade is the director and writer of the movie. The followers of Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar ideology are promoting this movie through WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other channels. Even the producers or the well-off people from the community are asking their family and peers to watch it and whenever possible they are distributing free tickets of the show.
Unlike other mainstream Marathi dramas, the movie emphasises on dialect and tone (considered as Ghati language) used in the Nagpur district of Maharashtra. Language assertion is beautifully shown. As an insider, we can relate to the feelings of language discrimination or humiliation that the character/s face in the rest of Maharashtra especially in the Western part. Hence, the movie is a subtle slap on the faces of people who engage in language politics.
The movie centres on two case studies – the story of Santosh and the social movement against the brutal murder of Rekha. Santosh (Ruturaj Wankhede) is an OBC person from a slum area employed as a Karyakarta of local MLA Mr Gondane (Kishor Kadam). There are no objectives in his life. He loves Pallavi Ramteke (Teetiksha Tawade) who belongs to a Scheduled Caste. She studies social work, regularly comes to tuition classes conducted by Mr Mali sir (Milind Shinde), a staunch follower of Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar ideology and fighting to construct a night school in the basti. Mali believes that instead of erecting statues of social reformers and wasting money on celebrations of birth anniversaries, education should be spread among the poor.
Santosh does not know the whereabouts of Pallavi. In a scene, his friend tell him about her caste, which Santosh does not believe him. It projects in-depth stereotypes and prejudice prevalent in the society where a Dalit should not look fair. Even in most of the dramas, Dalits appear as dark and dusky. This movie counters such baseless stereotypes.
In another case, a tribal woman Rekha from the neighbourhood works as domestic help in the house of an upper-caste businessperson Mr Kukreja (Amar Upadhyay). Kukreja rapes and murders her. Later, he tries to settle the case with the aid of Gondane. Gondane involves Santosh to look into the matter where he manipulates Rekha’s husband by offering lakhs of rupees. Santosh calls himself a great follower (Mavla) of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Indian ruler of the sixteenth century. For the sake of friendship, he allies with his Dalit friends in celebration of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary. However, his mother (Anjali Joglekar) is shown as an orthodox woman who often hates Dalits.
Celebration of Jayanti: A Turning Point in the Life of Santosh
In a scene of celebration of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, loud music is played by youngsters. Mali objects to this, asking them to stop it, as the students get disturbed in their studies for university exams. Santosh and others get drunk and are not ready to stop it. He sees Pallavi there and expresses his feelings to her before the crowd. She, a studious and brave girl, is annoyed by his behaviour and asks him and others about the contribution of Shivaji Maharaj and Dr Ambedkar to society. She shouts at him and accuses him of being a pawn of Gondane who supported the murderer of Rekha.This incident compels him to understand the politics of Kukreja and Gondane. Consequently, he goes to Kukreja to seek revenge for Rekha’s brutal murder where the police arrest him. Meanwhile, Mali sir advises Santosh’s family to not take stress about his bail and let him realise his mistakes. Mali is an excellent character who firmly believes in the power of Dalit-Bahujan literature that holds the energy to change the world. Here, he stood by Santosh with the objective to bring positive changes in him.
Therefore, Mali requests a police officer to provide him with a Marathi newspaper in prison irrespective of whether he reads it. This is the beginning of the movie which takes audiences to a different world. Two stories are simultaneously running in the movie, one is the gradual transformation in the life of Santosh and the other one is the struggle of people seeking justice for Rekha. The director has shown Santosh’s journey from an annoying young lad to a true follower of the ideology of Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar cleverly. In Indian society, caste is the root of various socio-economic, educational and political concerns of the oppressed community. Thus, the annihilation of caste and the fight for a just society are the cause of the Dalit-Bahujan movement in India. In this context, the mainstream entertainment industry invariably neglects the subjects pertinent to real issues of the lower strata.
A drama like Jayanti is a film produced with the help of Ambedkarite people and that perhaps gives a scope for critics on the script. The idea of bringing the strength of Dalit-Bahujan literature on the big screen was never possible for upper-caste producers and directors in India. Jayanti displays the roaring story of a man who reads literature and leads the path for the cause of unity, justice, and self-dignity, high living and high aims. The movie impresses the audience with dialogues, music, script, direction, acting, casting, cinematography, and almost in every minor aspect. It illustrates the understandings and vision of the stakeholders in the project. They beautifully used the medium of mass communication to bring consciousness among people belonging to the deprived communities conveying the message that they have to pursue education as a weapon and only that can lead to a path of liberation of mind and empower them. The energy of young minds should be channelized in the appropriate direction. They must be imparted with the necessary skills to shape their career in spite of the unfavourable atmosphere. For us, Jayanti is a great contribution to the larger Dalit-Adivasi-Muslim-Bahujan movement.
Loopholes in the Project
Whereas our only concern over the project is that the representation of the tribal community is reduced to the status of the victim of a high profile upper-caste man. Why are tribal women subject to victimisation? In social dramas, no character is portrayed from the tribal community who represents their agency. Adequate representation of tribes should be shown in the movie if it deals with oppressed unity. From the Ambedkarite lens, the movement may voice the interests of all the oppressed communities. However, at the same time, it observes silence on agency and adequate representation of some community. The name of the movie is Jayanti but the screen time is too short for the project.
The project resonates with the one-way interpretation of the celebration of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary for which some followers receive criticism in the society. By taking these critics positively, the movie engages with the reading of Bahujan literature which helps in removing false consciousness. One can roar once you comprehend the existing literature with appropriate understanding. A well-read person can counter the injustice perpetuated in society. It further creates the discourse of unity and collective consciousness among the masses to become successful in life. Earning a decent living can also enable one to “payback to society” in order to address injustice, open educational, and employment opportunities for people.
The movie excellently showcases readings of original writings and true history with an appropriate lens to ignite the spark in the youth. It further provides the energy to fight for equality, liberty, fraternity, and social justice in a true sense. Understanding of Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar’s work through their biographies and writings is imperative to counter arguments of the caste dominated culture of non-Dalit families to remove the false beliefs they hold.
This movie is built around some followers who think Jayanti is meant for dancing and drinking. It hides the other section of followers who engage in different awareness programs on the premises of Deekshabhoomi (monument of Navayana Buddhism in Nagpur), run libraries and Buddha Viharas etc. The latter might not be the subject of the movie, however, we strongly recommend that in the upcoming project, the positive image of Jayanti should be highlighted by the team. Overall, the project has been shaped well. It should be watched and screened in Bahujan neighbourhoods. A comprehensive discussion should be held followed by the screenings.