In January 2017, following the arrest of over 200 protestors revolting against the Supreme Court’s ban on Jallikattu in the village of Alanganallur, renowned for the bull taming sport, Chennai-based director MS Raj was intrigued by how it served as fuel for a leaderless protest. For the first time since 1965, when there was a huge uprising against the imposition of Hindi as a national language that was backed by political parties, these protests — without any backing of a leader, political party or actors’ support — lasted over eight days and brought together over four lakh people across numerous locations in Tamil Nadu. In Coimbatore, Madurai and Trichy, people were asking for the removal of the ban.
“A lot of women were part of the protests, along with young girls and children, who would sleep on the beach. Not a single eve-teasing complaint was launched,” says Raj, ahead of the release of his Tamil fiction documentary Marina Puratchi, which literally translates to Marina Revolution (the protests happened at Chennai’s Marina beach).
After the film was rejected by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) twice, Raj was granted permission to screen his 82-minute film last month, after he took up the case in the Madras High Court.
Featuring Naveen Kumar and Shruthi Reddy, who were participants in the Jallikattu protests, the 43-year-old director investigates the events leading to the protests, by bringing in fictional characters — two communication students chronicling the musings of the protest. “One may hear of the Occupy Wall Street protest and the Mexican protests but this protest was very unique. It was winter time and it would often rain, but nobody dispersed or left the area. They were there for more than 192 hours. They sat at their site of protest,” says Raj.
The film, dealing with the protests that forced the Tamil Nadu assembly to modify the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to allow the continuation of the sport, has been screened in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia, so far.
Raj highlights American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s political investigative film Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), which looked at the events that led to the Twin Tower blasts in the US and revealed many hidden secrets. “Everybody thinks that Osama Bin Laden was the reason for the blasts but Moore revealed the secret truths of the American nuclear policy and how America fed the seeds for Al-Qaeda. More than 400 million dollars were collected from the film’s screening in the US theatres, which means people actually have an interest in wanting to know the truth,” he says.
Raj tries to depict the findings of his investigation by revealing, how despite many celebrities trying to capitalise on the protests, it was a bunch of 18 young girls and boys who served as catalysts behind the protests. “They think that the cultural rights of Tamilians were being questioned by the government authorities and they just wanted to regain their cultural rights,” says Raj, while pointing out how his film has received a censor certificate from Singapore and Australia.
With India’s 29 states harbouring their own distinct culture and festivals, Raj feels how it is imperative that everybody has a right to lead their life as per their culture and tradition. “Jallikattu has a very long history of more than 2000 years. We have many references of Jallikattu in old Tamil literature. So we simply can’t wipe it from the history,” says Raj.