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On Pa Ranjith’s birthday, Jai Bhim director TJ Gnanavel decodes politics in his work

Pa.Ranjith broke ground and paved the way for several filmmakers to tell stories from the point of view of marginalized sections as opposed to showing how upper-class heroes react to the sufferings of the downtrodden.

Written by Manoj Kumar R | Bengaluru |
Updated: December 8, 2021 2:44:54 pm
Pa RanjithDirector Pa Ranjith is celebrating his 39th birthday today.

There was a time in Tamil cinema when filmmakers made movies about the virtues of heroes coming from an upper caste. In such films, usually, the people from marginalized sections were always shown as helpless, and obedient subjects to their masters. The good master will be kind and compassionate towards his wards, while the bad master will mistreat and exploit them without mercy. Sandwiched between two men hailing from a higher station of social hierarchy, the downtrodden people never had any agency of their own. They were always at the mercy of their masters.

And such feudal ideas in Tamil movies changed drastically with the arrival of Pa.Ranjith. The filmmaker, who is celebrating his 39th birthday today, changed the grammar of Tamil cinema for good by challenging the status quo of social hierarchy. His movies thwarted society’s preconceived notions of the lifestyle of people from marginalized sections. His films opened new venues to debate about social injustice and inequality caused by the caste system. And his films cultivated a wide audience and a big market for movies that talk about the evils of a casteist society.

Ranjith broke ground and paved the way for several filmmakers to tell stories from the point of view of marginalized sections as opposed to showing how upper-class heroes react to the sufferings of the downtrodden.

Filmmaker T. J. Gnanavel is one of the beneficiaries of the trend that was started by Ranjith. “I think Ranjith’s arrival was very important to Tamil cinema. Tamil cinema never had a space for people from oppressed sections. Even if such a space exists, it is likely to be an unfair space. He tackled issues in a bold, brave manner and with a lot of political correctness,” Gnanavel told indianexpress.com.

Gnanavel is basking in the success of his latest film Jai Bhim, which stars Suriya in the lead role. “I thought this film (Jai Bhim) will create a discussion within Tamil Nadu and the Tamil film fraternity. But, I never expected that it would create such a splash across the world,” he said.

It was Ranjith’s films that laid the groundwork for films like Jai Bhim to thrive in contemporary Tamil cinema. And Gnanavel refuses to see Ranjith’s work just through a caste lens. “I will not narrowly define Ranjith as a voice for any caste. I think he is a voice for (social) equality. There is an inequality in Tamil cinema in terms of content and Ranjith’s arrival is compensating for that inequality.”

T. J. Gnanavel also noted that it is very simplistic to distinguish a film aligning it to any particular caste. “The aim of a voice from the marginalized communities is to remove caste barricades and increase equality and social justice. Calling a film simply a caste-based film is a sign of a lack of political awareness. The difference between a voice of an oppressor and an oppressed is this: the former tries to retain the superiority in the name of caste and the latter tries to demolish the very caste system. One is used to reimpose inequality and the other is used to raise equality. And understanding this difference is very important,” he said.

“We are not making caste-based movies. We are talking about power abuse committed in the name of caste. Ranjith’s arrival and the subsequent changes (in Tamil cinema) has made it easy for us to talk about such things,” Gnanavel added.

Pa.Ranjith’s movies championed creating discussions about discrimination that stems from the caste system and helped bridge the gap between people in society by helping them understand each other’s lives.

“Attakathi (Ranjith’s debut) was a bold movie. Until then north Madras was portrayed in movies as a place of violence, drugs, dirty and dark. It was Attakathi that properly celebrated life in north Madras. I think for me more than Madras, Attakathi is a very important film by Ranjith. He would have aesthetically shown the beauty and celebration of gana songs in that movie. And what’s equally important is the fact that people accepted that film,” Gnanavel concluded.

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