Sunday, 24 July 2016

Kabali - What Malaysians Need to Know


As expected, Kabali was received well worldwide. Rajini fans particularly those in Malaysia are very excited about this movie. They believe that PA Ranjith did an excellent work by telling the story of the Indians in Malaysia.

On a personal note, I think Rajini should do more films which shows him as an aged man. It suits him better. Just like what Amitabh Bachan is doing. An aged don Rajini certainly looks better than the young Rajini in Kuselan or Lingga.

Many reviewers from India have stated that Kabali is a Dalit story and not just about the Indians in general. However, the reviewers in Malaysia seem to disagree with it as they believe that there is no caste stereotype in the movie.

Unknown to the Malaysian fans, the Indian reviewers were not wrong. They were right about the review. There are certain elements in Tamil cinema which is understood by those in India but not by those in Malaysia.

Whether we like it or not, caste is a big thing in Tamil cinema. Gone are the days where caste is mentioned openly like in Thevar Magan, Chinna Gounder or Vedham Puthithu. There are many indirect references to caste in present day Tamil movies.

Let me give you some examples:

Sillunu Oru Kathal - Surya is the Thevar boy who falls in love with Bhoomika the Gounder girl of Coimbatore. The father rejects their love and takes Bhoomika away. This movie is inspired by actual love stories which happened in Coimbatore. During the last century, there were migration of Thevar people particularly Maravars from Ramnad and Tirunelveli into Coimbatore which is predominantly a Kongu Vellala Gounder area. After the migration, there has been instances of Thevar-Gounder love story. This is what they showed in the movie. During Surya's arranged marriage with Jothika in the movie, there will be a song. In the song, there is mention of Alagu Thevar, Ambasamudram (an area in Tirunelveli) and Sudalai Madan, the tutelary God of the Maravars in Tirunelveli.

Ejamaan - The movie is about the feud between the Gounder Pattakarar families. The names Vallavarayan and Vanavarayan are titles used by Kongu zamins. In the movie, there will be a dispute between Rajinikanth and Napolean over who should marry Meena. For this, the father of Meena, played by Vijaykumar suggest they compete in their traditional sport which is Rekhla. This bullock cart race is the traditional sport of the Gounders in the western region of Tamil Nadu. 

Rajini Murugan - It is about love stories and wealth dispute among Kallars in Madurai. The panchayat scene involving Raj Kiran and Samuthrakanni is referring to the traditional panchayat of the Kallar feudal lords in Madurai. Not any ordinary Tamil movie panchayat. Parts of Madurai forms the traditional Nadu system known as Kallar Nadu.

In Tamil cinema, references to Madurai, Jallikattu is associated with the Mukkulathor.
Coimbatore, Pollachi, Rekhla refers to Gounders.

Karaikudi refers to Chettiars
Words like Annachi refers to Nadars

There is also color symbolism used in reference to castes or social groups

Red & Yellow or Green & Yellow for the Mukkulathor (Thevar)
Yellow or Yellow, Blue and Red for Vanniyars (Palli. In Malaysia called as Vanniya Gounder)
Black & Light Blue for Dalits

Black or Black & Red for Dravidian supporters
Red for Marxist and Naxalites
Orange for Hindutva
Green & White for Muslims

This is how they insert the caste theme into their movies. It also has a regional flavour and goes well with the movie viewers back in Tamil Nadu because the people understand these symbolisms.

Along this line, we have PA Ranjith who brings in the culture of northern Chennai with the intention of highlighting the Dalit community, especially the Paraiyar community. He is a very creative film maker and tries to be realistic in his approach.

His movie Madras is about the politics involving Dalit youths in Chennai. The song "Yengga Oor Madras, Ingga Nangga Thaan Address" is about them. In the song, you can even see Karthi reading a book entitled Theendatha Vasantham. It is a book about Dalits. 

During the song "Agayam Thee Pidithal Nila Kayuma", you can see a quick glimpse of a couple behind Karthi. It resembles Ilavarasan the Dalit youth and his Vanniyar girlfriend Divya. The girl's churidar in this song clip resembles the flag of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a political party for the Vanniyars. Do a quick search in Google about the Ilavarasan case. I don't wish to elaborate further.

Kabali is no exceptional. There are Dalit elements in this movie which some Malaysians refuse to acknowledge.

The movie Kabali is about a Malaysian man from the rubber estates. He fights for the estate workers and rise to become a don. He also runs a foundation to rehabilitate troubled youths. This idea of foundation was taken from our very own Myskills foundation.

To the general Malaysian public, Kabali is the story of Indian plight in Malaysia. Therefore, our local reviewers rejected the caste tag which the Indian reviewers mentioned.

This is what most of us didn't notice about Kabali.

The movie starts with a description of gang activities in Malaysia. It then shows Kabali in prison reading a book entitled My Father Baliah. What is this book about? The book is about a Dalit family from Telangana which goes through hardship. By showing this scene, Ranjith made things clear just like how he did in Madras. The opening scene establishes that the hero of the movie is a Dalit. 

Then throughout the entire movie, there are references to Ambedkar, the famed Indian leader who struggled for Dalit uprising in India. There are also scenes which shows portraits of Ambedkar and Buddha. 

Usually, in the Indian political sense, Buddha-Ambedkar combination is an expression of Dalit uprising. Even today, you can see this form of expression used by Dalit political outfits in India.

Then during the session with students in the foundation, Kabali's friend Ameer explains that Tamils will take their caste and religion wherever they migrate to. He also tells that Kabali was rejected by Valli's family. In the movie, we know that both Kabali and wife were Hindu Tamils. So the rejection mentioned here is intercaste marriage. 

Then during the scene in the gang gathering, Tamilmaran mentions that it was a mistake by his family to even allow Kabali enter his house. Another reference to caste stigma practised during that era.

There is a direct provocation found in Kabali's song Ulagam Oruvanukka (Is The World Only For One). This song was written by lyricist Kabilan.

Mettukudiyin koopadu ini naatukulle kekkadhu 
(The voice of the upper caste won’t be heard in the country anymore)

Kalagam Seidhu Aandaiyarin Kadhai Mudippan 
(End the story of the upper caste by creating chaos)

The word Mettukudi and Aandaiyar refers to the traditional upper castes of the Tamil society, the non-Dalits like the Thevars, Pillais, Mudaliars, Gounders and Chettiars. 

Even in the caste themed movie Thevar Magan, we can't find offensive lyrics. The movie only focused on  caste pride, internal feud and honour. 

In Thevar Magan, there were phrases like "Thekku Thisai Aanda Mannar Inam" (The Royal race which ruled southern land).  But Thevar Magan or even movies like MadhaYanai Kootam did not provoke the Thevars (Mukkulathor) to attack the Dalits. Because those movies were about internal fighting within the same community.

But the lyrics in Kabali is about Dalits vs Non-Dalits. 

These elements in the movie only confirms the first scene in prison involving the book, that Kabali is a Dalit and it is about Dalit uprising.

There are some truth in Kabali about the Malaysian Indian plight such as discrimination in education, estate fragmentation, gangsterism though not accurately described. 

For example, unequal wage between Chinese and Indians didn't happen in the 90s, it happened in the 40s and earlier. But those are probably just minor errors in his movie. 

He did well in showing how some words like sareke, ponne, semme, gaadi, lah, are used by Malaysians. The gang ritual involving guardian deities and the funeral scene were fantastic. Ranjith did his homework well to understand local culture.

Although we would like to see the movie as a Malaysian Indian story, we need to accept the bitter truth that it was made by a non-Malaysian influenced by Ambedkarism and Dalit politics. PA Ranjith inserted caste elements which are irrelevant.

The Malaysian Indian plight is a class struggle involving all Indians in this country irrespective of caste. Therefore, it was not necessary to show My Father Baliah or Ambedkar-Buddha in Kabali as those things are about Dalit politics in India and not about us in Malaysia. 

One movie which showed the Malaysian Indian plight well was Jagat. There is a difference between Jagat and Kabali. Jagat's movie makers are Malaysians and they understood the local class struggle better.

PA Ranjith should have used elements which are more general in nature and one that reflects struggle from a class perspective and not a caste perspective. He could have used books or portraits which are more relevant to Malaysians.

It is for these reasons reviewers from India has labelled Kabali as a Dalit story instead of a typical Malaysian Indian story. Of course we Malaysians do not realise it because most of us are not even aware of casteist themes and Dalit elements in cinema which I explained here.

So we can't blame those reviewers because that is how Ranjith has made the movie look like for them.

Indian reviews:

- Comments


  1. well said. still tamil cinema has been showing caste indirectly that we can't avoid telling a story about somebody we should also has to show their backround and lifestyle. but politicians can't accept those. that's why directors made film with some indication of caste. in RM Movie climax, hero says that "adika theriyadhunu illa adika kudadhunudhan irukom, inum enga odambula odra yedho oru rathathula andha kaatumirandithanam oorikitudhan iruku adha usupethi vitradha'. certainly this is true by scientifically(he is saying about DNA of kallars) also Mapilla singam hero would be thevar caste. I am asking politians who are making troble to release such as komban, marudhu(those are completely commercial action, comedy entertainer) nothing about degrading dalits. but in this movie unnecessarily kishore asking "nee yenna aanda parambaraya?" there is no need to ask this ques in that scene. that's why Indians tamilians are getting irritated by this movie and feeling the same as you said above.

    1. Yes. Those statements like "unnnelaam veedu ulle uttethe tappu da" is very degrading. Also, labelling a community as dog and insulting their bloodline openly in movie must never happen. Such things are bad.

  2. Dear Sharmalan,

    Your mention about migration of thirunelveli and ramand marvars to coimbaotre seems to be incorrect, the Thevars in Coimbatore are predominantly Agamudyars with Thevar as their title their migration dates back to medieval age and for this we have lot of references and proofs in the forms of pattayams and inscriptions,

    Kannakan kootathar patayam has an elaborate information on the Medieval Agamudyar migration

    “வெட்டுமாவெலி அகம்படியர் கதிர்முனைத் தீண்டாக் காராளர் ”says the pattayam the

    Vanavarayan, villavarayan are originally the titles of Agamudayar

    Dheeran Chinammalai’s close associate karupuservai is also from Agamudyar community

    Other famous Agamudayar thevar personalities of coimabtore
    Director Manivannan
    Devar Movies Chinnapa Devar

    The founder of the Famous R.S Puram in coimbatore is also an Agamudayar with Mudaliar as his Title the locality isnamed afterhim "Thiru Rathana Sabapathy Mudaliar"

    Finally the Theme of the movie Kabli itself is of Malaya Ganapthi’s history a delta Agamudayar Devar, Ranjith had transmuted the real story of Malaya Ganapathi and tried to show it has a Dalit Movie, Simmillar to Manirathnams Nayagan wherein the real hero “Varadharajan Mudaliar (Agamudayar) was transfigured to a “Naicker,

    Nevertheless I have enjoyed reading your blog, thanks.

    1. Dear Babu

      Thank you for letting me know about Agamudayar migration to Coimbatore. I was actually referring to the recent migration of Maravars which happened during colonial times and not the medieval migration. Probably I should have included the word Agamudayar to be more specific. I have seen a book on Coimbatore Agamudayars. Will look into it and probably dedicate an article for the medieval Agamudayars.

      I am not sure if Varadharajan Mudaliar is an Agamudayar because some of my friends from Mumbai Thevar association informed that he is not Agamudayar. This of course needs to be verified.

      Lastly, Kabali is not based on SA Ganapathy. He was a trade unionist and a communist who lived in colonial Malaya. My good friend Saminathan has written extensively about him. You may view his writings at Saminathan himself has clarified that Kabali is not about Ganapathy.

      Thank you for the comments.

    2. Dear Sharmlan,

      thanks on the clarification on SA Ganapathy.

      However about Vardharaja Mudaliar I'd like to verify that I personally knew some of the relatives of Vardharaja Mudaliar and his family, they did had a restaurant running in the name " Mudaliar Kitchen in Chennai , Not sure if it still exist, and i can assure you he is from Agamudayar Community and your friend in Mumbai could verify the authenticity from the All India Agamudayar Thuluva Vellalar Sangam in Mumbai.

    3. Thanks Babu. This is news for me. I will inform them about it.

  3. yaru periya aalu adichu kaatu...hahaha ..*tha tamilan idhuku dhn da layak.. #SaveJallikattu