Politics will always be an important backdrop in his cinema, whether it’s about Dalits or breaking the stereotype of subaltern culture, says director Pa. Ranjith.
Ranjith, one of the most celebrated contemporary directors in Tamil cinema with films such as Madras and Rajinikanth, starring Kabali and Kaala, explores the boxing culture of Northern Chennai in his latest film Sarpatta Parambarai.
According to the director, both his earlier films and Sarpatta Parambarai deal with the realities of the working class in the most natural way.
“My films are an extension of my ideology,” Ranjith said.
“For this project, I put sport in the context of political drama. Whether it’s about Dalit politics or breaking the stereotype of a subaltern culture, I’ve always tried to convey this important message through my films,” he told PTI in an interview.
Since his new film, starring Arya, Pasupathy, Kalaiyarasan and Anupama Kumar, is set in the 1970s, political backgrounds such as emergency and party politics and the split of the DMK and AIADMK also play a role in the story.
Sarpatta Parambarai is kind of a dream come true as Pa. Ranjith first thought of making the film right after his directorial debut in 2012 with Attakathi.
“I tried to show the culture of the clan and their honor in connection with their Sarpattai clan and sports. The 1970s was also a very pivotal period as only two parties – the RSS and DMK in Tamil Nadu (led by the late CM Karunanidhi) had opposed the state of emergency. The Communist Party (of India) had supported the Emergency.
“We had to properly incorporate these political aspects in minuscule proportions into the film, although the film is not based on Emergency, which only serves as a political backdrop,” said the 38-year-old filmmaker.
Ranjith, who also runs his own production house Neelam Productions and social work initiative Neelam Culture Center to work on a number of social justice films and documentaries, also wanted the film to “break the common stereotype of Dalit culture in northern Madras” . .
American boxing legend Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, was a huge figure in Dalit culture at the time, he said.
“I feel he was a social reformer and not just a boxer. He refused to fight against the Vietnamese (citing his religious beliefs and ethical opposition to the US involvement in the Vietnam War). He was also against racism , white supremacist and boldly wanted to keep his identity with his name Muhammad Ali.
“So he stands out as a great inspiration to many working class people because they have always felt connected to his macho appearance, warrior spirit and also because of his skin color,” Ranjith said.
The filmmaker, who will make his Hindi directorial debut with Birsa Munda’s biopic, praised the work of Neeraj Ghaywan, known for Masaan and Sairat director Nagraj Manjule.
He said that the popularity of digital platforms gives filmmakers the space to make progressive cinema, and that one should use the platform to tell stories that spark discussion.
“… we need to use these platforms for broader discussions and breaking stereotypes about oppressed classes. So while we have struggles and challenges, I don’t subscribe to the stereotype of Dalits as an insurgent group involved in fighting and protests, for example. We have made progress and we are also living a normal life with great culture and rituals in the midst of the prevailing challenges,” he said.
Dad. Ranjith hopes to finish the script for the Birsa Munda movie by the end of August and then wrap up the cast. Munda was a tribal freedom fighter and folk hero who fought against British oppression in the late 1800s.
Ranjith said through the biopic that he wants to dispel some misconceptions about the freedom fighter while focusing on his life and contribution to society.
“He was a revolutionary who fought against landlords and against religions. His story is so politically relevant with regard to the present time,” he added.
A longtime follower of Dr BR Ambedkar, a major architect of India’s constitution, Ranjith said the teachings of the social reformer helped him in his work.
“I want to start a discussion through my cinema. I’m not sure if cinema can bring about a change in society, but it can certainly make an impact. I believe that my previous work on social justice and the work of Dr Ambedkar have helped me create impact as I talked about politics and other issues through my cinema,” he added.
Sarpatta Parambarai, starring Arya, Dushara Vijayan, Pasupathy and Kalaiyarasan, will be released Thursday on the Amazon Prime Video streaming platform.