ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Casting Caste: Dalit Identity, Papilio Buddha, and Malayalam Cinema

Caste in Kerala has been under-represented both in canonical Malayalam literature as well as in Malayalam cinema. This article reviews the representational absence of Dalits in Malayalam cinema, explores how this absence perpetuates the structural violence against Dalits, and analyses Jayan K Cherian’s Papilio Buddha. This is a rare fi lm that tackles the contentious question of caste, reveals the ineffectualness of Gandhism and left politics vis-à-vis Dalit issues, and points to Ambedkarism and Buddhism as ways to forge a coherent Dalit consciousness.

As an aesthetic and social medium, mainstream Malayalam cinema is guilty of addressing the emotional lives and aspirations of only the middle class. Although caste is a grotesque sociopolitical reality in Kerala, it is often under-represented and disowned in canonical Malayalam literature as well as Malayalam filmic narratives. This denial of “Dalit lives in [their] entirety and subtlety” (Valmiki 2003: vii) is indicative of the narrow concerns of Malayalam cinema. The representational absence of Dalit lives perpetuates the symbolic/structural violence against Dalits. Malayalam cinema, with its historical legacy of eight decades, lamentably repeats the mainstream Bollywood formula1 and thus remains faithful to the ideological inheritance and desideratum of the dominant castes. If, on the one hand, any purposive interventions to recuperate the marginalised “caste self” are suppressed, then, on the other, attempts to redeem the voice of the voiceless serve only “the causes and interests of the supposed advocate” (Menon 2009). The present article reviews the (absence of) representation of Dalits in Malayalam cinema, and then closely examines Jayan K Cherian’s Papilio Buddha (2013) to analyse the contentious question of caste and the ineffectualness of Gandhism and left politics vis-à-vis Dalit issues. Displacing existing political ideologies, the film offers Ambedkarism and Buddhism as an alternative way to forge a coherent Dalit consciousness.

Story of Neglect

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Updated On : 8th Dec, 2017


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