“Caste is dead” — some people maintain, arguing that our society is rid of the evil of casteism. But one look at some of the insults Malayalam cinema’s heroes shower on their opponents and there can be no doubt about the fact that casteism is indeed alive and kicking. While some of these casteist slurs in cinema are sensitively handled to show the subtle ways in which caste prejudice persists, others are just plain offensive, and often exploit the tragedy of systematic discrimination for the sake of a punchline. We take a closer look at some of these problematic instances.
Scene: When his wife tells him to let go his mad quest to nail down his brother’s killer, Mannadiyar (Mammootty) flares up, bringing forth his blue-blooded legacy and slyly slamming the supposedly weakly attributes of members of other castes. The idea of dignity of labour doesn’t seem to have reached the hero either. In a confrontation with a corrupt MLA, Mannadiyar belittles the man by reminding him that he was “just a driver” 15 years previously.
Scene: He is playacting as Chandra’s husband and when Warrier accuses him of shamelessly taking advantage of a situation where he is asked to assist the nurse in changing his “wife’s” clothes, Mohanlal turns to him with this remark. Making it clear that a Nair would never stoop to that level.
3) “Ninte achan Madhava Menon allenneyullu. Ellam kondu yogyanaya oralayirunnu. Raja raktham thanneyanu ee dehathum ozhukunnathu.”— Devasuram
Scene: It’s the moment of truth for the man with one of the most casteist screen names in Malayalam cinema—Mangalasseri Neelakandan, son of Mangalasseri Madhava Menon. His mother informs him that he isn’t the son of his kingly, stately father as he thought he was. Just when he is distraught at the reality of being born to a man of low caste, his mother’s karyasthan (caretaker) gives him this kingly reassurance. And all is well in his world.
4) “Ashari pani kulathozhilalla, jailil padicha thozhilanu.” — Rasathanthram
Scene: In Rasathanthram, Mohanlal’s multi-talented hero who is an ashari (carpenter) by day, admits apologetically that it’s not something practised in his family as a tradition but a skill he learnt while in jail. The broad assumption being that it’s a profession meant only for members of the low caste.
Scene: Gopan is having a drink with Kunju, their father’s old servant, and suddenly his elder brother enters the scene. Kunju offers him a drink and Narayankutty eyes the two glasses of whisky and asks his brother which one is his. And takes a loud gulp from it. Thereby heavily drawing the boundaries between them. Subtle, but effective, one by Padmarajan in Thinkalazhcha Nalladivasam.
Scene: In Aaram Thampuran, Jagannathan’s buddy and man Friday Baputti, while dropping him at Kulappulli Appan Thampuran’s kovilakam excuses himself from entering the premise with this remark. Talk about living in the dark ages!
Scene: In what can be called the father of ironies in 1971, Major Sahadevan decides to showcase his secular bone by standing up for a Muslim friend who isn’t allowed to enter the temple premises. And for that he declares to the temple administrator who is Dalit this extremely offensive casteist remark straight from the Major Ravi school of jingoism.
8) “Ninakku ee oru sadhanathey kittiyullo premikkan?”—Action Hero Biju
Scene: Sub Inspector Biju is moderating a complex case study involving a married woman and her lover. The man is madly in love, though the woman wants to be free of him. That’s when Biju intervenes and tries to inject some sense in him with this nasty observation that borders on casteism and body shaming as the woman involved is dark and obese.
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Fullpicture is an exclusive, comprehensive, online English magazine on Malayalam cinema, put together by a team of experienced journalists who share a passion for everything about Malayalam cinema. The idea is to put out well-written and well-researched features, exclusive interviews,...