Puzhu is the most new in a series of Malayalam films that have explored and elaborated on the means in which caste hatred and violence works in Kerala’s human body politic and social daily life.
The OTT launch of Puzhu, a debut film by director Ratheena P.T. starring Mammootty, has brought on discussions about the brahminical attitude and its unholy potencies. It has also prompted one to probe into the a lot of legacies of caste in Malayalam cinema.
Historically, casteism, like misogyny, has been at any time current, both of those in just Malayalam movie narratives and in the film field. It can be traced ideal again to the to start with Malayalam movie, Vigathakumaran (1928) directed by J.C. Daniel, and the traumatic working experience of its heroine, the Dalit actor P.K. Rosy. Rosy was hounded out of Thiruvananthapuram for daring to act in a movie the incredibly sight of a low-caste girl on the silver display enraged the higher-caste viewers of the film and society at massive.
Down the decades, this legacy of casteism ongoing in quite a few subterranean kinds, modes, and hues. In the 1950s and 1960s,when Malayalam cinema was coming into its personal, social realism was the aesthetic norm. The movie narratives of the time, largely dependent on literary and theatrical will work, frontally dealt with problems of social inequality, class divide, caste oppression, and untouchability. All the main films of the 1950s, these as Jeevitanauka (“Boat of Life”, 1951) directed by K. Vembu, Neelakkuyil (“Blue Koel”, 1954) directed by P. Bhaskaran and Ramu Kariat, and Rarichan Enna Pauran (“Rarichan the Citizen”, 1956) directed by P. Bhaskaran, had caste at the main of their narratives.
Putting on their progressiveness on their sleeves, these movies were being populated by characters who wore and bore caste marks. The humiliations and conflicts of Dalits were being enacted and elaborated not in the caste sign-up but primarily as an economic and class concern/situation. And they were always framed in the larger narrative as the struggles of the citizen-to-be of the recently unbiased nation or as the emergence of the new secular specific of the modern day age.
In Neelakkuyil, the Dalit lady Neeli is betrayed by the upper-caste schoolmaster, socially ostracised, and last but not least pushed to utter distress and suicide. But the film finishes with the reunion of a happy nuclear family, when the “reformed” schoolmaster, alongside with his barren higher-caste spouse, last but not least decides to welcome his son born of Neeli into their “family”.
In many ways, the tale of Malayalam cinema in the decades that adopted originates from this guilt-ridden, sterile loved ones that is pressured to settle for a Dalit boy born out of wedlock as their son. Love and betrayal, relationship and sterility, guilt and adoption—these are themes that underlie the “progressive” narrative of Neelakkuyil. It is also notable that the movie is ambivalent about the figure of the schoolmaster, conventionally an agent of modernity and development in the narratives of the time. His repentance and eventual “adoption” of his out-of-wedlock son into his upper-caste spouse and children has additional to do with childlessness than regret about his betrayal.
At the centre of the literary discourse and aesthetic creativity of the time period was the conflict amongst the socialist-realist ethos that put class at the centre and the modernist-existentialist despair of the person. Difficulties of caste in no way very easily jelled with either of these trajectories of creativity and grew to become marginal or incidental. The aesthetic discourse and artworks of the period of time gave just one the feeling that Kerala was living in a publish-caste culture. The movies of the time narrated the stories of secular, present day persons who pined for love and struggled to produce a new, egalitarian earth devoid of all sorts of inequality and unfreedom.
In the following decades, that is, the mid 1970s to the 1990s—from Unexpected emergency to globalisation—explicit references to caste oppression and violence grew to become largely invisible and unspoken. If at all it experienced to be dealt with, it was only hinted at subtly and indirectly. The higher-caste milieu grew to become the home floor of Malayalam cinema and the Valluvanadan lingo popularised by the scripts of M.T. Vasudevan Nair, its official language. Characters from the decrease-caste and minority communities either appeared at the margins or were packaged into stereotypes. Even the practitioners of “art” cinema shunned the caste concern, in no way placing it at the narrative centre or confronting it as a main social issue
A still from Perariyathavar (2015).
The marginalisation of the caste problem was more entrenched with the increase of Hindutva politics in the nationwide horizon. In just cinematic narratives, this took the form of macho celebrity heroes who flaunted their higher-caste insignia and heritage and harped straight and indirectly upon “merit”.
Interestingly, in the late 1980s and 1990s, two major actors—Sreenivasan and Kalabhavan Mani—brought caste brought again into mainstream narratives. Sreenivasan smuggled in the concern of caste, pores and skin colour, and benefit through his scripts, and in a collection of movies in which he was paired with Mohanlal, Mani embodied and asserted Dalit identification in all its proportions: masculinity, voice, determine, and electrical power. There is a scene in Mani’s 1st key film appearance ( Sallapam, 1995), in which a single of the villagers taunts a toddy tapper (played by Mani) whose title is instructed as a singer for the impending village festival: “A toddy tapper to sing? How great will that seem?” That comment voiced the loud and obvious articulation of the Malayalam movie industry’s attitude. But Mani defied all the derision to carve a space for himself in popular cinema and songs, acting in far more than 200 films in Malayalam, Telugu, and Tamil. Even at the peak of Mani’s vocation, several important actresses refused to be paired with him. Equally Sreenivasan and Mani symbolize an era dominated by superstars and upper-caste narratives, where one experienced to possibly discover devious means to communicate about caste or pay the rate for it.
It is in the new millennium, coinciding with the stop of the superstar period, that caste built its reappearance. The explanations could be numerous. For just one, identity politics was attaining momentum Ambedkar was emerging as an icon and subaltern resistance was gathering momentum across the country and in regional cinemas. The change to electronic technologies enabled a lot of youthful movie-makers to experiment with new themes and formats. They toppled the macho celebrity reign, introduced narratives down to the human scale, and foregrounded hitherto marginalised milieus and lives. For the little and nimble Malayalam movie market, the pandemic and closure of theatres proved a blessing in disguise. Young film-makers built a number of films on subversive themes on shoestring budgets. Released on OTT platforms, these movies acquired vital acclaim and also professional charm nationally and globally.
In actuality, in excess of the previous decade, it is impartial films such as Perariyathavar by Dr Biju, Ozhivudivasathe Kali by Sanalkumar Sasidharan, Kari by Shanavas Nuranipuzha, Pathinonnam Sthalam by Ranjit Chittade, and Aaradi by Saji Palamel that have searingly explored and elaborated on the umpteen insidious approaches in which caste works in Kerala, ripping asunder its “progressive” and “secular” facade. These films narrate the refined subterranean strategies in which caste hatred and violence do the job via the sinews and nerves of Kerala’s physique politic and social daily life, displaying how cash, language, food, community, neighbourhood ethics, and celebration affiliations are imbricated in it. Commercial movies, too, responded to the anti-caste, anti-patriarchy mood in the air. Puzhu is the hottest to arise in this stream.
Puzhu belongs to the “woke” technology and style the place well-liked features are neatly combined with politically correct themes. The gentleman at the centre of Puzhu is Kuttan (performed by Mammootty), who embodies all evil in society. He brings together within himself the darkest aspects of caste, state, and dollars electricity: He is brahmin, a genuine-estate schemer, and a law enforcement officer. And now his everyday living is plagued by the ghosts of the earlier, arising equally from his toxic brahminical delight and his brutally corrupt career. Puzhu’s narrative revolves about two contrasting people, a person patriarchal-autocratic and the other secular-democratic: that of Kuttan and his adolescent son Kichu, and that of Kuttappan, a Dalit phase artist (performed by Appunni Sasi) and his spouse Bharati (played by Parvathy Thiruvothu), who is also Kuttan’s sister. We get only scant glimpses into their past: we arrive to know that Kuttan’s wife is no extra, and that it is Bharati’s second marriage. Kuttan’s inner conflicts and the stress among these people are aggravated when Bharati and her husband shift into the condominium complex where by Kuttan stays.
Kuttan is a person whose world is devoid of the globe enclosed and insulated, with all hints of the other banished from it. Casteist to the core, he is devastated when his sister marries Kuttappan. He supervises his son’s daily life in minute detail, by means of ritualised everyday routines: brushing tooth, ingesting, on the internet new music classes, a day by day report of occasions at college, homework, prayers, watching his mom on video, and likely to bed. From private cleanliness to how to offer with “outsiders”, Kuttan reigns above every single aspect of Kichu’s life. It is via this obsession with program that Kuttan fights the spectres from his violent past.
In constant dread of enemies stalking him, he hunts down an effortless sufferer, Paul Varghese, an erstwhile accomplice who was afterwards betrayed by Kuttan himself. From his business conversations, we realize that Kuttan is included in shady authentic estate jobs. In influence, he is a fatal mix of fear, suspicion, cowardice, caste pleasure, conceitedness, and violence.
The only man or woman he opens up to is his mother, who is bedridden and paralysed in scenes reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Kuttan pours out his anguish, anger, and grief to her. With every person else, he possibly instructions or negotiates. He drives Paul Varghese to suicide, never ever trusts his business partner Jalal, suggests the dismissal of safety staff members at his condominium, dismisses the servants at his farmhouse on mere suspicion, and mercilessly gases the puppy in his condominium. At a single stage, he even manhandles his son. In the name of the condition, he places Kabir in jail on terrorism allegations in the title of caste honour, he murders his very own sister and her partner. But the earlier finally catches up with him in the sort of Ameer, son of Kabir, who sneaks into his bastion like the legendary Thakshaka to acquire revenge.
The narrative of the movie is framed by the mythological tale of Thakshaka, the snake that finds its way into King Parikshit’s hideout in the sort of a worm to eliminate him. In the movie, the fantasy seems as a engage in carried out by Kuttappan. We see 3 segments: the opening sequence in which the king is out searching in the forest the episode the place the king humiliates the sage by garlanding him with a lifeless snake and is cursed to be killed by Thakshaka and the remaining scene of the confrontation concerning Kuttan and Ameer, exactly where the sage addresses the king: “This is transmigration to get revenge for that, the forest will arrive at the sea….”
In depicting Kuttan as monster Bharati as female caught involving the anger, phobia, and ideals of adult males Kuttappan as Dalit evangelist Kichu and Paul Varghese as cowering victims and Ameer as missionary assassin, Puzhu essentialises identities. It also conflates historic injustice and systemic violence with psychic dysfunction. In the system, it forecloses all the doorways to reflection, ambiguity, redemption, or transformation. The film is greatest noticed as a historic revenge versus all the casteist, patriarchal higher-caste heroes and narratives that have ruled Malayalam cinema right up until now.
The caste element also transforms into the cast. Disregarding the immanent energy of caste in Kerala culture, the movie symbolically exorcises it by invoking in the star persona of Mammootty, who performs Kuttan, all the evils a person can consider: he is an abusive father, a corrupt law enforcement officer, a brutal serious estate operator, and, above all, a brahmin who will go to any length to safeguard caste honour. It is the correct reversal of the umpteen macho-brahminical superman roles Mammootty has performed in the past. So, it is a revenge within and devoid of.
The challenge with revenge narratives is that they only cancel the other and annul all alternatives of transformation, which is what art, as against specified varieties of political activism, is all about. Revenge settles scores but does not pose any ethical troubles to the unjust get or to hegemonies of any form: brahminical, patriarchal, or statist.
By closing in on by itself, the narrative also forecloses any imagination of probable futures, locking existence and the globe into an countless cycle of revenge. None of the characters in Puzhu is reworked or liberated in any way internally or externally: Kuttan is killed, leaving his assassin with no long term equally Bharati, who crosses caste boundaries, and Kuttappan, the Dalit artist, are brutally murdered by Kuttan Kichu faces an unsure upcoming as an orphan who will be introduced up by his now even a lot more vengeful paternal brahmin family. What is remaining at the close is the pungent style of loss of life and the poisonous vapours of revenge. How liberatory is a revenge narrative to deal with the sophisticated hierarchies and devious operations of caste? Even when sharing its anger and outrage, these are some of the troubling issues that Puzhu leaves powering.