The director was speaking about the recent brutal murders of Swati and Nandesh, and casteist society’s indifference towards the crime.

If you praised Pariyerum Perumal speak up on caste killings Director Mari SelvarajScreenshot/Shruti TV
Flix Caste Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - 13:36

Director Mari Selvaraj, who shot to fame after his debut film Pariyerum Perumal fetched rave reviews, has spoken up about the horrifying caste killings of TN couple Nandesh and Swati. The newlyweds were allegedly murdered by Swati’s family because she had eloped with Nandesh, a Dalit man, and gotten married to him. Swati belonged to the dominant Vanniyar caste.

The bodies of the couple were found last week in the Shivanasamudra Falls in Mandya district of Karnataka.

Mari Selvaraj’s Pariyerum Perumal is about a Dalit youth, Pariyan, and the way the casteist society around him behaves when he develops a friendship with an upper caste woman, Jyothi. The film was produced by Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions. Both directors, who hail from Dalit caste groups, have been vocal about their anti-caste politics in their cinema as well as in real life.

Stating that he was happy that Pariyerum Perumal was a success, Mari says, “But on the 50th day of the film running, when I was in Trichy, I heard about the brutal Hosur murders. Till then my heart was full of joy, I was thinking enthusiastically about what films to make next, but on the 50th day all this was snatched away.”

The director was speaking at a film discussion forum. He said that he’d received so much praise for Pariyerum Perumal that he was nearly convinced he had pulled off something effective.

“I felt that my fear was taken away from me then. But now, I feel that the fear has returned,” he said. Mari added that he’d been inspired to write Pariyerum Perumal because of the horrifying visuals of previous caste killings.

“And at a time when I’d finished the film and was receiving praise for it, I had to see two bodies which were far worse than what I’d seen – I didn’t know what to do about it,” he said.

Recalling his own growing up years, Mari said that it was only in the last 10 years that he began to see society from a different perspective. The director added that it was his own experiences which had given him this perspective.

“Imagine if I’d asked my father for his story, or my grandfather. Or someone old from an oppressed community. What kind of stories will they have to tell?” he asked.

“In all these celebration meetings that I went for, I felt great trust in the youth of today. But I felt afraid of the elders because they want to stick to their old ways,” he added. He pointed out that it’s often the elders who want the casteist society to remain the same. “That’s why I made the villain, the man who kills for caste, a 60-year-old man,” he explained.

Mari said that he’d looked at the faces of Swati’s father and uncle, who are believed to have murdered her, and found them to be people who looked like they were of humble origins.

“I searched and went to see what they looked like. You’ll know which caste they belong to only if you put their caste certificate under them. They don’t look casteist in any way. They look very normal, two people who are struggling to live. In such ordinary people, how did the worm of caste enter?” he asked.

Mari also addressed the criticism that he’d received for Pariyerum Perumal. Some had said that he’d depicted the humiliation undergone by Dalits a bit “too much”. Pointing to the brutality committed on the couple, Mari said, “If you look at the complaints made under the SC/ST Act in Tamil Nadu, I haven’t shown even 5% of it in Pariyerum Perumal. If I had shown more, we wouldn’t be able to bear it.”

He added that the humiliation depicted in the film is not from his perspective but how society views Dalits. He said that in the film Pariyan thinks well of himself and takes pride in who he is, but it’s the society around him which keeps trying to pull him down. The film, Mari stressed, showed what the casteist society does and wants to do to Dalits and that he wished to express this. “I wanted to disturb people psychologically, make them understand that what they were doing is inhumane,” he said.

“I know that the men who killed their own will be crying. They are ordinary people and I cannot speak ill about them to such an extent. What we must study is why caste is so strong a feeling in ordinary people that they come to believe that someone cannot live in this society when they break caste rules. Who gave them this compulsion?” he asked.

Mari went on to speak about the omnipresence of caste, pointing out that when there is a known enemy standing at the door, it’s easy to fight him. But what do you do about something like caste which exists everywhere, including among the people who are friendly with you? Mari said that the process of the filmmaking itself had been painful for him, considering the stories he was telling.

“Maybe if someone else had made the film, they might have felt jubilant. But I made it – the filmmaking was painful, the release was painful, and after that also, being with people, I keep hoping to see some change in them,” he said.

Mari also went on to question the silence and lack of outrage over such atrocities, in a society where hashtags are created by the minute.

“I thought there would be a flood of outrage,” he said. “Why can’t we turn those who harbour caste pride into someone despicable? If a man rapes a woman, he can’t be on this dais, he cannot come for this meeting. If a man has sexually harassed someone or committed a murder, we wouldn’t allow him here. Why can’t we do the same for someone who exhibits caste pride?”

Mari also said that he’d not made his hero take up violence though it would have been an easy job for him as director.

“But I didn’t want him to be driven by his emotions. I wanted the oppressed and those who oppress them to connect with the film,” he said.

Mari noted that he was someone who’d had a wide range of life experiences, and that he did not want to use all this to incite someone else who didn’t have the same degree of exposure to take up violence. He also asked those who criticised the film to consider the emotions he’d have felt when making the film.

“Puliankkulam Selvaraj is my father’s name. Imagine how much pain I’d have had when directing the scene when the father is stripped,” he said. “How much time would it have taken for me to show my father regally? Like a proud cock crowing? But that’s not what I wanted. I wanted you to realise how much you stand in the way of my dreams.”

Mari Selvaraj said that he didn’t want to depict his hero hitting back because in reality, the situation is such that people have to live together.

“That’s why I chose dialogue as a means in the film, because love too comes through conversation,” he said.

He went on to say that it’s only Dalit organisations that protest caste atrocities, like the recent murders, and that society would change only when everyone, across caste groups and communities, raised their voice against the violence. He also said that all those who’d praised Pariyerum Perumal, including celebrities and leaders, must at least take effort to write about the caste brutalities on their Twitter page.

“At least tell us what your opinion is, so we know if we should move away from you,” he asserted.

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