The director was responding to the veteran music composer writing the foreword to a book on Narendra Modi and comparing the Prime Minister to Dr BR Ambedkar.

File photo of PA RanjithFile photo of PA Ranjith
Flix Controversy Monday, April 25, 2022 - 09:36

Responding to the controversy around veteran music composer Ilaiyaraaja writing the foreword to a book on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and comparing him to Dr BR Ambedkar, director Pa Ranjith had some strong words for the music maestro’s critics. “There are so many famous artists siding with the BJP. Recently there was a film—Kashmir Files. Prominent actors speak in support of the BJP. So, if Ilaiyaraaja’s comments are being spoken off so widely, it shows the reach of his music. The value of that artist. You cannot separate an artist from their work.  Ilaiyaraaja broke social inequalities with his music, he took back the music that was only in the hands of a select few and returned it to the people. He democratised music.” Ranjith added that this act is perhaps why, in his view, an artist like Ilaiyaraaja is “being used to speak a certain politics. In Tamil Nadu there is a growing movement against communalism and casteism. Hindutva forces are attempting to break that.” 

Ranjith was speaking at an art exhibition that is a part of the ongoing Vaanam Festival organised by Neelam Cultural Centre. The director also said, “So far, Illaiyaraaja has never made political statements. Wherever he speaks, he speaks about his music. He speaks on what music has done, what it has created. It is important to remember where that music has come from. Why his music is so significant to Tamil cinema, we all know. I see this [Ilaiyaraaja’s description of Modi as an equal to Dr Ambedkar] as an attempt to create words from his mouth. Why is a Hindutva force like the BJP wanting to use Ilaiyaraaja? Even recently, in an attempt to appropriate him, K Anamalai (Tamil Nadu BJP chief) said that a ceremony to celebrate Ilaiyaraaja must be held. I believe we must see the BJP’s actions as an attempt to break the anti-communal, anti-caste model that is growing in Tamil Nadu.”

Read: Ilaiyaraaja draws parallels between Ambedkar and PM Modi in foreword to book

Of Ilaiyaraaja’s critics, the Periyarist organisation the Dravida Kazhagam themselves faced backlash after a video of one of their rallies went viral. In the video, EVKS Elangovan, the grand nephew of Periyar, says, “ In Tamil Nadu there are some people who call themselves ‘kings of music’. All those who pick up a tabla cannot become music composers. Those who at a time when they were so poor, they struggled for food picked up Communist ideals, now consider themselves upper caste after gaining fame and money.” He also said, “You call yourself Illaiyaraaja at this age. You spoke for the working classes once, but after you became famous, you became a man of faith. I don’t disagree with your right to have a faith, but I cannot accept your stance of comparing Modi to Ambedkar.” Other Dravidian leaders like K Veeramani, the president of the DK can be seen on the stage with Elangovan.

His speech has been criticised as being casteist and particularly unbefitting of an organisation that was founded by Periyar himself. Director Ranjith also responded to the viral video in a tweet saying, “EVKS says such things, and K Veeramani claps. Is this the way to critique Ilaiyaraaja? For such a casteist mind set to be displayed, that too on a Periyarist platform, is deeply condemnable.”

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