Kerala lawyer’s videos critiquing caste, inclusivity in Malayalam cinema are viral

Gokul Dinesh’s videos address the issue of inclusivity of caste, religion and women in Malayalam cinema, with a touch of humour.
Gokul Dinesh
Gokul Dinesh
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In a scene from the 1996 Malayalam movie Mahathma, Suresh Gopi’s character says that none of the big buildings and business concerns you see from Mangalapuram to Parassala belongs to a dominant-caste man, but to oppressed-caste men who bought it with ill-gotten money. He tells Ganesh Kumar’s character – a dominant-caste man – that reservation is a curse that an oppressed-caste man kicks the dominant-caste man with. In a video made of such scenes from 1990s Malayalam cinema, you spot a blatant disregard and scorn for reservation and other benefits for the oppressed-caste.

The video, prepared by Ernakulam-based lawyer Gokul Dinesh is one of four, which have been getting attention for their focused and humourous approach to little-noticed references belittling minorities.

“All sorts of minorities – Muslims, Dalits, women; I am trying to address the issue of inclusivity in Malayalam cinema,” he tells TNM. He had noticed this much earlier and found it disturbing.

“In public, we don’t talk about caste in Kerala so I didn’t understand why it was being said in movies. I didn’t know how others felt about it. It is later when people began making Facebook posts about this that I realised others had also found it problematic. At first I tried to put down my thoughts in writing. But then I realised videos have more reach. This was also the time reaction videos began to be trending on YouTube,” Gokul says.

Watch: Gokul's video on caste in Malayalam cinema

The video featuring the Mahathma scene was titled ‘Reacting to ballatha jaathi scenes of Malayalam cinema’. He has included another dialogue from this movie, once again made by Suresh Gopi’s character. “When an oppressed-caste man kidnaps and marries a dominant-caste woman it is national integration but when a dominant-caste man loves and marries an oppressed-caste woman, it is national calamity,” the character says.

Gokul, in the video, asks you to notice the words used. When an oppressed man does it, it is “kidnapping”, but when a dominant-caste man does, it is “love”.

Many such problematic scripts were written by the late T Damodaran, Gokul points out. In his script for Adiverukal, Mohanlal’s character tells Mukesh’s, “Remember we had the interview together. You got the job even though you had lower marks than me. My dominant caste blew it for me. I felt sad that I was born a Nair.”

In all these films, Malayalam cinema has made its “stand” clear, Gokul says in the video. Mukesh’s character had overcome poverty and casteism and secured the job of a forest officer. There’s heroism in it. Malayalam cinema likes to see him as a villain. So he becomes the ‘reservation’ man who stole Mohanlal’s job.”

He also mentions examples like Aryan, where Mohanlal’s dominant-caste character steals a banana bunch from the neighbour because of poverty at home. Legendary poet Changampuzha’s ‘Vazhakkula’ (Banana Bunch) is played in the film. Gokul points out that the poem was against feudalism but in the film, it was given the opposite meaning – where the oppressed man became the villain. He calls it ‘Reverse Vazhakkula’.

In the same film, Mohanlal’s character tells off a man, saying he has the inferiority complex of an oppressed caste person. Gokul is quick to point out that it is not actors like Mohanlal who say it but the scriptwriter. And it is also not just T Damodaran who wrote such lines. He quotes examples from the films of Hariharan (Mayookam), Venu Nagavally (Aye Auto), Shyamaprasad (in a much later film Ivide), among others.

Although in the video, Gokul says that you will not find such problematic mentions of caste in present day Malayalam cinema, he tells TNM it has not completely gone away. “In at least three films, Nivin Pauly’s character mentions the dominant caste name in a glorified manner (Thattathin MarayathuBangalore DaysOru Vadakkan Selfie). In Ivide, he speaks of poonoolu – cross belt.”

Watch: Scene from Maheshinte Prathikaram

In the 2015 movie Maheshinte Prathikaram, Soubin’s character Crispin takes a subtle dig at the dominant caste roles played by Mohanlal in a number of movies. “That must be Syam Pushkaran’s way of subtly telling it,” Gokul says.

The video ‘Reacting to ballatha jaathi scenes of Malayalam cinema’ came four months ago and that is the most popular of Gokul’s so far, with more than 24,000 views. But then another one that he posted just three days ago has gained half as many views already. It’s called ‘Daridraythinum Pattinikkum Pariharam’ – meaning, solution to poverty and starvation. It shows examples of films where dominant caste women are shown as starving at home and depending on an elder brother to bring home some food, while for some reason they refuse to go to work. With a touch of humour, Gokul advises the dominant caste men and women to try doing the job guarantee scheme of the government (The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee).

“Even if they have an ill father, even if they end up marrying a man their dad’s age because of poverty, they are not ready to go to work. The reason is,” Gokul says in the video and pauses, letting a character played by Mukesh to complete it, “Born in a royal family.”

Watch: Gokul's video suggestiong solution to poverty and starvation

Nedumudi Venu’s character says in the earlier mentioned Mayookam, there is no use in ‘us Namboodiris’ (a dominant caste) looking for government jobs. “After the share of all the other castes (reservation), there will be nothing left. He (the son) has won in everything else, but failed in caste.”

Gokul suggests the MNREGA scheme for all of them.

In one video, he has addressed problematic dialogues and casting in the film Action Hero Biju (where all the ‘bad characters’ have dark complexion). And in another he speaks about the use of the term ‘theppu’ to talk about women who betray men. He points out that it is after 2010 that this word began to get used, especially made popular by a line in Dulquer Salmaan’s debut film Second Show -- “Annum innum ennum penninu panam thanne kaamukam.” Meaning, then, now and every day, money has been the first love of women.

Watch: Gokul's video on the derogatory use of 'theppu' on women

Gokul says that instances of attacks against women (acid included) increased in the same time period, and pointly asks if it is a ‘coincidence’.

“I don’t think Malayalam cinema can wash their hands off it,” he says.

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