Filmmaker Amshan Kumar’s second feature, Manusangada, that won critical acclaim in international film festivals, has released almost a year after its world premiere at the 19th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, 2017. The film is based on one of the most inhumane practises followed even today – of denying someone the right to bury or cremate their kin with dignity on the basis of caste.
Manusangada (which translates to Cry Humanity!) follows Kolappan (Rajeev Anand) who has just lost his father and is fighting tooth and nail to give him a dignified burial. Kolappan, who is employed in Chennai, wakes up to the news of his father’s sudden demise. He immediately rushes to his village only to be confronted with the reality that it is soaked in caste-based prejudices. How Kolappan stands up to his most formidable foe - caste - and how he fights till the very end to give his father a dignified burial forms the rest of the story.
The film, in fact, begins with one of Nelson Mandela’s most powerful quotes: ‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity’. It establishes this notion during its brief runtime of one-and-a-half hours.
There are no glossed over representations of caste in this film. The institutional apathy, disregard of basic human rights, the unjustified sense of entitlement and the convenient disregard for the law enjoyed by the upper class are all laid out bare in Amshan Kumar’s Manusangada.
The film is based on true incidents and gets as close as it can to reality. Sheela Rajkumar plays Revathy, Kolappan’s fiancé, who works with him in Chennai. For someone who is from the city, witnessing casteism that’s still in practise in Kolappan’s village puzzles her at first. However, Revathy's role could've been explored further to draw a deeper connection from the audience.
Sethu Darwin plays Thalaivar Anna (leader) who helps Kolappan fight for his cause. Actors Sasi Kumar, Manimekalai, Vidhur Rajarajan and Anand Sampath form the rest of the cast. The performances at most points seem almost theatre-like, bringing down the film's cinematic appeal.
The film’s cinematography, with no fixed frames, brings out the uncertainty that is ever present in the minds of its characters. The camera movements, with its frames cut just below the character's forehead, however, gets distracting after a point.
Kolappan and his family are repeatedly asked to follow what has been “in practise for years” so as to avoid communal clashes. In one scene, the very police officer who is supposed to oversee the smooth functioning of his father’s last rites asks him to not make any trouble and to take the usual ‘kaatu vazhi paathai' (forest way) instead.
In presenting one of the most inhumane, distressing practises of denying a person their dignity even after death, Manusangada is gut-wrenching. At the end of it, we realise, the fight is far from over.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.