Karthi's Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru has become a blockbuster. H Vinoth's cop film based on real events has hooked the audience with its thrilling plot and technically sound filmmaking.
However, the film is about a criminal gang which belongs to a denotified tribe. The film is based on the Bawaria gang which is said to have terrorised Tamil Nadu highways in the past, and goes into the problematic territory of "criminal tribes" or 'kuttraparambarai' as it's known in Tamil.
According to reports, the makers of the film have responded to the criticism about the portrayal, and have issued an apology to those hurt by it. They have said that "our film has not portrayed any community in a bad light" and "robbery is not a profession among any community". Further, they have agreed to remove certain scenes and dialogues from the film which mention denotified communities when it premieres on TV and when it is officially released online.
Speaking at the success meet organised for the film, director H Vinoth said that a petition had been submitted to the Collector by members of Seer Marabinar Nala Sangam (representing denotified tribes) against the film and that he'd taken the effort to meet them in person to explain his intentions and had also issued a video apology.
Who are the 'Criminal Tribes'?
The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was legislation brought in by the British which turned entire communities of people in India, based on religion and caste, into "born criminals". The Act targeted people born into certain communities, stereotyping them as violent and given to dishonest ways. They were termed "habitually criminal" and adult males from such tribes were required to report weekly to the local police station, irrespective of whether they'd committed a crime.
The Act went through many amendments and the final version, incorporating all of them, was called The Criminal Tribes Act of 1929. It was two years after independence that the unjust Act was repealed and in 1952, the tribes came to be called 'Denotified Tribes'.
Although people belonging to these communities are now called by a different name, they continue to face harassment from law enforcers and are socially ostracised in many parts of the country.
Even as recent as 2016, Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi had tweeted that 'Ex Criminal Tribes' were "known to be very cruel and hardcore professionals in committing crimes". The tweet drew flak from various quarters for stereotyping people based on birth and piling on to already existing perceptions about criminality and these communities.
'Denotified Tribes' in Theeran
Although the film gives a brief history about DNTs and the injustice that they faced in the past, the villains are characterised as dehumanised brutes who are protected by the community they live in.
The film is told entirely from the perspective of the law enforcers, justifying encounters and torture in police custody. The already marginalised DNTs don't have a voice in the narrative and are stereotyped as "outsiders".
While Theeran is based on real events and is one of the finest cop films to come out of Tamil cinema in recent times, the politics it propagates remains troubling.