The attempts to turn caste crimes into stories about familial love are not only dishonest, they are also dangerous.

Ram Gopal Varma's Murder poster on Pranay caste killing showing Amrutha and Maruthi Rao
Flix Cinema Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 16:12

On June 21, director Ram Gopal Varma announced his next project, Murder. The film, he said, will be a "heart wrenching story based on Amrutha and Maruthi Rao saga (sic)", and added that it's about the "dangers of a father loving a daughter too much." The film that the director plans to make is about the inter-caste marriage of Pranay, a Dalit man, and Amrutha, a dominant caste woman. And while RGV – who frequently announces one controversial project after another – may consider himself a maverick who “swims against the tide”, in this case, he's very much within the mainstream narrative.

Coincidentally, the movie's poster came out a day before the Madras High Court acquitted Chinnasamy, the prime accused in the murder of Sankar, a Dalit youth who was brutally hacked to death in Tamil Nadu after he married Gowsalya, Chinnasamy's daughter.

Two years ago, Gowsalya had met with Amrutha, after the latter's husband Pranay was murdered in front of her in Telangana. Both women come from dominant caste groups and had eloped to marry Dalit men. Both of them witnessed their husband’s killing. Both men had been murdered by hired hands. And in both cases, the mastermind and the prime accused in the murder had been the father.

In both murders, the prime accused received massive sympathy from the public.

Many even said that the crime was justified because it's difficult for a father to digest the fact that his daughter had disregarded his views and married out of caste. The support came from all sections of society, including journalists who covered the crimes.

This is not surprising because caste endogamy and patriarchy are lasting features of our society – not ‘bugs’ as some may believe.

The idea of a woman as the property of her birth home till her ownership is transferred to her husband's family, is an age-old one. She is not considered to be a thinking human being with agency of her own but a passive object who is to be "protected".

Caste is perpetuated through endogamous marriage, and a married woman is considered the property of her husband's family – never the other way around. Even though it is her body which will bear their child, the husband gets the ownership. This is why families and societies place utmost importance on controlling women's bodies and sexuality.

And as we’re seeing in many instances – if a woman marries a man from a ‘lower’ caste, he must pay the price for the transgression with his life.

In other words, caste killings over relationships are not about paternal love – but a violent, rabid desire to maintain social hierarchies. This is also why such crimes receive the support of the public; it's about maintaining the power of entire communities and not just individuals conducting their personal business.

The wild success of the Tamil film Draupathi, directed by Mohan G, is testament to this. The premise of the film is that men from marginalised castes lure upper/dominant caste women into relationships in order to leverage their social position. Once the women are ‘hooked’, they are exploited by the men. The film was a crowd-funded venture and had several blatantly casteist lines and plot points. All through the narrative, the hero rues the fact that young women choose their own partners over the will of their families. The script, of course, manipulates the audience into agreeing with the hero since the young women are subsequently shown to suffer the 'consequences' of their actions.

Further, the film was considered to be an "answer" to directors like Pa Ranjith, Mari Selvaraj and Vetrimaaran who have been making anti-caste films and telling stories of inter-caste love in positive light. The conspiracy theory pushed by Draupathi received widespread acceptance and spawned numerous casteist responses on YouTube, TikTok and other platforms, with some young men openly declaring that they would take pride in killing for "honour". Amazon Prime Video even bought the rights of the film for OTT release – one wonders if a blatantly racist film in the US, for instance, would have been bought by the platform so blithely.

As for RGV, one can say that it's too early to judge the film since only the poster is out. However, the words on the poster paint Maruthi Rao, who took his life in March this year, as a "loving" father whose only fault was that he'd "loved" his daughter "too much". There's no mention of the prime motive behind the crime – casteism combined with patriarchy. Following criticism, the filmmaker has tried to justify the poster by saying that Murder deals with 'moral dilemmas', failing completely to address the systemic violence which leads to such crimes and making it sound as if the 'other side' deserves empathy too.

The attempts to turn caste crimes into stories about familial love are not only dishonest, they are also dangerous. They condone and justify violence in the name of affection. Such efforts do not require more glorification in a mass medium like cinema. Murder, like Draupathi, may be welcomed with open arms if it ever gets made, and give RGV a much needed hit at the box-office. But, it will be blood money and there's no denying that.

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