Madras to Puzhu: Ten must-watch anti-caste films from the past decade

Headlined by stars like Rajinikanth, Ram Charan, Mammootty, and Fahadh Faasil, these films challenge how Dalit and Adivasi lives have so far been represented in cinema from the southern states.
From L to R: Mammootty in Puzhu, Karthi in Madras and Kantara
From L to R: Mammootty in Puzhu, Karthi in Madras and Kantara
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Cinema from the southern states have seen a wave of anti-caste films that challenge how caste is represented on our screens. Kollywood in particular has seen many such movies in recent years, with several helmed by Dalit directors such as Pa Ranjith and Mari Selvaraj among others. The success of these films in both box office takings and wide-spread popularity among audiences and critics alike have certainly created a trend of anti-caste movies. 

These films have banked on some of the biggest stars in their respective industries like Rajinikanth, Ram Charan, Mammootty, and Fahadh Faasil to draw in movie-goers, while simultaneously challenging how Dalit and Adivasi lives have been represented so far. 

Here’s a list of films in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam that you must watch. 


Madras (2014) 

After his debut Attakathi (2012), Pa Ranjith made Madras, set in the northern part of Chennai where predominantly working-class, lowered-caste communities live. Starring a well-known actor like Karthi, the film may be one of the first in Tamil cinema to call out the ways in which north Chennai has been depicted on screens so far. Madras also questioned the image-building of regional Dravidian parties and their collective failure towards the Dalit community in Tamil Nadu.

Where to stream: Disney+Hotstar

Pariyerum Perumal (2018)

Now celebrated for Karnan (2021) and Maamannan (2023), director Mari Selvaraj first entered Kollywood with Pariyerum Perumal starring Kathir and Anandhi. If Ranjith had until then held a mirror to how caste functions in urban spaces, Mari did the same for rural Tamil Nadu — a setting so far used to depict intermediate caste pride and an imaginary idyllic countryside life. The film revealed the ugly hold of casteism in educational spaces in a small town in Tirunelveli district. 

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu (2019)

Directed by Athiyan Athirai, the film takes on a lot. With a title that translates to the ‘last bomb of World War 2’, Athiyan offers a searing insight into the challenges of inter-caste marriages as much as making a rousing anti-war statement. Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu stars Dinesh, Anandhi and Riythvika in lead roles. 

Where to stream: Netflix

Writer (2021)

Franklin Jacob’s directorial debut takes on the immense task of exploring how the police system not only targets those made vulnerable by caste and class, but also how its violence permeates through every inch of that system itself. Starring Samuthrakani and Hari Krishnan, Writer is an unsparing portrayal of police brutality in terms of caste, class and gender. The film also seamlessly brings into the picture the legal fallout of India refusing to recognise Dalit Christians as Scheduled Caste. 

Where to stream: AHA


Malayankunju (2022)

Set in Idukki and starring a superb Fahadh Faasil, Malayankunju is a survival film as much as it is a take on caste in Kerala. Fahadh plays a casteist electronics repairman with an all-round unpleasant personality. The backdrop of real-life landslides at the height of monsoon adds another layer of menace to the angle of caste in the film. Malayankunju suffers from uneven writing, but Fahadh and the settings of the story make the film worth a watch. 

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

Pada (2022)

A rarity even among the wave of anti-caste films, Pada directed by Kamal KM explores Adivasi land-rights. The film centres on demands to repeal the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Regulation on Transfer of Lands and Restoration of Alienated Lands) Amendment Act, 1996. Based on true events, actors Kunchacko Boban, Vinayakan, Joju George, and Dileesh Pothan come together as the Ayyankali Pada, a fringe Communist group named after the 19th century anti-caste revolutionary.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

Puzhu (2022)

Helmed by a woman filmmaker, Ratheena, this directorial debut is a must watch. Starring Mammootty as an egoistic Brahmin IPS officer, the film delves into oppressive interlocking of caste, class, mental health, and patriarchy. The actor delivers a chilling performance as the bigoted man haunted by the ghosts of his past, manifesting both from his savarna pride and his corrupt career. Puzhu also stars Parvathy, making this the first collaboration between the two stars. 

Where to stream: SonyLiv


Rangasthalam (2018)

This rural drama set in the 1980s is led by a brilliantly in form Ram Charan. The film boasts an ensemble cast including Samantha, Aadhi, Jagapathi Babu and others. Rangasthalam explores the caste dynamics in a village, centring the story around a hearing-impaired hero played by Ram. 

Where to stream: Disney+Hotstar

Palasa 1978 (2022)

Directed by Karuna Kumar, the film uses real-life events from Palasa in Andhra Pradesh's Srikakulam district to tell a story of how caste not only oppresses but also divides Dalit communities. This division is created by land-owning oppressor castes, the film points out. Palasa stands out as anti-caste cinema for taking on this angle and tracing back to its source the reason for violent rifts within a Dalit community. 


Kantara (2022)

Bringing together multiple folk legends, indigenous art forms such as Bhootha Kola, land and forest rights, Kantara became a talking point for several reasons after its release. Directed by Rishab Shetty, the film explores the fight for tradition and rights of an Adivasi community against both oppressor caste and state aggressors. While remaining mindful of the controversies around the film, Kantara is still a must-watch for the story’s politics. 

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

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