Sairat was released four years ago, today. This essay was originally published on the writer’s blog and has been republished here with permission.
Vinay ran out of the theatre like a man possessed, but I don’t know if that was a reaction to the film or to the time. Titus whined once. Why did they end it like that ya. And then experimented with the same whine in three different pitches. A minute later he was squealing like a half-butchered pig while I committed atrocity after atrocity on his arms. He doesn’t like being pinched much more than he doesn’t like unhappy endings. When I asked him to come back and watch it with me again the next day, he made various hanh-hoon noises, and did not turn up. I went again. And was embarrassed by how much I had missed, and even more by the little I had noticed only to forget straight away: a sad consequence of the unfortunate habit of writing endless mental notes to myself.
At two hours and fifty four minutes, Sairat is a wrenching, demanding film. When the interval arrives, it is nearly two hours after the film began. The post-interval bit is set in Hyderabad, far away from home in Bittergaon (spelt like that, and shot in director Nagraj Manjule’s village Jeur), and the nearby town of Karmala in Solapur. The smallest demand it makes is in the fact that it replaces the simple arithmetic of first- and second-halves with a structure reminiscent of the three movements of a symphony. Debutant Akash Thosar plays Parshya, cricket-lover, poet, and son of a fisherman, who is already smitten when the film begins, with Archie/Archana, the Bullet-riding, tractor-revving daughter of the local MLA and Patil caste-lord.
This pastoral romance ascends as expected, till a moment of discovery causes things to go rapidly downhill, and then the lovers spend quite some time simply trying to leave town. And then, in Hyderabad, they must find a new life. The plot works you into a viewing corner in that you have begun to register a rise-fall-rise sequence even as an entirely different process takes shape in front of your eyes. By the time the film springs its denouement on you, you have been enlisted (or trapped, if you prefer, like Titus) into caring enough about the characters, and the questions the film is asking.
While the first two movements in the film are straightforward, the Hyderabad third is best described as beguilement. The director sets up a bunch of entirely believable hoops for his duo to jump through. They escape the village via a passing train, and have no idea where they are going. The first hurdle they have to get over is the man checking tickets at the exit in Kacheguda. He has more questions than he needs to ask, and Archie settles him by pulling out a set of notes from Parshya’s pocket. This is followed by anxieties about money, medical attention for Parshya’s injuries from several thrashings, food and a place to stay in, they have no ID, and must sleep in bus terminuses.
The city has many eyes, and they are soon spotted by the wrong kind. An attempted rape is thwarted, thanks to another pair of eyes—the woman at whose roadside cart they ate shoos away the thugs, and offers to share her home with them.
The next set of hoops is of the practical kind, to do with the everyday mechanics of relationships, and economics. These test them as thoroughly as the opposition they have already encountered, and once again, they somehow make it together. They are each tested by the new circumstances, and thrash about till they find some sensible way of being. Their fighting spirits return: Parshya helps out at the cart, Archie finds a job at a soft drink unit, Parshya finds a job as mechanic, Archie learns Telugu, they marry, we see her sitting at a table where it says Manager in Telugu, a child arrives, they discuss terms for a flat and look the building’s mere skeleton over. This arrival at domestic bliss is established by a kind of bumper sticker –a rather ample heart over the front of her Honda Activa, in which the letters A and P are joined, with the son’s name directly below.
This progress to stability is tentative. Archie’s phone conversations with her mother are part of this shaky journey. Bliss and resolution seem at hand when a little party arrives from Bittergaon bearing gifts from her mother and a possible reconciliation. The audience chuckles approvingly when she asks one of them if his hand is okay—she had shot him with his own gun while they were escaping. They chuckle again at Parshya’s face when he sees visitors from the village sitting in his house. And yet again when Archie commands to him be a good host to ‘her people’ and serve them tea.
You’re led all the way here by the rising movement. These years of their lives that the camera has skated through are now your years. The next moment elicits a collective gasp each time from the audience, and perhaps explains why Titus whined and moaned so much. You can’t help turn a deaf ear to an alternate strand that has quietly been at work: a contrast of families, and fathers.
Parshya’s father is turned into a migrant wreck who begs for forgiveness from a caste-panchayat. Archie’s father is seen twice—purging his house of her presence the first time, and then wearing no face on a campaign dais while somebody else is chosen to fight the new elections.The Hyderabad movement is otherwise exactly like the previous movements in that any narrative moment is developed rather than skimmed over or merely signposted.
Rinku Rajguru is not conventional heroine material. She has shoulders that look like they could see her through a boxing match or two and doesn’t seem inconvenienced in any way by the bulk of a Bullet, or a tractor. She brings to her role a bouncy, inexplicable delight, a barely repressed gusto for everything that it asks of her; whether it is admitting to desire, taking the lead in romance, or fighting for the right to love. She is also fifteen years old in real life and does carry a good bit of the film on those shoulders.
Her character Archie is written in diametric opposition to Shalu from Fandry. Who is no more than a creature of her caste, incapable of nothing more than looking at Jabya and seeing nothing, or cruel amusement when she actually notices him in his moment of discomfiture among the running pigs.
Archie is all agency, capable of very extra-curricular feelings, given to the looking, grabbing, devouring varieties of desire. Love transports her out of the world she knows, and she seems game for what the next moment might require, whether that might mean cosying up to Parshya’s mother unbothered by the fish she’s laid out on the counter, even as her friend buries her face inside a dupatta, or bursting into a police thana to free Parshya, friends and their families, unmindful of the public beating that her father hands out. She pre-empts any question that you might ask when she tells Parshya that she is most certainly real. We must, in the audience, endeavour to be real enough to meet a woman like her, and to know that we have.
When we see Rinku Rajguru’s Archana for the first time, she is wearing an improbably silvery nothing but this doesn’t hinder her in climbing out of a house that bears her name into Parshya’s to tell him that she wants a kiss. Parshya moans about how the noise is going to wake people up, and wakes up to find that he has indeed woken everybody up with too much information about the content of his dream. As everybody grumbles en route to more sleep, the camera lingers meaningfully on a poster, above his head, of Alia Bhatt wearing the same silvery nothing. This beginning in dreams is crucial.
The difference between movies and real-life is mentioned a couple of times in the film, but such administered doses of common sense are no match for the inexplicable arrival of love. The Alia poster, and the small melodrama of a cricket match inaugurate the first movement of the film, which works by a superficial resemblance to Bollywood’s young-love template.What is this love? As the title seems to suggest, it is some mad rush of blood to the head rather than the bottom line to some excel-sheet mapping compatibilities or shared interests.
We know enough about this miraculous surge from Bollywood. Sairat does things differently in that it presents this surge as a way of imagining the world, or at least their own village, differently. In imagining this romance with the Patil’s daughter, Parshya changes the existing map of the village, which places people like him at the very peripheries. His friends Salya and Balya come from the same peripheries, and in helping with this romance as they do—organising bikes, mobiles, interpretations of what-she-said and eventually in sweating through getaways—they travel out of their prescribed roles as sidekicks into a kind of co-authorship of the romance with Parshya and Archie. At some point in the running away, Shahid, one of Salya’s relatives, asks why Salya and Balya also seem to be running away. This question puzzles them no end.This film does not duck the issue of caste, which historically is Bollywood’s key stratagem.
A locus classicus of the young-love template such as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak offers us love as a form of homosexuality, or indeed incest. I am merely using these terms in their original, etymological senses: of desire for the same, or unchasteness. The love that Raj and Rashmi bear for each other in the film is paradoxical in that it is Rajput-love while at the same time being unchaste because it ignores family history or parental will.
Rajput-love is a narrative cop-out because it makes no ripples in any world other than the one constricted by the screen, and enjoins no discomfort on the viewer. For a view of another deployment of this stratagem, one needs to travel only as far as Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, where questions of class rather than caste are part of the narrative engine. Both kinds of film organize an arranged love because this paradoxical construction upsets no apple-carts in real life.With Sairat, Nagraj Manjule returns to the idea of love across castes seen in his previous film Fandry.
That is the starker, braver film in its unflinching representation of caste as degradation. In this film, the caste element is muted long enough to push a thought-experiment different from the previous one—what if this transgressive love is returned? This experiment, which occupies the first third in Sairat, is upbeat and hormone-driven and yet it leads to an evisceration of the narrative modes of Bollywood and the accommodations they represent, for caste doesn’t just go away quietly. To return to the movies versus real-life distinction, the first third sets up a questioning of the common-sense priorities implied: why is dreaming lesser than engaging? or perhaps, why must they be seen as separate things?
A cricket match is our first introduction to the networks of caste and power that hold things in place. While the match itself rides on ability—Parshya must smite the ball to win the match but Mangya, Archie’s cousin, huffs and puffs his way up the pitch and does nothing notable—what happens around the match is a measure of who your daddy is. So Princedada Patil, Archie’s brother, doesn’t need to play the match because he must take his assigned place on the dais among other worthies.
His father arrives late, with his guru in tow, much like the captain of the cricket team, but is lauded for keeping his word. The stage is occupied by about a dozen people, including a tai who doesn’t say much because she is the municipality’s president. Nagraj Manjule, who cameos as Satpute, the emcee, produces an inspired rendition of the language of sycophancy in acknowledging Prince, the guru and the Patil. In this moment, he is now and then Geertz returning from the dead to disclose game and world as each other’s mirror.
The new Marathi teacher Lokhande notices that Prince is on the phone, and challenges this infraction. Prince gets off the phone, slaps him and walks off. When the MLA hears of this, all he has to say is a rather admiring ‘direct, just like your grandfather’. A small delegation headed by the Principal arrives at the MLA’s house to report this incident. The MLA says yes, he’s heard about the ‘confusion’, and says that the new man must be introduced to everybody to prevent further ‘confusions’. The principal is then called aside and told to make the staff contribute to Prince’s birthday bash. This is the first time we notice the reach of this power.When Archie and Parshya are discovered, he is sent away to his uncle Ambadas’s house in Karmala town.
Parshya, Salya and Balya are thrown out of college. The teachers who run the college are of different castes, but must cooperate when orders are issued. They commiserate with the trio, and speak rebelliously of the dictatorship of the Patils, but subside eventually into homilies on why the boys shouldn’t have ventured into doing dirty things. Archie runs away from a forced marriage and is guided to Karmala by Balya. Parshya’s grandmother locks them in, but they escape. Ambadas (still in sugar factory uniform) and Parshya’s father run around the bus station looking for the runaways, along with the small army that the MLA has sent out.
Manjule offers a skilled laying bare of the mechanisms of caste power, including careful accounts of how collusion is elicited and sustained. Interpellation, if we freely apply Althusser’s idea, is accepting the truth that power holds out as your truth; its primary mechanisms are these collusions between families, between castes. In Fandry, Jabya’s father Kachru lives out a smaller version of these collusions, and is seen echoing a version of the town’s common sense when he tells his son to stay away from Chankya, the proprietor of Aashiqui Cycle Store, and full-time devotee of love (another appearance from Manjule).
The second movement in the film is dedicated to laying bare the landscape as a psycho-geographic space created by caste-power. The fields that they ran through in the first flush of love now bristle with menace, and they must creep and crawl through it to stay alive. Exiting this landscape is harder than we might imagine. Balya urges them to run away to Mumbai or Pune, but the bus that the runaways hide in is going right back to Bittergaon, and so they must escape into the fields, spend the night eluding search parties, and make a break for Osmanabad. Where cops pick them up, and register cases of kidnapping and worse against the boys and their families. When Archie hears of this and makes a scene, they are freed, and the cases withdrawn, but with that the mechanisms of justice are handed back to the MLA’s private army, and she must intervene again. This is when she finds a gun, and they make their escape on a passing train.
The first movement of the film is occupied by various unorthodox forms of movement perhaps because it is the one in which the dream comes true.Flying through the air is one such, whether it is Parshya executing a perfect dive into the river when he hears that Archana is at their well, or him hurtling into that well minutes later with his slippers still on, or Archie flapping with her dupatta as she rides pillion behind a nervous friend.
Three of the four songs that are fitted into this part occur in dreamy slo-mo. The other kind of movement is a wriggling that is semaphoric of sexual abandon. Everybody breaks into impromptu dance. The boys break into a jiggly dance while they wait for a train to pass. Archie breaks into dance moves while walking on the street, or while at PT exercises.
The Zingat number completes the film’s first movement in an orgiastic display of writhing bodies. Manjule turns up to pull off some fancy dance moves, just as in Fandry. The topography granted to their love is often the familiar scenic, empty of people that Bollywood proffers. It is populated now and then by birds in silent flight, writing strange shapes across the skies, and offering a kind of visual counter for the sense of levitation that grips both characters.If the social is a form of surveillance, then there is the experience of living in it and escaping it.
When the film returns us to the social, to the campus, or to the street, these are places where a different kind of dance is staged; making conversation that is meant to be overheard, the giving of a love-letter, trading hungry glances, leaving red roses in her slippers at the temple, and blowing kisses, all this while successfully evading detection.
Somewhere above you may find a grand statement about love being subversive of a social order that does not recognize individual will. When we know that individual will is not entirely separate of this social order, can this subversion be anything more than a rhetorical flourish? If you’ve heard conservative rhetoric, you have also heard empirical predictions about how these flourishes of individual will are doomed to fail. A priest at a college I went to worked all this into rhyming reason when he said romance ends when finance begins. Such rhetoric will also offer us another empirical truth—that human nature will show through the opposite rhetoric at some point. Do we ever really transcend our milieus? The Hyderabad section opens a conversation with this rhetorical cock-block. Some of the hoops that our protagonists must deal with are new choices arising out of the choice they have made.
The Archie who swans around on bikes and horses sits astraddle an economy where everything is done for her. In Hyderabad, she is overwhelmed by what follows from the choice she has made—she has to live in a stinking hovel, to economise, to do without comforts, learn to use a communal loo, and indeed learn to cook. A series of three long shots establish her forlornness at this point—she sits in a kind of crumpled defeat outside their home and looks down the hillside that their jhopadpatti occupies. A fluttering TRS flag keeps her company. Her first response to this desolation is worth some curiosity. She has been given some money to buy the necessaries while Parshya helps Suman Akka with the cart.
One of the things she buys is a virulently green poster with some elevating thought such as ‘it is better to give and forgive’. We might wonder if she is finally saying what she wants to in English, a threat she has made in play previously. We might also wonder if it is the picture that matters to her—a pretty house by a river and wide open spaces, all elements from the love-talk she and Parshya have shared at Bittergaon. The next thing she does is find a job, and thus she gets back to being the boss of her own life. Initially, it is Parshya who responds better to the challenges of this moment. He takes charge, cleans up, cooks, helps Suman Akka and gives Archie time to deal with the new situation. And then he discovers that he is still a man when Archie begins arriving at independence.
He is bothered by the messages and phone calls she receives, and suffers disproportionately sexual jealousy when he sees her in conversation with her boss. What follows is a display of petulant masculinity, shot in the streets of the city in a timing that stands in ironic counterpoint to the Bittergaon section of the film. It ends in slaps, tears, and Archie deciding to leave. Parshya too must find his way back to a more sensible version of himself for things to turn around. Both characters are tested by the choices they make, and find their way to a new coherence. The film’s response to conservative empiricism seems to be that those who disagree must have the time and space to arrive at their own empirical knowledge of who they can be.
Manjule’s films are characterized by an oblique piety to the specific that is in balance with the meanings they produce and the rhetorical moves they might make. One such piety is to landscape—whether we consider his diploma film Pistulya, Fandry, or Sairat. While about the task of exploring the interiors of his characters, his cameras work by a steady insertion of the local, rather than through cinematic stand-ins or approximations. Defining the frame through the love-play of the first movement are the fields of their village. Talking of fields, there’s this luminous moment when Parshya runs past an entire stand of Saccharum spontaneum in bloom, reminding us perhaps of another village, another struggle, and another film, even if the species is known as Kans in Marathi and Kaash in Bengali.
Apart from the fields, we see a college in Ahmednagar, Karmala’s octagonal stepwell and the interminable stairs leading to it, as also the Saracen niches and the minaret-like towers of the Kamala Bhavani Temple in the town. The hybridity of the latter is perhaps a mute argument against the coming strictures of purity. This concern with specifics extends to the material aspects of life. Aspects of stone-working enter the frame regularly in Pistulya. It is out of the pinched, dusty green of Akolner that you see Jabya’s family in Fandry scrape a living together, and steal reeds for making baskets with.
The ethic of nothing wasted enters the film; the dung that Kachru asks for while looking for odd-jobs is smeared across the yard before his hovel in readiness for the coming wedding, and the piglet that he pulls out of a drain winds up neatly diced a little later. You see the family winding string and sticks together to create an elaborate lasso to catch pigs with. You see the circuits of casual employment that Kachru has to run and you understand where the curve in his spine and the eager assent in his face come from.
The camera has the time to linger on the betel-nut that has been crushed to mark the agreement Jabya’s family has reached over terms for marrying their daughter off. In Sairat, you see Parshya’s father draw the nets in at the river, and you see their pitiful catch. Later, you see his mother at the market with the catch spread out, and you wonder who might buy, and how indeed they might make a living.
Perhaps the most striking element about this piety is the manner in which language is produced as an artifact in each of his films. Fandry draws attention to the Kaikadi dialect both by title—it is their word for pig—and by conversation about how the dialect is being forced into death by the notions of prestige that Jabya’s generation has bought into. The Pardhi dialect that Parshya’s parents speak is wheeled out for us in similar fashion. The name Pistulya harks back to the days when the Wadars were seen as a criminal tribe. Their response to this naming was an ironic appropriation of all the elements that thus became part of their lives—pistols, thanas, advocates and prisons.
These are more grace-notes than reiterated themes, and through these, the films para-drop you into a region that we may well call Manjule-rashtra after Greene-land, the recurring verbal landscape of Graham Greene’s novels where human failure and social instability run chicken-races with each other. Manjule-rashtra may encompass within itself the diverse landscapes of southern Maharashtra such as Akolner, the Fandry village in Ahmednagar district, or the Jeur that turns up in Sairat , or the simple dust of Pistulya; what unites these locales is his attention to making caste visible in an everyday way. You can’t help coming away with a consuming ethnographic curiosity.
Manjule’s casting is reminiscent of the way Ken Loach works. In that he seems to prefer a species of lived experience as a prelude to playing a part. This decision seems to have influenced all, or nearly all of his casting choices. Suraj Pawar makes his first appearance as the Wadar protagonist in Pistulya, and is himself from the community. In Fandry, he chose Somnath Awghade, a Mahar boy who was part of the halgi drumming outfit that contributed to the film, and pursued him till he agreed to play the role. Pawar appears again in Fandry as Awghade’s avarna (and therefore only) friend at school.
The choices of Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru, and the equally crucial choices of Tanaji Galgunde and Arbaz Shaikh as Balya and Salim seem governed by the need to capture a regional specificity as much as dimensions of caste and age. The director’s own cameos seem to confound this casting principle, in that he’s always local, and yet a spinning emissary bearing messages from elsewhere. The other violation of this general casting ethic is in Sairat, where Suraj Pawar is brought in to play Princedada, the arrogant scion of the Patil. In sheer visual terms, this poses interminable tadpole and frog problems, and I have spent more time than is healthy on wondering whether some ludic mischief lies behind casting him to play the sullen dark-skinned son of Savarna patricians.
In my head it’s a little like JC Daniel picking the Dalit girl PK Rosy to play a Nair woman in the first Malayalam film Vigathakumaran, and by mysterious algebra joins all the other clinching evidence (in my head, alas) for the proposition that the history of Indian cinema should be told as if it were nothing but an avarna art form.
It’s impossible to forget Pradeep aka Balya aka Langdya. He is sort of bow-legged, almost like he spent an entire lifetime on horseback, and gets called a cripple for that small affliction, but is is no wise fazed, and indeed makes silent war on the cruel nickname with his quick mind, his mobile, expressive face, and his lovely, heavily-lidded eyes. I can’t forget the moment of anxiety I suffered when he jumps from the top of their escapee river-boat to the ground bearing around his endlessly stick-it-out and take-charge neck Archie’s entire stash of gold and money, to no apparent injury.
I called him a co-author of the romance earlier, and will repeat myself here simply to remind you that in this insolence what he claims is nothing less than the republic itself. In interviews, Manjule has spoken of how his father wanted him educated to ensure that he did not have to work in the sun–he has Parshya’s father repeat his own father’s phrase (savliti naukri–a job in the shade). This is while he belabours his son for messing with the big guys instead of putting his education to better use. Parshya, Balya and Salya see no point in doing anything less than asking for the republic that their education has promised.
Apart from this co-authorship, he is enlisted for an understated function, one where disability becomes a kind of metonym for difference, and becomes thus a way of testing the normal ways in which we see caste; this is something Archie seems to acknowledge when she asks to know him by name rather than by his handicap.
In one memorable moment, he opens with great ceremony a wad of paper that his crush has thrown into the street, and finds only her cut nails there, and the boys fall about laughing, and his laughter turns to tears. He then decides that the aptly named Sapna was no more than her name, and marches off, stopping only to insistently salute a man with a limp, till his greeting is returned. He then turns around and declares, in borrowed words, Zindagi ka yahi reet hai/haar ke baar hi jeet hai.
It is one thing to talk of caste, and another altogether to name and locate these communities. Each of Manjule’s films so far have transported us to a position that is eye-to-eye with a specific marginality; the Wadars in Pistulya, the Kaikadi in Fandry, and the Pardhi of Sairat. My own curiosity took me to reading about these communities. Each is sometimes described as aboriginal. They range across several states, and thus bear differing identities.
The Wadars were once classified as a criminal tribe, and then denotified, and now bear the title Vimukt Jati in the language of several state governments. They are, by some logic that we may not immediately perceive, classified as under no category in Madhya Pradesh, as OBC in Andhra Pradesh, and as a Denotified Tribe in Maharashtra. The Kaikadi have similar status in Maharashtra, while the Pardhi, after much effort, are now classed under the scheduled tribes. We may never really know where to draw the line between a caste and a tribe, and in these cases, never quite know when they are a caste, and when a tribe.
These distinctions were once made by a colonizing empire and matter today in deciding what crumbs an occasionally paternal republic might let fall. If you remember Rohith Vemula, you will remember that at some point his Dalitness was debated owing to his father being Vaddera (the Andhra equivalent, now OBC) while his mother was from the more clearly designated-as-Dalit Mala community. In the obliqueness that Manjule favours, what is noticeable is the complete absence of governmental largesse, and equally the meaninglessness of such largesse in such worlds. When caste is your society and your economy, the taxonomic anxieties of distant babus do not change much in your world. That is the only sensible answer one can give those who contest the legitimacy of the identity that Vemula chose.
It is tempting to suggest that Manjule’s rural focus owes a creative debt to a similar strain in Tamizh cinema. I wouldn’t go that far. To agree with that sort of reading is to ignore the simple fact that caste is both raised and simultaneously avoided in Tamizh cinema. It is alright there to talk of the unfairness of caste hierarchies, but to name any caste, or worse, to implicate any caste in violence against another is to invite serious trouble. Some films do; Paruthiveeran, for example. It caused much controversy, and such naming continues to be the exception. Manjule himself identifies as Wadar; when his camera takes him so deeply into the lives of similarly situated communities, the argument he makes for this audacity is a common history as much as it is what has gone unaccounted for.
In Manjule-rashtra, you don’t ever get to hear an organizing kind of word like Dalit, or indeed Avarna. The films seem to choose a kind of equidistance from government and activist taxonomies. What you get instead is a species of mute irony. The walls of Jabya’s school have lumpy portraits of Ambedkar and Phule on them, and thus they become onlookers to the continuing spectacle that is Jabya’s discomfiture. Culminating in a shot where their faces emerge from between the trussed pig’s legs as Jabya carries it across the screen.
Fandry’s other killer scene for irony is a moment in the pig-chase when the assembly at school starts belting out the Jana Gana Mana. Jabya conveniently freezes, to his father’s disbelief. The father then stands to attention, and the pig, which has been frantically galloping away from its pursuers now slows down to a sedate trot.
Sairat offers an equally rich vein of irony. Archie’s father ridicules his political opponents for not being able to ‘control’ their women early into the film. When Archie runs away, you see this speech bite him in the ass. It’s done very skillfully—the woman who was municipality president is now the MLA candidate, and he has to swallow his pride and share a stage with her. The microphone announces that this adjustment is a return to the days when women like Savitribai Phule stepped out into the public sphere. At about the point when that great big heart on their Activa turns up, you see Parshya blanch and you follow his eye to the pavement where some monkey sena is busy enforcing buskies and other public forms of apology on various ‘couples who were coupling in a non-shastric way’.
Even in the Arcadia for love that the city might be, there is no escaping the thugs for the party of the other part. Classroom scenes always feature a Marathi class in progress for some reason, whether in Fandry or in Sairat. The teacher who gets slapped begins in style by naming Namdeo Dhasal, but does nothing beyond naming him. The poem he does talk about, Keshavsut’s well-known New Soldier, is a disavowal of birth identities for the rhetoric of equality. The slap comes soon after.
In Fandry, it is the Mahar saint Chokha Mela who figures in class, for the same ironic ballast. The film’s most telling moment of irony occurs a little later. The same teacher tells Parshya to make the claim that he has slept with Archie as a way of paying back the Patils for having their way with women from the other castes. Parshya rejects this, in tears. His is an innocence that looks for a consistency between words and action, and this ethic of decency rather than rhetoric is perhaps where Manjule’s heart is.
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