It was a Ramadan Month Weekday in Muscat at a posh mall, for a show at Iftar time and still the hall was nearly full with eager expats waiting for Thalaivar to show his social justice antics with Pa. Ranjith, Dalit Leftist Film maker, whose ideological moorings were evident with Kabali, where subaltern Tamil diaspora politics were the anchor. Shift frame to Kaala, the Bahujan Leftist Progressive Politics is not the subtext as in a footnote, it is rather the full thesis. It is a manifesto for Dalit politics whose framing or context is the Tamil heartland of Dharavi, the largest slum/informal urban hub in Asia, next to the International Airport in Mumbai. Dharavi is known for its Dalit Panther/Republican Party Politics since the 1970’s.
At the soul of this political project with a small p, is land rights for the urban poor in slums. Rajnikanth, the film legend turn wannabe politician is Kaala, the muscle man and community organiser from Dharavi, whose struggle to keep the district away from the clutches of the land sharks in the cloak of development and cleanliness (think Swachch Bharat and New India, as clean and pure Mumbai/ the overlaps are plenty with even a ‘Digital Dharavi’) and politics of religion seems like a direct rebuke of the politics of the BJP. The cold blooded but suave politician named Haridev Dada, as Nana Patekar is a good foil to the strong screen presence of Rajnikanth, and there are plenty of high pitch duels on screen. Huma as the Muslim reformer protagonist plays her part with poise. There are a bunch of star talent from the Tamil, Marathi and Hindi Film Sectors including Tripathi and Sayaji Shinde who are the ballast of the cinematic initiative.
The inferences to untouchability and Buddha/Ambedkar are present almost in every second frame of the film. The red and blue colors at the end of the film are clearly anti Savarna and Capitalism. Raees had the Gujarat riots as subtext as well as Shanghai which was about the politics of urban land acquisition for SEZs. Kaala is about the urban poor, and a massive advert for the Ambedkarite movement. Prakash Ambedkar and Mayawati among other owe a meal to Pa. Ranjith and his Activist school of cinema albeit in a populist foil with rap music and a fancy SUV.
The slum common loo as a locus for social interaction is depicted subtly in the vain of Joachim and Bezwada. The role of meat and alcohol in Dalit life is also stressed. Notions of Brahminical purity are parodied in the film. Kaala is juxtaposed as Ravana, and Hari Dada as Krishna, and parallels with mythological characters are drawn. There is a strong anti a Hindutva bent to the film, with the word ‘Fascist’ being uttered, which is unprecedented in today’s times. A film which is purely an answer to the times we live in. A courageous film at many levels; commercial and activist do not go together, at all.
The politics of Kaala is not Rajni Saar’s politics in the light of his comments on Thoothukudi. Reality and Reel even in politics, do not overlap.