Friday, May 25, 2007

Politics of Cinema:
Fans and Dalit Audiences
Dr. P. Kesava Kumar

Introduction
The central theme of my paper is to understand what cinema means to Dalit audiences and how they negotiate their social identities in the context of cinema /star. I assume that watching cinema is a social activity located in its specific social, historical and political context. Broadly; the paper addresses three main points. Firstly, the entry of the Dalits into Public Space such as cinema hall and especially to the Balcony. The cinema hall is a site of Struggle between Dalits and the upper caste. Secondly, the responses of fan about cinema and its star, in terms of their specific caste/class identities. The complex process of the caste identity of the fans-both upper-castes and Dalits is negotiated in terms of their control over specific public places such as centers in a town, barber shop; 100 days celebrations, leadership in fans associations, and the visibility of a particular fans association/particular individual/social group into cinema hall and outside cinema hall. Thirdly, Dalit audience reception to the representation of them in cinema. This response is often contradictory , and very complex. Some Dalits are resent the way they portrayed in cinema, some others accept some roles as role models. I tried to analyze these responses.

Film as the text acquires meaning because of its viewers. The point is, film consumption seen as a site of cultural struggles in which variety of forms of power are exercised with different sorts of effects. This cultural struggle is, on going process over meaning and pleasure, which is central to construction of everyday life. The embeddedness of audience activity takes place a complex network of ongoing cultural practices and relationship.
Dalit audiences are not a unitary category. Within it there are men and women, urban and rural, old and young, rich and poor, and also differ with region. Because of these differences, there might be multiple meanings and multiple negotiations of film images. But at the same time all of them are victimized by the caste. It implies Dalit audiences how different they might be, heterogeneous seemingly free, but are related to the operations of forms of social power. Thus, watching film is also social and even collective practice rather individual. And the circulation and the reception of cinema situated in particular historical, social and political contexts of the audiences.
I am not discussing film and audiences as two separate categories. Film is located within society and audiences do exist prior to the institution of cinema or outside of it Audience may go on changing with time along with cinema. However, cinema acts as a mediating structure between hegemonic groups and subaltern groups. The conflict among ruling block and the subaltern groups trough various internal equations used to manifest in cinema. Cinema is one of the important cultural form is used to act as space to meet various social subjects of the society.
Political struggles and Cinema
The themes of films go on changing with the changing social circumstances. The early films of fifties (Mythology, fantasy, and folklore), reflect the general wish of Nehruvian reform of feudal structures. Later green revolution produces huge agrarian surpluses and wage labour, and this surplus turned into the capital for cinema. Around the same time, feudalism received serious blows from Naxalite movement (late sixties and seventies). The corresponding cultural form is depicting the crisis in feudalism through NTR films, followed by void of feudal patriarch. This was filled by Telugu nationalism. Later in eighties, rich peasant who also invested in cinema try to depict a situation of hero as an agent of condemning feudalism and assigning legitimacy to state. This can be seen as the popular expression of anti-feudal struggles. Green revolution in its dialectic, also had the seeds of assertion of dalits, which happen through wage labour, and state led developmental programmes. This culminates in massacre in Karamecbedu by upper castes over Dalits. An equally significant event disturbing the foundation of modern secular state is Mandal agitation. These incidents are symbols of increasing expression of dalits in public spaces from which they are hitherto excluded. In representing the turmoil, it has been increasingly difficult for dominant ideology to reproduce itself. The hero, usually representing the subaltern, has traveling through various routes, and in the climax used to resolve the crisis. Traveling through disturbed zones of social turmoil lower castes hero confronts upper caste female which had generated lot of anxiety among the middle class upper caste audiences. It has increasingly become difficult for film industry to produce a film acceptable to all audiences, which is posed as a crisis of mass film. This has met with several responses, one is increasing the importance of story line, and second one is the reshaping of star image.
Post nineties witnessed economic liberalization and the rise of Hindu fundamentalism. As a response to economic liberalization, reviving of local culture/ traditions has been shown as resolution of the problem, which can be seen in the films of S. V. Krisna Reddy and Krishna Vamsi in different form. At the same time, state in AP emerged as an agent of 'change', 'progress' and 'modernization’. There also emerged consumerist middle class audience totally devoid of any social concerns, as a propagators of the ideology of the state in the liberalization era, it can be seen m the films of Mani Ratnam and Ramgopal Varma. Surprisingly, there has also been large number of box office hit movies like Erra Synyam, Ose Ramulamma, a gap which is mass film, is left filled with it.
The composition of national modern is being continually challenged by the assertion of political identities based on caste and community. And the growth of cinema as a cultural phenomenon was coeval with series of political struggles by new constituency such as tribals, landless peasants, Dalits and women- altered the dominant political discourses in significant way.
Audience response: A case study of Coastal Andhra town, Tenali
This study basically depends on my interviews of Dalit audiences of Tenali, a coastal Andhra town and its surrounding villages namely Nelapadu an Amrutalur.
Tenali is a very important town of having 2 lakh population of Guntur district of coastal Andhra. Tenali has been an important center of education and cultural activities. Andhra Praja Natyamandali, the cultural organisation of the communist movement was strong in Tenali and surrounding villages. Most of the first generation Telugu film actors, producers, writers, musicians, came from Tenali town. Tenali town was known for its tradition of several theatre groups.
In recent times, Tenali in Particular and Guntur district in general became center of Dalit movement The emergence of a small section of very articulate educational middle class challenged the social oppression by the upper castes especially the Kammas. The Tsundur massacre(1991), of datits led to a long battle with the upper castes. Tsundar is a village very close to Tenali Town.. In brief, one can argue that the Guntnr district-especially places like Tenali and nearby villages have educated and politically conscious dalits. There is always a situation of tension between the upper caste kamma and dalits in Tenali and other villages. Politically active and conscious dalits have serious contradictions with the land owning dominant upper castes- kammas,
I interviewed old people, youth, students, woman, and Fans Association members of the town and its surrounding villages. In order to get the feed back for better understanding of the audiences I interviewed theatre/film personalities such as Andhra Praja Natya Mandali activitsts, civil liberties persons, student leaders, Dalit activist*, Recording dancers, theatre owners and even police.
Dalit audience's responses are very varied. We have diverse accounts- younger
generations and older generation, rural urban audiences, fan association members and
other dalit men and women on film stars and their preferences of themes/stars.

Dalits entry into Balcony

Cinema hall, being public place feciliate a meeting of all sections of the society. In the cinema halls of villages, entry / non-entry into chair class is a serious issue for dalits. The fellow from Dalit community who wishes to sit in the balcony has to face problems from upper-castes. It is no way comfortable and creates a psychologically tease situation.
G. Ravichandra of age 34 years agricultural coolie, of Amartahur village near Tenali says: " I never went to chair class (balcony). I always go to bench class. We are workers in their fields. Though I can afford money to go to that class, voluntarily I dropped that idea to sit with them. The upper caste fellow Junks that the fellow who works in my field everyday is sitting beside me. If it is in town nobody bothers".
I have already mentioned Tsundur massacre, in which eight Dalits were killed. This massacre was a result of an incident took place in a cinema hall. Ravi, a college going Dalit student and son of a teacher went to a cinema hall. Ho sat in the Balcony. The upper caste Reddy Youth reacted violently and further in the course of time the massacre took place. The upper caste alleges that Ravi kept his leg on the chair of upper '
caste boy. it seems to be a spontaneous attack but it is not Already, in the village, there was a charged atmosphere between Dalits and upper caste people. Three months before the incident, dalits were socially boycotted by the upper-cast© people and were not allowed to work in their fields. On various small issues, these are ten cases filed in the police station on both sides. The conflicts among dalits and upper caste people reached a flash point in the cinema hall. In recent years, not only in Tsundur, bat conflicts took place in many villages. Reasons may be different, but the already existing conflicts and contradictions in the villages simultaneously reflecting in the cinema halls. There are incidents in Amrutalur between Kapu-Muslims vs Dalits and in Bbattiprolu between Dalits vs Kapus. These took place on the pretext of touching or pushing at ticket counter or spitting the pan on other unnoticed.
Entry into a cinema hall is theoretically/democratically available to every body but in practice it is not Entry into balcony does not depend on the capacity to buy a ticket to that class.
Fans Associations and Dalits
In day to day struggles, cinema increasingly playing an important role from eighties onwards. Various social and political issues fought around cinema - in cinema halls and outside. At the individual level one's emotions and aspirations are negotiated by identifying with the cinema stars. When the individual becomes a fan /member of fans association, we have a small collectivity which uses their star as a symbol to negotiate their identity with the cinema
NT RamaRao's entry into the politics (1982) brings lot of changes in the composition of audiences of cinema- in terms of political affiliations with stars. In coastal Andhra, NTR's entry into politics helpful to Kamrnas for establishing their supremacy. In that situation, Dalits who bad already conflicts with kammas started' disowning NTR in politics. After the Karamchedu massacre (1985) in which upper caste kammas killed 5 Dalits, Dalits kept themselves away from NTR and his TOP.
As the recording dancer, Mohan Rao, Dalit aged 50 years, of Tenali who gave number of programmes in coastal area says:
"I danced as NTR as long as NTR continued to act in films. When NTR entered elections, Christians(Read Dalits) did not like NTR' songs. After Karamchedu & Nirukonda they are telling me directly not to play NTR. After that I played Krishna for sometime."
Dalits and students struggles
Before Karamchedu massacre, the violent conflicts between Kamma and non -kamma can be seen in the college campus. In Tenali VSR&NVR college, which has the strength of 6,500 (1980) is always in a tense situation .Winning the Students Union Elections, is prestigious not only to the students different communities, politicians and the area as a whole. Against the Kamma domination in the college, an anti kamma bloc was framed in 1978 in which Dalits (particularly Itanagar , a Dalit locality of town) were the key players. This bloc consisted of Dalits, Kapus, Reddy, Brahmins and some B.C.*. In 11198-0-81 Dalits Student Devasahayam of Itanagar elected as President from non-kamma bloc with huge majority. IN the same year, Kamma Students with the help of outsiders stabs a Dalit student named Kennedy under the pretext that he harassed upper caste women students. This was followed the retaliation from Dalits. They beat the kamma Students wherever they found either in college or in Town. This issue further triggered the conflict between Kamma and Dalit students in remaining colleges of the district-Pedanandipadu college, PBN college, Ponnur, JKC College, Guntur etc. The consequent years in the V.SJL College Kammas beat up other students belonging to Reddy and Kapu castes for supporting Dalits.

Community identity and Fans associations
In this context, NTR's son Balakrishna entered the cine-field and his fans association was formed immediately in Tenali. This mainly consists of Kammas with some fans of NTR's extended support to his son. We may find Dalits are in Krishna fans initially due to this affiliation with congress. Even some were continuing today. And later many of them started liking Chiranjeevi as non-kamma hero. Chiranjeevi being a Kapu, almost all the Kapus owned him. Chiranjeevi became a rallying point of not only Kapus but other non Kamma and Congress sympathizers.
Among the audiences, the members in fans association are visible by their activity. Many of them cause from the lower classes of different castes and are more vocal. As S.V. Srrinivas who worked on Fans and Stars' argues: “Fan are talking public based on the ability of members of FA's to talk back to the star, to media, to film industry and different social-strata Fans became a public by talking among themselves with others. Fans provide the institutional space to do so.”
Fan associations shall be read in the light of the crisis in national-modern resulting from pressure exerted by the political society. Theatre based activity of fans associations assume tremendous political significance, because it involves challenging established modes of reinforcing of social hierarchies in public spaces. The take over of the theatre as well as public spaces by fans need to be read at an attempt by non -elite to make these spaces more inhabitable by establishing their physical presence and visibility.
Fans are always competing with members of other associations in every aspect There has always been a battle among the fan groups to establish their supremacy over the other. In a sense, these are struggles/assertions of social groups one over the other.
For instance bi the film Vaarasudu, Krishna acted as a father of Nagarjuna. In one of the scenes Nagarjuna pulls the color of Krishna. Immediately the fans of Nagarjuna take it as a sign of supremacy over the fens of Krishna. For that Krishna fens reacted and beat up the fans of Nagarjuna and even succeeded in removing that scene from the film. As the fen of Krishna, Amrit Raj, electrical worker , aged 27 years of Itanagar of Dalit locality of the Town felt "When he ( Nagarjuna ) caught his shirt, Nagarjuna fans were in a dominant position, no ! So they had to beat them up. He (Nagarjuna) came only recently no, so these groups went and bashed those. It happened on a large scale. Krishna fans are sick of him because of his acceptance to that scene: What is this we are so sincere and this guy had to go and agree to such a role. This scene was cut because of the protest by the fans"
In the VSR college around the year 1986, the conflict among the students groups took place in other form, Le. of the student's identification with Film Heroes. One's Social and political identifications reflected in the preferences of star and the differences led to conflicts. Students who are fans of Balakrishna are used to tear up the notebook covers having the picture of Chiranjeevi and Krishna. The fans of Chiranjeevi and Krishna use d to do the same with the fans of Balakrishna
Gondi Bhaskar , fan of Balakrishna , President of Yuvaratna International, 27 years, kamma, and also active worker of Tetugu Desam who proudly says without any hesitation:"So far we have beaten up everybody- the followers of Krishna, Akkintm Nageswar Rao, and confronted with Chiranjeevi we have upperhand in every thing. Either it is because of our influence or other reasons. No body tries to fight with us even by mistake. Even we are advanced, others will not. Others never invite confrontation with us.
Mangamma gari Manavadu, a film of Bala Krishna was shifted to some other theatre to have Krishna's Kanchu Kagada when the banners of KanchuKagada are being put, in the theatre premise, Krishna fens made an insulting comment against Balakrishna fans. ' This fellow is a hero and those are his fans'. Those Balakrishna fans, we are passing by beat up Krishna fans. In the town, main confrontation is in between Chiranjeevi fans and Balakrishna fans. There is other hero a fan like Nagarjuna and Venkatesh- they are not in a competition for stardom. These stars nave no particular social group's support
The major confrontation of Balakreishna fans with Chinanjeevi fans took place at the time of Chiranjeevi's Attakuyamudu Ammayikimogudu-- Muddula Mamayya of Balakrishna. The conflict took place on streets under the pretext that fans of Chiranjeevi were circulated pamphlets and put banners. They indirectly wrote comments about Balakrishna and in insulting language -one bastard is there. For that Balakrishna fans also responded by using the artistic dolls- they also put banners by writing against Chiranjeevi-' one crook is surrounded by ten.’ This leads to conflicts and both are confronted on the streets.
Chiranjeevi had multi associations and there are conflicts within Chiranjeevi fan's associations on various issues— this was a significant feature in 1990. BY the time 1990s non-kamma bloc became weakened and their internal contradictions were exposed Dalits were on one side, the kammas were on other side. Carte groups like Kapu and B.C's and Reddys are oscillating between them. At the time V.M. Ranga's assassination incident, kapus took initiative against Kammas and damaged the shops of Kammas and burnt the college belongs to them, ft took place with the moral support of Dalits, And there are occasions; the Dalits had conflicts with kapus and Yadavas (BC.'s) in the town. After the Tsundur massacre, against Dalits all upper caste people formed as a group, named, 'Sarvajanabhyudaya samithi' includes all upper castes-kamma, kapu„ Reddy, Brahmans and some B.C. caste groups and campaign that dalits were harassing women.
In the same year, 200 kamma youth from the town and surrounding villages, without having any context, unexpectedly came to VSR college, and beat up whom ever seem to be black in colour. Having the impression of Black being the Dalit.
Among non-kammas yadavas were also emerging with their economic rise and they also tried to maintain/ assert (heir identity in public. This background helps in understanding the fans of Chiranjeevi.
There are five major Chiranjeevi fans associations in Tenali. Among them Chiranjeevi swachanda seva samstha mainly lead by the kapus of Ramalingeswarapct, Tenali. Town wide Chiranjeevi fans association lead by a Muslim youth with the support of yadavas (BC) . There were some conflicts between these two fan association s of Chiranjeevi over issues such as one's banner is covered by others banner, the blocking of the name of the one Association, sharing of tickets issued to fans on the release of a new film, and so on, what is important here is struggle between various social groups for prominence, public visibility and also to acquire tickets and to sell them in Black market in some cases. The controversies at the time of release of Alluda Majaka and Hitler, arc two examples to cite. The conflicts between the fan groups are continuing.
Most of the dalits are fens of Chiranjeevi. As Dalits were not given prominent positions, the Dalit youth of Mutyamsetty palem, Dalit locality in Tenali, formed a separate association. This is one way of asserting their right to lead an association and also to have an identity of their own. In another controversy, Dalits of Mutyalamsettypalem and Kapus of Ramalingeswarapeta, entered into a fight on the occasion of 100th day celebrations show at Baavagaru Baagunnara", at Veda Deluxe, on the occasion of 100th day celebrations, there was a exclusive show for chiranjeevi fans at Veda Deluxe. When the fans were watching the film a dalit boy happened to hit a kapu with hand(in a drunken state) during a group dance of the fans. This small incident led to serious fight between the Dalits and Kapus. It resulted in breaking the chairs, beating up each other, the existing social tensions and the struggle for dominance at the Veda deluxe center is at the root of the conflict between fan groups.
Caste is an important factor in several conflicts among the fan associations. Fans agree that caste has become an issue among the Chiranjeevi fans. A staunch Chiranjeevi fan, Y. Anil Kumar, a Brahmin aged 30, spent Rs. 12000 to put up a cut out of Chiranjeevi on the occasion of the release of Hitler. He is slowly withdrawing from fan activity. He says, "Caste feeling is there (in fans associations). We don't like it. And also felt, kammas, have lot of caste feeling here at Tenali.”
The result of the search for onefs own carte hero in that the dalits started looking up for their own hero in the cinema field. One can see the mood of dalit fans in the comment made by Amrita Raju, who is a staunch fan of Krishna He says, “Recently a Prabhu Deva came here in the field. tSoirie (Dalits) said, "Arey! Until now we never had some one who belonged to us. Now Prabbudeva came .Let us focus on him, let us all contribute. 1 also would have contriibute like our fellow Dalits. But when they told me it is at fan level, I said, I am sorry". “They (read Dalits) said , that guy is Nayudu. They say, this guy is karama it seems. Why some obscure guy? Now our Prahhudeva came - A Christian. Let us form a fan club". "I said, No, every one has his own feelings. For me, it is Krishna, Krishna, Krishna"
The result of this kind of a debate is the formation of a Prabhudeva’s Fans Association by the Dalits of all the localities of Tenali. The Dalits used blue banners, which are symbolic of Bhahujana Samaj Party. Prabhudeva is seen as a Dalit because he is a Christian. Most of Christians in coastal Andhra happened to be Dalits. The fans believe those Prabhudeva dances faster than Chiranjeevi.
Barber's community who happened to be OBC’s, one , a marginalised community in the town. They are fans of Kamal Hasan. Most of the discussions about stars among various Social groups in the saloons. As a barber, he can not enter into a discussion and support a particular star. So they have Kamal Hassan as their star who is seen as non-controversial". One of the reasons for their liking Kamal Hassan could be the fact that Kamal Hassan played the rote of Barber in Aakali Rajyam.


Representation of dalits in cinema
Cinema has seen by its audiences as the institution has the modernistic feature of Secular-democratic. We can not find explicit statements about caste and religion. The discourse about the dalits takes place in the guise of class. Identification of character’s caste is left to one's guesswork. But in recent days, with the rise of dalit movement, Mandal Agitation- it is inevitable situation to film Industry to speak about issues related to caste in their own way.
The representation of Dalits in films and their response is interesting to examine. Ravi Kumar, a dalit (Madiga) working in a courier Service, (at (iuntakal) is a Ian of Chiranjeevi. He says that he has seen Pasivadi Pranasn 42 Utncs. In response to a question he says
"The story of Swayam Krishi is good But I Ad not like the role played hy chirajeevi as a cobbler". Another dalit (Madiga) Ananta Rao. , a Dalit student of B.Ed says ' Chiranjeevi has become a model for them(Dalits)'
Swayam Krishi was a film made by K. Viswanadh. K. Viswanadh tries to reform Dalits by Brahminising them. The theme of swayam krishi, is that one can become a bigman by doing hard work as a cobbler.
I conclude my presentation with the comment made by Yelamanchi Venkateswarlu, a barber of Tenali aged 24 years. He says," whenever the scenes relating to our occupations are shown (in the films tike Mondi Mogadu- Penki Pellam, Hittlcr, Aavokkati Adakku); we feel insulted and ashamed at that moment We have to become so self-conscious and look around the audience. The barbers are shown as comedians and jokers played by minor actors. That moment is really painful. What right does the cine person have to ridicule our occupation?

Amrit Raj a Dalit boy responded, ‘since we (Malas and Madiga) are fighting against each other, we became cheap in the eyes of cine people. If we don’t, then there is scope for cine people to make film on them’.

7 comments:

Abhay said...

Dear Friend.. you have an interesting blog... do you know where I could get some of Gaddar's songs ?

Daniel said...

Hi KESAv, You did a good job and through your article i can understand what cinema means to Dalit audiences and how they negotiate their social identities in the context of cinema /star. my close friend on EbonyFriends.com asked me to say thank you for the article.

abraham said...

Dear KESAV
Thanks for your great effort and of course your blog was very nice
The article ‘Politics of Cinema” is absolutely showing Dalit people mindset and social structure, last 40 years the Tamil Nadu is under the Cinema star hand, its very shame, we have to look back American black stucgle and their empowerment of Music and Spots field, this is good time to modernize our traditional arts, otherwise we couldn’t mingle with globalization.


Abraham Lingan
Research Scholar
Pondicherry University

Anonymous said...

This is indeed a nice post. I am surprised to see very less comments attached to this post. I was waiting for BSP and Chiranjeevi to tie knots and wipeout Congress and TDP. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. Let us wait for Chiranjeevi’s agenda. I heard his party name would be “Swayam Krushi”. Let’s hope for the best and hope he does some good.

Anonymous said...

Kesav You did a good job on behalf of Dalit view. But you only interviewed Dalits, you din't take info from non Dalits. It's not enough to find out truth about many political issues like Tsundur and Karamchedu. For Example You didn't mentioned any where about what happend after Tsundur massacre. How did the Malas retaliated Reddies. Upper caste men ran away from homes after the incident. And Many Malas from Tenali came to Tsundur and rapped upper caste women. This is Fact. You must have taken nutral people opinion on some sensitive issues like these.

Kutala said...

Dear brother,

You have done good job by posting all issues related to Dalits

ppv said...

Dear Brothers,
Casteism is bad and it is sad to see that mushrooming of caste tag after names becomes all the more. It can be said that everybody is and should be guilty of it. Let us strive for casteless society.

Prasad