Identity Crisis


In a powerful scene from Papilio Buddha, a group of irate Dalits burn an effigy of Mahatma Gandhi as they oppose attempts by a mainstream political party to take up their cause by going on a fast. "We are nobody's Harijans," they chant. This and the allegedly derogatory references to leaders such as EMS Namboodiripad and Ayyankali did not go down well with the censor board, which initially refused certification and recommended over 40 cuts and several mutes and blurs.

The Malayalam film is set in the Western Ghats, in a fictitious hamlet called Meppara, where a group of displaced Dalits stands up for its rights. "My film is a counter-narrative. I wanted to show the other side of Kerala, which, while boasting its 'ideal development model', continues to segregate Dalits," says director Jayan K Cherian. The film has won him a special jury award for direction at the recent Kerala state film awards and is the only Indian entry at the 2013 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, organised by the British Film Institute, where it will be screened this week.

Papilio Buddha was kept out of the International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram in December. However, after a private screening, several Dalit rights activists lauded the film. The story unfolds through the eyes of Shankar, a JNU dropout, who seems indifferent to the plight of his own people.

Papilio Buddha refers to the Malabar Banded Peacock a species of swallowtail butterfly found in the Western Ghats. The cast includes activist Kallen Pokkudan. "Most of the actors were not acting, they were performing their lives," says Cherian. The film released in Kerala on March 15. "We are working towards releasing it outside Kerala," says Cherian.

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