Papilio Buddha. The movie opens with the catching of the beautiful swallow tail butterfly Papilio buddha, a protected species in India, native to Western Ghats by Shankaran a young, educated Dalit for his white American lepidopterist boyfriend. His father, Karian a onetime communist who embraces Ambedkarism is spearheading a resistance movement which is initially scorned by Shankaran, who later joins the movement. With good cinematography, crisp scripting, the movie poignantly tells of the struggle of a group of Dalits in the Western Ghats against the local powers and Government, the vulnerability faced by women as also environmental degradation of the pristine mountains. The film closes with a standoff of the Dalits with the power structure and their eviction from the forests, their sustenance for centuries, into the unknown.
The movie also questions the common perception we have of Gandhi in India, his stance on Dalits, exposes in a raw manner relevant issues like rape, police atrocities etc all of which caused the movie hardship with the censor board also heckling the common man’s sentiments.
It has won several accolades earning official selection to various prestigious International Film Festivals and also from Kerala State. The movie is written and directed by Jayan K Cherian, who has made several experimental documentaries and narrative shorts which has won him accolades at various festivals. This is his debut feature film.
Prakash Bare the producer and actor of this film made his debut in the lead role of Sufi Paranja Katha. He has acted in 15 other films which include Ivan Megharoopan, Nayana, Arike, Akam, Prabhuvinte Makkal, Janaki, Ithra Mathram, Friday etc. The films produced by him are Sufi Paranja Katha, Janaki, and Ivan Megharoopan.
Prakash, an engineer and entrepreneur by profession is currently the chief executive of Silicon Media a media start-up producing films on socially and globally relevant themes. Papilio Buddha is no different.
Catching up with the affable Prakash Bare was a treat. I had some queries for him and this is how it went…
Who came up with the idea of this movie or what motivated you to produce this movie?
My objective has been to produce meaningful Malayalam cinema with social relevance targeting audience around the world. First three productions were
Sufi Paranja Katha, a period film which highlights the shared space among religions in India;
Janaki, a contemporary film about an orphan street child adopted by a Gandhian octogenarian and Ivan Megharoopan, a biopic of a Malayalam poet inspired by the life and works of poet laureate P Kunhiraman Nair.
Me and my co producer in these three films, Thampi Antony, approached our common friend Jayan Cheriyan, a poet-filmmaker, studied and teaching filmmaking in Hunter campus of City University of New York. He has been researching for many years on identity issues, in general and Dalit struggle in Kerala in particular. Having known that Dalit's struggle for land and other rights has been the most genuine grass root level movement in Kerala for last couple of decades, it was easy decision for us to take a film on that subject.
I know being a democratic country you have a right to present your perspective but do you think it is fair denigrating The Mahatma in the movie?
We wanted the film to be a very realistic reflection of the reality in our country. Though it is a fictional film all the events in the film are based on real incidents which happened in Kerala and rest of the country. The depiction in the film, not just of Gandhiji but also other leaders and organizations, is based on the Dalit thinking, writings and discourses in general. The film mainly focuses on the Dalit identity and how they are trying to shelve the same to escape the associated oppression and discrimination. Gandhiji who called them Harijan and insisted on retaining them in the fold of Hindu religion has been always criticised by them for that. When the system uses the popularity and stature of Gandhiji to oppose their struggle, Dalits are shown to retaliate. If you watch carefully, Gandhiji is one of the many symbols rejected by the Dalits in their attempt to shelve their identity.
Do you think the movie will contribute to alleviating the condition of the Dalits or that it would go against them?
As I mentioned earlier there has been several struggles in last two decades for land and their rights. The govts have not responded positively and the media has been lukewarm towards their issues and news. This film draws attention to their plight and struggle which is being sidelined by the majority community of our state. As an art form/cinema, this film cannot be expected to put forward a solution to their problems, but we have been able to bring focus onto their issues and struggle. The film, in spite of the initial efforts by the system to silence it, has ignited lots of discussion in the internet, news papers, and other publications. Please visit papiliobuddha.com for various articles being written in Mathrubhumi, Deshabhimani, Kafila, Tehelka, Nalamidam etc. As I mentioned earlier, the film is not inventing anything new which is not there in our society. It is just forcing a discussion on an ongoing struggle which the system is trying hard to push under the carpet. So there is no question of things going against them.
Gandhiji’s stance taken about Dalits during Indian freedom struggle, do you think what transpired with Ambedkar at that time in that context has relevance in these times. Should that be held against Gandhiji now?
It is still a very active discourse in Indian politics. Most of Ambedkar's works were translated to Malayalam only in the 90s. Since then Kerala is also witnessing lots of discussions and struggles inspired by his ideas. Land struggles like Chengara, Mutthanga, Meppadi….Conversion to Buddhism, Rejection of the name Harijan and Gandhian ideology on their identity etc.
If youngsters were to see the movie don’t you think they will get a wrong impression of Gandhiji also as the movie is going international aren’t we presenting ourselves in poor light overlooking the good done by Gandhiji for us Indians and humanity at large.
The film is only a reflection of the reality. We are not inventing anything new in it. But it is a counter narrative which may not match the system's narrative about Gandhiji, Dalits etc. Society always try to make blemish less idols of great leaders and completely forget what they stood for or what they spoke – Jesus, Narayana Guru, Gandhiji are all examples. If one examines the plethora of books written about our freedom struggle, Gandhi, Ambedkar etc there won’t be this question about this "impression". The focus should be on merits and demerits of Gandhiji's ideology and the attempt should not be to make it an all-white picture erasing all the grey shades.
|Still from the movie Papilio Buddha|
The movie also throws aspersions on Gandhiji as a gay. Do you have proof for this?
We all know about Kallenbach's book which has such a reference. In the film the NGOs are shown to be discussing that book. Same bunch of NGOs are making negative remarks on Sankara and his caste. So they are not justified or endorsed. We were showing a typical, realistic NGO group in India, which many a times lack commitment to what they do.
The movie is supposed to dwell on major issues like eviction of Dalits and their rehabilitation, violence against women, environmental issue instead why is more importance given for caste and Gandhiji?
Dalit issue is a caste issue. Gender discrimination and environmental destruction is intertwined issues in India and hence its depiction in the film. If carefully watched, Gandhism is only one of the many other ideologies, symbols, leaders being questioned by the Dalit group in the film. If one closely examines the Dalit discourse in India, there won’t be anything inappropriate in what the film speaks.
In how many countries has the movie been screened now?
Though the film was banned originally and excluded from IFFK later, the state award jury could not ignore the film completely – hence the two awards for the director and actress. It also won two accolades in Kerala film Critics awards. When the film was finally released in Kerala, most film critics (Rediff, Sify, Indiavision, Hindu etc) rated it as one of the best film of the year. The film was world premiered in British Film Institute's festival in London, It won second best narrative film award in Athens International Film festival. Canadian premier was in Montreal World Film festival, one of the top 10 festivals in the world. Papilio Buddha was one of the only two Indian films featured in that festival and now Mexican premiere in Oaxaca International Film festival which is happening this month. Also gained entry at the Trinidad and Tobago International Film Festival and the Kolkata International Film Festival.
Of the accolades received for the movie which of them do you value more?
Kerala state film awards after
- Initial banning and 8 months fight with the censor board
- Rejection of the film from IFFK even after the jury found to be the best candidate for competition section
- Police intervention in every attempt to screen the film
What is your next on the anvil?
I am acting in a few films now. One of them is the first crowd funded film in Malayalam named Oraalppokkam directed by debut filmmaker Sanal. There are a couple of productions being worked on, but those are still in script stage and yet to be announced.
(Papilio Buddha was screened at Darpan, Bengali Film Festival in Singapore on 6th Sept at the Art House with an interesting post interactive session with the Prakash Bare).