Pa Ranjith is back with yet another politically-themed movie – “Kaala”, which has the tagline “Karikaalan”. Here ‘kaala’ means ‘black’ and ‘Karikaalan’ means ‘protector of a clan’.
This dual meaning is personified in the superstar. The ‘clan’ in the movie is the people of the Dharavi slum in Mumbai. The purely working-class people in the slum are daring, brave and ready to face the wildest storms. Kaala is the one who channelises this indomitable spirit of the slum dwellers against injustice and politically-aided communalism.
Hari dada is the villain. He owns a construction company, and is also a political leader – drawing parallels from some of the megalomaniac and communal leaders seen today. Nana Patekar does justice to his role. A fight ensues between Ram and Ravana, but it is certainly not one from the Ramayana. The fight’s between ‘black’ and ‘white’, but it’s certainly meant to spread colours! (PS: the exception being saffron). I won’t be entering into the technical aspects, but even those are appreciably good!
The movie also brilliantly shows how communal politics take roots in ‘united’ people. And it also reminds us of the 2002 riots in Gujarat, and how the police could have been involved in it. Furthermore, the movie also shows how social-minded people fall prey to the evil plans of politicians in the name of development.
The movie has strong female characters’ like Karpooravalli (Kaala’s wife), Puyal (meaning ‘storm’) and Zareena (Kaala’s ex-fiancé). The benchmark of love in Indian movies is dealt with, beautifully! Many movies today highlight people falling in love crazily – but here, “Kaala” shows the ‘coming out of love’ phase boldly! Huma Qureshi as Zareena is the ex-fiancé of Kaala. A bold lady and a social worker, their relationship breaks tragically. Surprisingly, despite not being the wife of Kaala, she is the heroine of the movie!
Some particular scenes and details in the movie are gripping:
1. The first scene of the movie, where the transition from the ape-man to the modern world flashes by.
2. The name of Kaala’s son is Lenin.
3. A shop clearly reads – ‘A1 Beef Shop’.
4. Ads of the politician Hari dada shine all over Mumbai with the tagline ‘Pure and clean India’.
5. Hari dada’s party is the Navabharat Rashtravadi Party. He wants to make Dharavi ‘pure and clean’ by constructing a ‘hi-tech, digital Dharavi’ (remember smart cities and Swachh Bharat?).
6. The name of Hari dada’s company which tries to encroach the slum in the name of progress is ‘Manu Builders’.
7. Kaala says to Hari dada, “Property is power for you, but for us, it is a right!”
8. In one of her dialogues, Zareena says, “Murdering those who question injustice is fascism!”
9. In the words of Kalla: “What if I die – each one in Dharavi is Kaala!” Kaala’s views oppose the idea of individual heroism.
10. Even while bidding goodbye to others, Hari dada’s ‘habit’ is to have others touch his feet. Instead, Zareena asks for a handshake to say goodbye. When he refuses, she literally forces his hand out and says, “This is equality, not my hands holding your legs.”
11. The middle class’ views on the ‘dirtiness’ of slums and the opinions on slum-dwellers being criminals are slapped away!
Kaala gives the call for a people’s strike against the so-called Digital Dharavi (which encroaches on Dharavi’s land). The fact that Mumbai will shut down if Dharavi stops working strengthens the impact of the strike. It also shows that the people may not be rich by themselves, but when movements erupt they are ready to give up anything!
Taxi drivers, workers in tea-shops and other spaces all go on a strike. Rather, they celebrate the strike like they were born for it! Unity is celebrated by ‘red’, ‘blue’ and of course, kaala (black) – colours which symbolise the oppressed in general, and the communist and Dalit movements in particular!
However, if the movie has made a symbolic division between the Aryans and Dravidians, it is condemnable. Oppression comes to both communities equally, and both should unite to fight. After all, there is only one division in society – the oppressors and the oppressed.
Manu Builders cannot lay their foundations in Dharavi because the assertive Kaala has the confidence of the people in the movement. Shouldn’t we ask who these ‘Manu Builders’ in today’s India really are? Do they only lay the foundation for buildings or also for reactionary ‘Manu ideas’?
Hari dada poses himself as Ram while Kaala is Ravana. But will Ram win? Does winning mean that only Ravana should die? Pa Ranjith answers these questions.
The last lines of Marx’s Manifesto – “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win” – reverberate in my mind.
Watch the movie if you haven’t yet. It’s a much-needed movie for the times!