“Turup” is a film that talks about the ideas of exclusion, intersectionality and privilege, by way of using the game of chess.
For an amateur cinema student like me, cinema is all about a collection of moments… a collection of some beautiful moments. When someone says something about a movie, like, “Oh! It’s not a good story.” I am like, “Oh! You watch a movie because of the story? Do you think novels or stories are scarce in this world?”
I think cinema is all about moments. Some visual moments give you the pleasure to reflect on yourself. You watch some part of you in the characters and start to fall for them. And, cinema is an artform.
Turup (Checkmate) is all about moments. The collection of moments tells you the beauty of this movie. It’s a sociological tale of exclusion. It gives you food for thought. The intersectionality which the film talks about gives you a clear view of how privileges work.
The very term “culture” is defined by the dominant caste-class, from the perspective of dominance—to control. Their culture is all about controlling powerless people. Subversive people have no place in their culture.
They are labelled as culture-drohi (betrayer). Their culture is defined through the process of exclusion of others who are not male, Savarna and Hindu.
Culture is all about the domination of the male, Savarna, Hindu. If you ever talk to any Hindu fundamentalist, why do they have a special hatred for Muslims? Their response is because Muslims haven’t been assimilated into our culture; and that their culture is different from our culture.
We all know that this culture subordinates certain sections of people. In the name of domination, they produce the “other”. They produce marginalised people. Producing the other is not just about excluding them from the community, no.
It’s also about giving certain stereotypes to a specific group and telling them from time to time they are made for this.
When they say “culture”, they are covertly referring to domination. Savarna, Hindu men are stakeholders of our culture. They define culture in such a way that it produces some marginalised sections. Women are subjugated through psychological fixation.
There’s a visual in Turup when a Brahmin character calls a Dalit boy to come see him early in the morning because of some important work. That Dalit boy tells him that he is not available in the morning because of personal reasons, and so, he would come in the evening instead.
But, the Brahmin man repeatedly tells him to come in the morning. At last, the Brahmin man says that the sewer under the septic tank is choked; and that he is the man for the job. Then, the Dalit boy retaliates by saying that, “You better find someone else, Tiwari ji.”
The foremost point here is that the Dalit boy is with him when the Brahmin man is advertising to save his casteist, misogynist and communal culture.
This is how they produce marginalised people, the so-called “other”, in the name of culture. They consider people from Dalit-Bahujan castes as similar to them till it suits them. On the other hand, they also fix their jobs as menial ones and see them as fit only to clean their “kachra” (waste).
In his theory of ambivalence, this is what Homi K Bhabha (an Indian critic) talks about.
An ideology is all about keeping an idea in front of you. When you have certain doubts, you apply this idea, and become aware of what is right and wrong.
One of the prevalent debates about ideology is that university students are unquestioning followers of communism; and that they are communist till they are in universities. After that, they also need some ways to earn their livelihoods, so, they explicitly become the followers of capitalism.
Although, whether or not one has an ideological bent, and till when does one want to stick to that ideology—is a personal call. It’s their choice.
Turup talks about ideology very overtly. When you belong to a Savarna caste or a privileged class, and you are fighting for downtrodden people—you have a choice about till when do you want to fight for or with them. You have the privilege to cut yourself off from that movement and become free.
You are free because of your entitlements. But, those who are marginalised, living in the bottom of hierarchies, have to fight till they don’t get their rights.
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This film deals with it very clearly through the characters of Neelima and Monica. You find that one person gave up their ideology because of personal reasons and the other sticks with it.
So, can we infer that for Savarna people, having an ideology is also about privileges? Because, they also have the option to quit it. They have the choice to choose it, too. A choice is also a privilege!
Being from a rural area, I experienced that the freedom which boys have is equal to the restriction which girls face. To a great extent, this is also prevalent in urban or suburban areas.
The other day, a female journalist pointed out in a podcast that we always see boys sitting on a bridge. But, we never see any girls sitting on bridges in villages. In Hindi literature, we often find the sentence “pul par baithe ladke” (boys sitting on a bridge), and not “pul par baithi ladkiyaan” (girls sitting on a bridge). Why?
What does it mean when we think about someone sitting on a bridge? It’s all about enjoying leisure, right? The whole “sitting on a bridge” event provides us insight into the fact that the idea of leisure (or time-pass) is also fixed in our culture.
In this film, this whole fixed idea of time-pass is described through the game of chess. Chess is used as a metaphor. It is only played by men. Some men watch, others play. There are no women involved.
The cinema also shows ageism through chess. If a person is older, beyond a certain number of years, they are restricted from playing chess. Their desire for leisure is suppressed. This constantly happens to old people in our society. They are not treated as valuable enough, like they were when they were younger.
Kabir is known for his strong take on customs, rituals, and the hypocrisy of religion. Whether they are Hindus or Muslims, Kabir criticises their hypocrisy. Kabir’s writing is used in the form of background music, which gives you a critical eye to watch the film.
His words can help you think like an ascetic. An excerpt of his writing:
“Mala kahe hai kaath ki,
Tu kyon phere mohe?
Man ka manka pher de,
Toh turant mila dun tohe.”
The string of wooden beads asks,
What are you turning me for?
Turn your heart around and join it with others.
You will immediately see the truth.
The whole cinema gives you a feeling of cinéma vérité (a film based on realism). You can find it on Ektara Collective‘s YouTube channel and also on MUBI.