“The Discreet Charm of the Savarnas’: A funny and incisive take on caste stereotyping
The film, presented by Pa Ranjith’s Neelam, has been written and directed by Rajesh Rajamani.
Film critic Rajesh Rajamani, who is widely known for his anti-caste writing and strong opinions about Savarna filmmakers, film critics and authors, has made his debut into filmmaking with The Discreet Charm of the Savarnas, a 20-minute short film. The title is inspired from the French film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which exposes the hypocrisies of the bourgeoisie class.
Rajesh, who looks at issues from a Bahujan perspective, has never shied away from locking horns with established Savarna writers working in the same field. And with the same attitude, he has taken a plunge into direction. TDCS is written and directed by Rajesh. The cinematography is by Vinay Aravind and the songs and music is by Akhu Chingangbam and Imphal Talkies. The film, which is in English, has been presented by director Pa Ranjith’s Neelam production house.
Besides writing for different news media on a freelance basis, Rajesh is known for unabashedly taking digs at ‘caste-blind’ and privileged Savarna directors, authors and politicians regularly on his Facebook page. Weaving a series of such witty and insightful social media posts into a story, the debut director has delivered a solid film laced with dark humour.
TDCS is made in director Quentin Tarantino’s style (not the violence but the screenplay). The film is a criticism of Savarnas, particularly the ‘sophisticated’ and ‘politically correct’ ones who read books of rebellious Black writers but fail to reflect on them.
The film tells the story of three upper caste friends — Swami, Dilip and Aruna — living in Mumbai, who are on a quest to find a “Dalit looking” actor for their “art” film, which will earn them validation of their ‘progressiveness’ from their ‘Goethe-Zentrum going’ cohorts. To give an instance of how entitled and caste ignorant Swami and his friends are: They don’t even know the difference between an actor playing a Dalit character and an actor from the Dalit community, and they also express extreme disgust at travelling in local trains.
As the actor who’s originally signed to play the Dalit character abandons the project just a day before the shooting, these three friends go on a hunt to find an actor who is “Dalit looking.” What follows in this adventurous journey forms the story.
The actors Mathivanan Rajendran (Swami), Kani Kusruti (Aruna) and Rajagopalan Ganesh (Dilip) have played their roles very well. The characterisation of Dilip, who always looks for an opportunity to display his intellect, is highly comical and triggers chuckles. The hypocrisy of Aruna, a ‘woke’ feminist who constantly polices her friends and nitpicks on the ‘offensive’ terms that they use, while being obnoxiously elite herself and the exact kind of person she finds fault with, also provides humour.
The film is a strong commentary about the stereotypes imposed on Dalit people, who are typically characterised as dark and poor in the popular imagination. Dalits are also represented only as victims in most of these stories and with no agency of their own.
To break these offensive stereotypes, anti-caste filmmakers like Pa Ranjith and Nagraj Manjule have used the popular medium of cinema to provide alternative narratives. For instance, in Manjule’s Sairat, the lead actor Akash Thosar who plays Parshya, a character who comes from the Dalit community, is conventionally good-looking and isn’t ‘made up’ to look Dalit the way many films have chosen to represent such characters.
In the Tamil film industry, actor Karthi, following the success of Madras (directed by Pa Ranjith) made an interesting revelation about how he got on board the project. He said that though he was excited about the film, he was initially hesitant as he did not know if he would ‘fit into North Madras’, considered to be the poorer section of the city. However, Ranjith insisted that he should be part of the film as it would break stereotypes about people from North Madras. TDCS can be seen as an extension of this important discussion.
In the penultimate scene of the film, Rajesh, who has lampooned south Indian filmmaker Gautam Vasudev Menon on numerous occasions in his writing, cleverly uses the latter’s formula to put across his point, as an antithesis. However, barring the Tamil and Telugu film watching audience, not many may catch this.
The soft and breezy music by Imphal Talkies, a Manipur-based band, helps in keeping the film subtle.