I happened to see an interview of Dulquer Salman and Sonam Kapoor as part of their promotions of their film The Zoya Factor. Everything was all smiles and cheers until the interviewer asked Dulquer about his films down South. Both Sonam Kapoor and the interviewer could not understand that our actors give more than 5 films a year. Sonam Kapoor was even sarcastic about South audience who were Dulqer fanatics. It was as though her idea of one film a year was the acceptable truth while Dulqer doing 5 films a year was unacceptable.
Knowingly or unknowingly, there is that inherent Aryan thing of South Indians being an uncivilised minority who should not be acceptable or sometimes who has no right to live, because we live a downtrodden life from what they see. Another recent instance of such discrimination was the Oscar nomination from India. Gully Boy is an amazing film but have we even heard of Otha Serupp Size7? The second attempt in South Indian cinema in a one-actor genre, this Parthiban movie was recommended for the Oscars by legend actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajnikanth, Kamal Hassan, Mohanlal, Mammootty and so forth. Why was such a phenomenal cinema considered not worthy to be India’s Oscar nomination, while Gully Boy easily glided into being the representative of Indian Cinema in a world platform?
Vicky Kaushal was given the National award for best actor for his performance in Uri, the Surgical Strike. We will agree in unison that Mammootty was legendary in Peranbu which was not even considered at the regional level. What is becoming the criteria for awards? Is it changing from performance and artistic quality to something else, another evil that is gradually devouring the South?
Let us take a look around in our virtual world. We see numerous communities and groups which support women empowerment, and protests against caste centric, regional discrimination in cinema, art, literature and all other known and unknown fields. Are we genuinely against all these and taking up these issues seriously while working proactively towards saving the world from these evils? Our cultural activities prove us to be pseudo. Down south, we are blessed with creativity and artistic richness, being ‘Dravidians’. Although we have been considered to be uncivilised only because of we are dark skinned, we have enjoyed the privilege of being called artistic intellectuals, blessed with creativity and a unique aesthetic sense. As a result, South India is a fertile ground for conducting literature festivals, film festivals which give a platform for productive discussions on cinema and art. We have been hosts to many such festivals and these discussions have resulted in great cinema or literary contributions.
Recently, we saw the list of speakers for the Pondicherry Literature festival that is taking place from 26th – 29th of September. The list sadly does not have at least one speaker from down south. South India is a breeding ground of writers and artists like Perumal Murugan, Meena Kandasamy, MT Vasudevan Nair, Leela Samson and many more legends. It is a matter of grief that in a Literature festival conducted in a southern state does not have the representation of the South at all.
There is no representation of creativity as well, because the speakers are either young writers or giants from other fields like business which has no relation to art at all. Literature festivals are discussion platforms, so a writer who has an experience of writing numerous books and have been exposed to various genres of Literature is definitely a better option than a young writer who has an experience of writing only one book. The politics comes into the scene when we notice that a majority of the speakers in the list are North Indians and as I observe, all good looking, fair faces. So what is it that is valued in the name of art- is it art itself or the looks and colour of the artist?
This is a question of our identity, and it has to be answered by us.
We are unknowingly being injected with a terrorising nationalism which is leading us into a fatal oneness – where they want us to be copies of the majority. This is the reason why we have been asked to learn Hindi and make it our official language, why the National award winners were all mainstream Hindi cinema, why the Pondicherry Literature festival has no representation of the south, why India’s official entry into the Oscars is again a Hindi movie.
If we raise our questions, they will ignore us or will try to shut our mouths with answers like there were no good movies down south to nominate for Oscars (Mammootty’s legendary performance for Peranbu was not considered even at the regional level for the National awards), or that young writers should be given opportunities to expose themselves to literary discussions in festivals and so forth. What about us? Are we slowly being erased from the scene, side lined because of our colour, our origins? Will it reach a stage when there is no South for India? We are a country unlike others, diverse in language, culture, colour, and art. Are we being made a country where everyone looks the same? Where our cinema, our literature, and art speak of only one majority? This is a question of our identity, and it has to be answered by us. We have a culture rich with diversity and we are not letting it go into the drain for some pseudo nationalists. India is not becoming another North Korea, dictated towards a forced unity.