Cinema is not just about art, it’s about revolution too. Looking at the Tamil cinema’s history, we see a few movies that stand out calling out the visible and invisible casteism. But the need to address this elephant in the room was a far-fetched thought for many directors even though when there were movies like Bharathi Kannamma, Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, Iraniyan that spoke bravely about the caste discrimination that existed back in the 80s era.
However, in recent times, directors like Maari Selvaraj, Pa Ranjith, and Vetrimaaran and their sharp-eyed and detailed portrayal of caste discrimination, and the need for its end, have taken the industry to another level.
Check out these nine anti-caste movies in Tamil cinema that unapologetically called out casteism.
1. Pariyerum Perumaal
Release Date: 28 September 2018
Director: Mari Selvaraj
How can one talk about the anti-caste films in Tamil cinema without mentioning the legendary artwork of Mari Selvaraj, Pariyerum Perumaal (‘The God who rides the horse‘)? Showing the intensity of how pride and prejudice affect the future of our society, the movie is a gem of its own.
The film calls out to our society which is deeply rooted in casteist prejudices to talk and reconsider this severe evil damaging civility.
The film opens with a frame that shows ‘caste and religion are against humanity’ giving the audience a heads-up for a hard-hitting chronicle of caste discrimination. The movie gives us a feeling of discomfort that comes from a place of empathy and awareness about the oppressions that are still prevailing around us. The scene with the protagonist Perumaal pursuing law telling the principal “I want to become a doctor, Doctor Ambedkar.” and his intimacy with a girl from an upper caste and what happens after that shows us the battle of Pariyerum Perumaal against the upper caste oppressors.
Release Date: 15 August 2012
Director: Pa Ranjith
Attakathi, directed by Pa Ranjith portrays a Dalit man as the hero and his life, marking a milestone in Tamil cinema. Pa Ranjith, one of the strong filmmakers with his hard-hitting subjects showcasing caste discrimination and the need for an anti-casteist approach by reorganising the narratives is evident right from his debut which is Attakathi.
The movie itself is a strong statement with its realistic approach and rom-com flavour showing a Dalit man’s life for the first time as a protagonist.
3. Unnal Mudiyum Thambi
Release Date: 1988
Director: K. Balachander
‘Aaandavar’ aka Kamal Hassan acted in the 1988 released movie, directed by K.Balachander, which explores the dynamic between Carnatic music and the upper caste status thoroughly. The film is about Udayamoorthy, played by Kamal Hassan, the son of a Carnatic maestro Billahari Marthandam Pillai played by Gemini Ganesan and their take on societal issues.
With Pillai’s oppressive acts towards people belonging to lower castes, met with criticism from his son Udhayamoorthy, who works for the betterment of the people, as he walks out of his father’s league, this movie can be undoubtedly labelled as an early voice of anti casteism.
Release Date: 9 April 2021
Director: Mari Selvaraj
Karnan is yet another masterpiece of Mari Selvaraj, and beyond any question, one of 2021’s significant anti-caste movies. Karnan starts with a Dalit boy who throws a stone at a bus for never stopping at his village for a pregnant lady showing his way of protesting against the denial of their needs.
The box office hit Karnan which was popular from north to south is a hope that people are more aware of the societal damage caused by casteism.
5. Jai Bhim
Release Date: 2 November 2021
Director: TJ Gnanavel
Jai Bhim, directed by TJ Gnanavel was another hard-hitting tale about the battle of underprivileged people through law and order that was released in the year 2021, yet another solid fight against caste.
Suriya’s portrayal of the lawyer Chandru shows that each of us has the potential to stand up against oppression. The movie also puts out how crucial it is for the government to have a clear understanding of the tyranny that the people endure and the necessity of destroying existing patriarchy and caste.
Release Date: 4 October 2019
Written and directed by Vetrimaaran, Asuran (Demon) is yet another step through a furious tone of filmmaking in recent cinema.
Starring Dhanush, Manju Warrier and many other talents, the film talks about a farmer who is compelled to protect his son who killed a wealthy upper caste person as revenge for the injustice they faced. In the course of saving his son, reveals the backdrop story of the protagonist character and the reason behind his acts. The movie which is an adaptation of the novel ‘Vekkai’ by Poomani, Vetrimaaran shows justice to the focal point of the story with a sharp message.
Release Date: 12 October 2018
Director: Amshan Kumar
Directed by Amshan, Manusangada is about a Dalit man fighting for a dignified burial for his late father. Denial of burial grounds for people belonging to lower castes is an issue that has been a never-ending topic of oppression for years.
The gut-wrenching portrayal of a fight that is being prolonged even after someone is dead shows us the reflection of our society that still needs a lot of decluttering. The protagonist named Kolappan played by Rajeev Anand stands up for a dignified burial for his father and how he fights till the end is what the film deals with.
Release Date: 4 April 2021
Director: Madonne Ashwin
Directed by debutante Madonne Ashwin, the film starring Yogi Babu is a political satire that points out the upper hand of caste.
Unlike many other movies that deal with the same theme, what makes Mandela stands out is that it is not a violent movie, instead shows the nuances of castist people with an unsentimental attire of presentation. The movie narrates the tale of a barber, his village and how he is related to the election battle between two parties which is a crucial yet thought-evoking plot.
Even though the movie couldn’t garner a box office record, the critically acclaimed story is still relevant among the audience as comical political satire.
Release Date: 24 June 2021
Director: Leena Manimekalai
Madaathy, an un-fairy tale is a movie about a carefree girl from an oppressed community who becomes an immortalised diety.
With the keen portrayal of degrees of untouchability and gender discrimination, the movie makes us feel the discomfort of thinking about the part of our world that still beholds the evilness of prejudice.