Adivasis no longer get the short shrift

From Kamal KM’s Pada to Ramu Kariats Nellu, filmmakers from Malayalam have portrayed lost but still important societal issues through effective films

From Kamal KM: s Pada to Ramu Kariats NelluMalayalam filmmakers have portrayed lost but still important societal issues through effective films

One of the characters in Kamal KM’s Pada asks out of frustration, “Does anyone know them [adivasis] and their way of life? Has anyone talked to them? On what grounds are these laws made to cast them out of the forest? ” Thanks to the film, which was released on March 10, the rights of Kerala’s obsessed adivasis are once again the subject of discussion.

Pada is based on the 1996 incident when four activists from Ayyankali Pada (Ayyankali was a social reformer of Travancore in the early 20th century) held Palakkad district collector WR Reddy hostage for nine hours in his office. The trigger – the state government’s 1996 amendment of Kerala’s scheduled tribes from 1975 (restriction on land transfer and restoration of foreign lands), which aims to restore land to foreign tribes and prevent property from falling into the hands of non-tribes. . The change made most of the land restoration, according to the 1975 law, unnecessary. Ayyankali Pada activists protested against the injustices and sought immediate, corrective action.

“If it has provoked a conversation, a discussion, a debate … it can only be good,” says filmmaker and activist Manoj Kana. 2020, his film Kenjirain the Paniya language Paniyas of Wayanad, won the Kerala State Film Award for the second best film in addition to other awards.

A new reminder

Pada sticking to the facts about the event, cinematic embellishment is never at the expense of these and never once “does it lose the plot”. It serves as a reminder, a refresher and an introduction to the struggle of adivasis. Along the way, the film also questions the apathy of successive governments and bureaucracy. By making the film on a huge screen, with actors such as Joju George, Kunchacko Boban, Dileesh Pothan, Prakash Raj, Salim Kumar and Vinayakan among others, the film has captured the eyeballs.

It does not delve into other issues because land, hills and forests, are all for adivasi. Being displaced and displaced has given birth to their other problems. As the late Justice Minister VR Krishna Iyer wrote in her preface to the report of the People’s Judicial Inquiry Commission on the Muthanga incident – “The essence of the tribal issue is their human right to live with dignity in [sic] their countries. Rob their land, their lives are robbed. Restore them to their forest surroundings as of right and you do adivasis justice. “

In the 2003 incident, the adivasis entered the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary, Wayanad, in an attempt to “retake” their land from where they had been evicted in the 1960s to make way for a wildlife sanctuary. This resulted in measures by the police and the forest department, including arson and forced eviction. Pada concludes with a montage containing images of these protests, in addition to others, by and for adivasis. A serious, political film, it raises more awkward questions than it answers.

As early as 1974, the Ramu Kariat movie Nellu, based on P. Valsala’s eponymous, best-selling novel, showed the lives, ways and sufferings of Wayanad’s Adiyar people. Usual [read commercial] However, Malayalam films that talk about the problems facing adivasis, which make up a percentage of Kerala’s population, have been few and far between.

Overridden issues, representation, like characters, are also template. The wise, omniscient tribal chief or moopan with a secret prescription or medicine ( Salt and pepper), the loyal friend ( Iyobinte Pusthakam) or the voiceless victim in need of rescue or revenge ( Panchagni, Lal Salaam) is what we usually see. The 2006 Mohanlal film, Photographerinspired by the Muthanga incident, was perhaps an exception.

The portraits, the characters, the costumes, etc. has been stereotypical, often caricatures and the joke end as in Bamboo Boys and Chitram. Blockbusters such as Thenmavin Kombathu further maintained these. What is forgotten, or perhaps not known, is that Kerala is home to 36 scheduled tribes, but in mainstream film, they merge into an amorphous, alien entity. This has done more harm than good to the adivasi people.

Malnutrition deaths, starvation and (the many forms of) exploitation are unpleasant realities that would not make cash registers ring.

“How many people would watch Kenjira at a cinema? How many would be interested? “It was released in cinemas and later on the OTT platform Neestream. However, it does not stream on that platform; he has no figures on the number of people who have seen the film.

In recent years, there have been smaller films that have focused on adivasis. Velutha Rathrikal (2015), which explores themes of sexuality, has an adivasi woman, Chelli, at heart. She has freedom of action over her life and her choices. Then there is Udalaazham (2018) about a regular person with gender dysphoria. Gulikan is born as a man and identifies as a woman but can not fully express himself.

The film, directed by Unnikrishnan Avala, provides an insight into the lives of the Paniya tribes through Gulikan’s story. The lynching of the Madhu tribe in Attapady 2018, as the starving man “stole” food inspired Painkinjana Chiria Paniya short film, directed by Leela Santhosh, who belongs to the Paniya tribe.

Social inclusion

Adivasi stories are not easy to tell, especially to outsiders. Kana has lived and worked with the Paniyas in Wayanad for most of the last two decades.

“I have lived with them, traveled and worked with them as a daily worker, eaten with them … they know me. You have to build a relationship of trust before they let you in. You can not go there as an outsider looking for a story to make a film and then presume to tell those stories in an authentic way.An insider’s insight takes in the nuances of their lives in several layers, which are not as simple as they look from the outside.These things are complex, he says.

He has also written and directed plays about adivasis and used them as actors. Kenjira, his film, is told through the eyes of a teenage Paniya girl. It’s about the problems that Paniyas is facing. The actors are Paniya people.

Many of these films contain the paniya language, or the people – as actors and technicians. Vinu Kidulachan, who wrote the lyrics Padais also Paniya. Udalaazhams leading Mani PR also belongs to Wayanad’s Paniya tribe. He won the Kerala State Award for Best Child Actor Photographer. People from other tribes also figure as Nanjamma, who belongs to the Irula tribe, the voice behind the hit song, in the Irula language, from Ayyappanum Koshiyum‘Kalakkatha sandana maram vegu vega …’

Kamal KM’s film may be the one that changes the narrative. He said in an interview, “Issues of caste and oppression will be taken more and more seriously in future Malayalam films. We may never reach a perfect absolute answer with a work of art, but these reflections will help us navigate the new debates. which arises around this. ”

One can not help but wonder, if such films are made, would the audience be interested enough to see these? Would the cashier’s finances allow such attempts?


Padaa film directed by Kamal KM, shows the struggle of adivasis and it questions the apathy of successive governments and bureaucracy.

The portraits, characters and costumes of adivasis in previous films have often been caricatures. The community, with 36 scheduled tribes in Kerala, is often shaped into a foreign entity.

Pada can help change the story as it raises serious questions about caste and oppression.


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