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Stark frames

Filmmaker Amudhan's documentaries screened recently by Vikalp-Films for Freedom capture the dehumanising work of the Indian dalits

"Shamelessly shot, edited, produced and directed by Amudhan R.P." scrolls up in the credits in "Vande Mataram - A Shit Version" and "Shit". Stark facts and realities about the brutal 5000-year-old Indian caste system essay Maduraibased documentary filmmaker Amudhan Ramalingam Pushpam's documentaries, screened recently by Vikalp- Films for Freedom at the Centre for Film and Drama.

As "Vande Mataram - A Shit Version", A.R. Rahman's version builds up to a pitch there are brief moments capturing the humiliating and dehumanising work of India's dalits. From manual scavengers in the garbage, sanitary and crematorium setups, quick snippets with startling facts about the employees of the Madurai Municipal Corporation (MMC) make up this visually-telling documentary.

"Shit" follows the individual story of manual scavenger and dalit Mariyammal who is also employed with the MMC. And as the camera follows her on her daily work of cleaning human excreta, ironically on a street known as Temple Street, adjacent to a temple, she shares her degrading journey of 25 years with the Corporation. She cleans the shit, bending over like how someone would serve food on banana leaves at a typical Indian function. And as she becomes more comfortable with the camera, she is able to challenge and rightfully threaten those who shamelessly choose to line the street with their excreta, despite community toilets.

"The Road" is another short documentary filming the displacement and usurpation of land and housing that the National Highways Development Programme (NHDP). Lost livelihoods, identity and belongings mark this ironical road to development, which provide no access to nearby villages and make travelling dangerous for villagers.

"Night Life" is a poetic attempt to capture a homeless woman sleeping on the divider in blurring shots in the fastforward mode. While "Notes from a Crematoriam" yet again films the unhealthy profession of manual scavenging in MMC a crematorium, cruel and harsh facts about discrimination, death and the poignant song of "Where is the poor and the king/Where is the intellectual and the idiot/ Only place in the world where you'll find reconciliation" rings in your mind.

"Seruppu" (Footwear) captures the pathetic condition of the Catholic Arundhatiyars of Dharmanathapuram in Tiruchirappalli in Tamilnadu who make footwear.

As caste-based discrimination persists in Tamil Nadu, neither the Church nor the Constitution takes responsibility for the centuries-old situation of these dalits. And as an Arundhatiyar remarks: "It is an ad that people are suffering."

R.P. Amudhan's documentaries are simple and straightforward. They do not use sophisticated camera shots to highlight the state and position of dalits today. Their apparent situation is captured in the work they do and the lives they still lead, 5,000 years thence.

AYESHA MATTHAN

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