Why Kerala film grad Shifin Mathew's short film Burn depicts casteism in Kerala's colleges in its rawest form

Shifin Mathew is a budding filmmaker who has come out with a film that hits hard on the caste malaise. We find out more about what went into its making
A shot from the short film | Courtesy: Mac Mer
A shot from the short film | Courtesy: Mac Mer

In the 75th year since independence, caste continues to be a stumbling block in our society. Highlighting the issue and how it persists in the educational system of our country using his craft is Shifin Mathew or as he prefers to be known, Mac.Mer. A recent master's graduate in cinema and television from Sacred Heart College in Kochi, Shifin has written and directed a short film called Burn that talks about caste issues in the college ethos specific to Kerala. Through the film, his thought process is linear — about how despite the advances made by the state in various affairs, caste continues to affect people in a negative way. The film is set to be released after being screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala 2021 where it has been officially selected. Shifin talks to us about the various aspects of the film in a candid interview. Excerpts:

Why did you choose such a sensitive topic for your short film?

In my own family, I have witnessed how my mother has often faced discrimination, even if it is done playfully. That is why I understand the kind of mental trauma that she undergoes frequently. That is one reason why I chose this area to be portrayed in my film. Secondly, I strongly believe that we as humans are just one kind. All the distinctions and labels we ascribe to ourselves after our birth are just ornamental. I felt obliged to speak out against such hateful practices.

So were there real-life incidents that pushed you into making the film?

A friend of mine had provided me an insight into an incident of discrimination at College of Engineering Trivandrum which took place in 2011. I read articles that were written about it. That's how I came upon this topic at first. I was also referred to the Deepa P Mohanan incident by my teacher in college. I went and met Deepa to do some research before I wrote the script.

You also allude to college politics during a scene in the film. Could you elaborate on that?

What I wanted to show in that scene was the fact that the student wings of political parties completely cater to the needs of the latter. Any dissenting opinion or an alternate line of thought gets lost in this process. In Deepa's case, the professor who was harassing her was believed to be receiving backing from the Communist Party. It is hard to believe that no one stood up against such practices. This just shows how there is a dilution of dissenting voices within the party. I feel there must be space, even among the so-called liberal parties, that allow casteist incidents to be abolished. I just wanted to show that there are dissenting voices in society that need more support. Otherwise there is no sense in calling our society a democratic one. I hope people are more empowered to speak out against injustice. 

Why did you pen your name as Mac.Mer in the film's credits roll?

Actually that is a tribute to my mother and 'mer' refers to the sea. My name at home is Souria Makkil so the 'Mac' comes from there. I am a product of my surroundings and circumstances so I wanted to specially emphasise that part of my upbringing in the pen name. I want to be known by my pen name in the future because that is someone who I personally relate to.

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