Published: 29th September 2020
Finding indiscreet charm within the short film 'The Discreet Charm of the Savarnas'
The latest short film presented by Pa Ranjith and released his Neelam Productions has been getting wide acclaim and love on social media — and is a film everyone should watch
There is nothing discreet about Rajesh Rajamani’s The Discreet Charm of the Savarnas — the director opens up a pandora’s box for the Savarnas while remaining in unflinching solidarity with the comedy genre, making the film an absolute laugh riot. Rajamani has cleverly borrowed his title from the film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie but the last words mean the same thing in both movies. Rajamani, an IIM graduate, turned to film making a few years ago, he previously directed 'Lovers in the Afternoon' that was also produced by Neelam Productions and is also a writer, film critic and social commentator.
Perhaps his finest detailing lies in the way the characters are built. One of the characters, Dilip, asks the driver of their car if he has read James Baldwin and he responds in the negative. He then follows that up with Toni Morrison and Ta-Nehisi Coates, the response is the same and then finally disappointedly asks, “At least, Obama?” Another character Aruna, on the other hand, is a feminist and also takes mental health very seriously and the third character, Swami when he uses words like ‘mad’ to curse someone. Swami, is seemingly a film afficionado, and has neatly framed posters up on his wall. The scene even opens up with him sleeping in the same position as the figure in the Vertigo poster hanging right above him.
The three are planning on making a film together and are struck with a problem when their protagonist drops out at the last minute. So now they set out to look for an actor who fits their character and their only priority is — he must look 'Dalit'.
A couple of years ago, a casting call for a Dalit-looking actor actually went viral on Facebook. It was met with a lot of criticism and ridicule but I did a cursory check to see if that sort of stuff still exists on the internet and well, it does! Here, the trio discuss potential actors for the role but dismiss them for looking 'too middle class'. One of them even says about the actor, “At best he’s lower middle-class.” They also joke about how a Dalit-looking actor and a Dalit actor are not two different things. They are so desperate, they decide to even change the gender of the lead as, after all, it only matters that the character is Dalit.
The audience is treated to a hilarious encounter of the trio with an ‘acting enthusiast’ who takes great offense at being offered the role of a Dalit because he comes from a ‘proper Palakkad Iyer’ family. Who might we add, is also a self-proclaimed feminist. They then ask a ‘Tiwari’ who is doing his PhD on Dalits if he knows a ‘Dalit’ — a nod to the scores of upper caste academicians who appropriate, investigate and document the marginalised. The trio finally decide it's best to get a Dalit person to play the character, because what can get better than that. Swami asks, “Why would a Dalit be offended about playing a Dalit?”
Rajesh Rajamani (in red) on the sets of his previous film 'Lovers in the Afternoon'
When the trio are stuck in a traffic jam, they blame ‘fringe’ elements for the commotion, but these ‘fringe’ elements happen to be the lakhs of Dalits who every year on the Mahaparinirvan Diwas (death anniversary of Ambedkar) visit Chaitya Bhoomi to pay their respects to Dr BR Ambedkar. It is interestingly, it is India's most visited death memorial. The very people, the three have written an entire film about! Rajamani has spoken volumes in 20 minutes and throughout that time, he keeps you laughing. Which is a feat that very few can boast of. He’s made a great choice for the music too, Imphal Talkies, I’m sure already have a huge line of fans waiting to check out their music.
The film is an excellent take on how members of the art, film, academia, journalism, literary fields have for far too long appropriated and benefitted from becoming the voices of the marginalised, imposing stereotypes and identities on them. It is a wake-up call for the ‘woke’ who are able to empathise with their Black American friends in the USA but will not pick up a book by Ambedkar. Who are feminist but turn blind to caste. Who will run fundraising initiatives for the ‘poor’ but can’t accept it if someone from the Dalit community looks like them. These ‘woke’ people are the ones who cite that mystical Mercedes-driving ‘rich Dalit’ in their arguments against reservation.
In response to the film, one person wrote about how they were thrilled that they now finally have the chance to send a film to all the Savarnas they know. It was payback for all the times Savarnas had sent him links to films that had even a vague mention of the Dalit community. I think that about sums up the importance of this film, and more importantly, why Rajamani is a writer-director we must all watch out for.
Watch the film here —