I am that which you refuse to see. Pa Ranjith on music, caste and uncomfortable questions

We are republishing this with outputs from the firstpost feature on Casteless Collective Music Band of Pa Ranjith. Pa. Ranjith is an Indian filmmaker who has made Tamil language films. Kaala is one of the most awaited projects of 2018 starring Rajinikanth which is slated for release worldwide on June 7

‘We have had a very strong, independent music culture.’

Our society is closely related to music. We have had a very strong, independent music culture here and I am not talking about the culture that existed as a form, as an organisation (Carnatic music). We have had very strong folk music culture… village songs, songs handed down through generations. ‘Adi En Gaana Mayil‘ in Attakathi was one such song, sung at funerals for generations. But this independent music was never organised. It continued to exist because someone was inspired to learn and someone started singing again. Such efforts were never conscious. I was worried that this strong independent music culture was slowly dying…that film music was devouring it; that in cinema it all boiled down to worship of the hero.

‘How can music not have caste?’

The food I eat and shirt I wear have caste in them. How can music not have caste? I have a very basic question: Can my parai be staged with any of their instruments on a same stage? If not, how can you say it has no caste? Why should my music be considered impure? Of course music and art are beyond caste and that is exactly why I want to carry my politics through art. But there is caste among those who practice it. We need to defy it… Even if people are disturbed because we talk about the music of the oppressed, I have no option. I have to continue to talk.

Ambedkar

If Karl Marx — a Jew born in Germany — can become a world leader, why can’t Ambedkar? If you cannot accept him as a leader of all the people, is the problem with me?

No stranger to music

My grandfather used to play parai (one of the oldest drums played in India)Appa was good at melam (a type of percussion instrument). There was such a big musical instrument at our home. Appa had made smaller parais for us to play. The parai has a very strong taala kathi. It is not the Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni, but follows the sound. When we learn parai, we are asked to speak the sounds, like: janak-jannak and jin-jin-jin. The words are created from the sounds.

Singing or Perform

I was interested in music yes, but nothing beyond that. I was fascinated by the sounds.

Black Music

When they were denied the stage by the whites, they created their own stage. I was inspired not just by their music, but by their literature and films too. The way they dressed, their games, their dialect — they put forth everything across as their politics. I could so easily connect with the Blacks. If they could politicise their art, why shouldn’t we?

I am that which you refuse to see

I am that which you refuse to see, that which you refuse to acknowledge. I am angry when I am told that I am unwanted, that I am being neglected. I feel the compelling need to prove myself, to make myself indispensable. I stand in the front. If you dismiss my art as a work not worthy of any recognition, it becomes my duty to prove that it is better than what you consider art. My art is my life. I have to take it to the people.

Dalit Politics

Mainstreaming this politics is of utmost importance. I wouldn’t say Dalit issues were never spoken about at all these years. They have been spoken of and discussed, but only at Dalit meetings. I want to take them to a common place. I only act as a tool in the process. My idea is to create that space because the talent is so abundantly available here.

Uncomfortable questions

As a student in Fine Arts College, I raised uncomfortable questions. When my friends say art has no caste, I questioned it. How can I draw anything without showing the caste inequality in it? If there is a land, a tree and a flower in it, someone might look into its aesthetics. But how can the land be seen just as a land? I wonder who the land belongs to. I wonder who the land was grabbed from. I wonder how many of them were felled on this land. When I know the answers, it is no longer a thing of beauty for me. The flower could just have sprouted from the blood of my grandfather. I want to communicate the pain of it through my art; not its beauty. The conflict continues.

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