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A Dalit Hero On Screen

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Political correctness imposes crippling constraints. Even more so when you want to move away from the imposed stereotype of Dalit as a victim. It is a problem that is felt across cultures. I remember how American comics, and other satirical shows that reveled in screwing sitting presidents, lamented that Obama was banned. You couldn’t target the first black American president. Someone with his good looks, his serious professorial demeanor, an eloquence that carried intellectual weight and emotional appeal, whatever made him charismatic, appealed to writers of comedy and satire (with the exception of white supremacists, well sure). A similar, unwritten but dominant taboo prevails when you want a Dalit hero with shades of gray to conjure an ambivalent response. To take that, you have to tune it to Manu Joseph’s first novel that Sudhir Mishra is putting on screen. Serious men seriously isn’t a film that even independent cinema would dare to manage. It is thanks to streaming platforms that Serious men cshould be done. A satire that attacks the elite of the scientific community, and the revenge of a Dalit hero in a rather complicated and ambiguous way, touches on themes generally considered untouchable.

Ayyan Mani (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is the PA of a senior scientist, Dr. Aravind Acharya (Nassar) at a very prestigious research center (something like the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) funded by the government. Mani is a sponge, picking up disparate information, thirsty for the education he couldn’t get. He is not only a quick and cunning learner of scientific information, but he will also be brimming with dictionaries to write a pompous letter asking for paternity leave. He is a survivor who aims high – to make his son equal to those born of privilege. It has a simple gradation of social hierarchy, from 1G to 4G – from the first generation to the fourth – which doesn’t need to work, but revolves around the pools of five-star hotels. He’s a Dalit who deliberately uses the victim’s card to shame admissions staff at a prestigious school when his slowly learning son is denied admission as he tries to bluff. He claims that Dr Acharya is a coworker on slap on the back conditions, while the senior boss is arrogant, and discourages Mani from speaking to him in Tamil – their mother tongue. Mani hates and admires the arrogance of the man (Mani always has a tie at work like his boss) who brushes off awkward questions with the non-sequitur: I can’t cope with primitive spirits like you. It is a phrase that Mani trains his young son Adi (Aakshath Das) to use with an early contemptuous attitude towards angry teachers or persistent journalists.

The film is based on the ethos of making a child prodigy as a means of upward mobility for a family living in the seedy BDD chawl of Mumbai, populated by a cross section of the marginalized – an unemployed, a drunken woman pounding, a father frustrated throwing young girl for failing exams, other layabouts hanging around aimlessly. Adi is the Shining Star, the example of a genius courted by the media and local politician, Keshav Dhavre (Sanjay Narvekar) and his daughter Anuja (Shweta Basu Prasad), educated in the United States. How does Mani prepare this scam? He uses Adi’s hearing loss to install his hearing aid with bluetooth. So when Adi is interviewed on TV or in a live show, Mani gives him the answers, using calculators and smartphones. He learned the prick game from Dr. Acharya, which deals with grants from ignorant and easily embarrassed ministers with his theory of alien microbes in the stratosphere as clues to the origin of life on earth. Mani digs into the fraud and failed balloon shipment, and forwards the evidence to a disgruntled subordinate who is denied funds for his own more genuine research. The film has fun to the detriment of scientists springing from the gobbledygook as abstruse knowledge not understood by ordinary ignorant people. Mani grabs the tricks of the research craft and launches an elaborate scam to deceive the gullible public and create a media circus around the boy genius, who is portrayed as both Ambedkar and Einstein.

Adi talks about the child labor used to grow cocoa in South America / Africa, alien microbes, and injecting photosynthesis into humans to allow efficient oxygen uptake, all with the same casualness and solemnity. endearing of a child wearing oversized glasses. The script of a quartet of writers aims satirical darts at chosen and random targets, and in the process, blunts the satirical edge. In the circus and the play of the exhibition (of Acharya), then in the market that followed concluded between the former boss and the PA, is the poignant story of a motivated father and a child unfortunate. Adi’s act of genius is a secret between father and son. Oja (Indira Tiwari) is a loving wife and proud mother, but she is deliberately left out of it. Mani berates Adi for failing to learn a speech and eventually the poor child collapses – he mixes up a lot of speeches he has learned by heart, and Mani watches the pacing boy nervously with contempt. The sobbing child finally goes to bed, and now comes the bravery scene of pure visual drama. Bow down, Alexander Surkala, whose cinematography has been low-key for the most part, A photo from above of the boy, a beam of light suddenly illuminating the dark room as it falls diagonally on the boy on the bed. The father watches in silence. The loneliness of the boy, who feels he has let down his father by forgetting the speech on stage and sharing the secret with Sayali (the girl rejected by the father), who seems to be his only friend. Mani is stoic, but not defeated. Again.

Dalit

Acharya learns about the scam and how Mani betrayed him. Mani takes action to regain some credibility. Davre helps Acharya get her job back, and the scientist chairs a public meeting and subtly pleads for a child to be left alone to be a child. Adi admits not knowing anything. Regret, pride and love permeate his eyes. If an actor were to carry and convey so much emotion in one fell swoop, there couldn’t be a better choice than him. It’s a moment of pure cinema – an expressive face bathed in surreal light for the eye of the camera. What follows is a continuation of reconciliation – Mani remembers his childhood. The evil boss becomes a kind of understanding mentor. The sudden humanization of Dr. Acharya comfortably settled into his sense of superiority seems intrigue driven and inorganic to the character.

The Mani family move to a coastal village. Oja runs a small shop and picks up Adi from school. Mani is a lonely figure on the deserted beach. Adi walks up and stands next to him. Their backs to the camera, the sea ahead as dusk descends. The man and the boy together, is an image with multiple resonances. You return to the iconic Bicycle thieves, as the boy walks with the father who lost his bike and his job. Apur Sansar – Soumitra Chatterji walks with the son he came to meet after years of wandering. Serious Men makes you remember these images, but without telling us. Not significantly. The boy is going to the father now in a lungi, the natty office looks abandoned. Straight shoulders are no longer so straight. Did Ayyan Mani accept defeat? Dr Acharya – educated, Brahmin – frees himself after committing fraud. Incompletely educated but street smart, Dalit Mani seems to have given up on the system he had tried to play. A grim conclusion to the black-tinted satire gone awry, Such a Mood-Changing Tale is the opposite of what audiences are slowly coming to terms with in focused films. Article 15, Anubhav Sinha’s hard-hitting thriller documents the gruesome plight of Dalits, and especially Dalit women, in the UP badlands. Article 15, which won the inaugural Screen Writers Award for Best Screenplay, becomes even more relevant after Hathras’ brutality and cover-up. Dalit’s problems are not yet ripe for irony and ambivalence. The brutal reality demands an equally refined and unmistakable realistic representation. Ambiguity does not lend the right purpose to capture the bitter harvest we are reaping as individuals and as a society.

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