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Filmmaker can be a social scientist, philosopher, prophet even: Writer Pradeep Kumar Shetty

Writer of the award winning Kannada film Reservation, Shetty spoke to us at the ongoing Habitat Film Festival about his thoughts on the issue of caste-based reservation and filmmaking.

Photo: Habitat Film Festival

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Director Nikhil Manjoo's National Award-winning Kannada film Reservation was screened at the 13th Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi. The film explores the daily struggles of a government employee to make ends meet against the backdrop of caste reservation in the country. The writer and associate director of the film, Pradeep Kumar Shetty, attended the screening and interacted with the audience, speaking about the thought process behind making the film.

In a conversation with us, the writer spoke about the ideas that shaped the film, his engagement with the issue of caste, and his creative differences with the director of the film. Excerpts.

In the audience interaction after the screening of your film, you mentioned that your producer pledged his wife’s jewellery in order to make this film. What was the compelling reason wherein you felt that this film must be made at any cost?

The producer is a cinephile and had a dream to make a film from the perspective of a producer. This story has been published in a newspaper as it happened in a coastal city. On the basis of that, the story was developed into a screenplay but as far as the director is concerned, he is not that concerned with political issues.

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In India, we have two positions on caste and reservation — one is for and the other is against. Another is the soft middle position, which is the current right wing position, that we need to reconsider the position of caste and reservation. 

The director did not bother about these 3 viewpoints. He had a story, he tried to visualize that story and that became the film. The director’s position and my position are totally different. I tried to hold the argument in a discursive and deconstructed manner as I believe that we should not make any final, precise decisions in film as that will not be a good film.

I always deconstruct the meaning and nuances of film and am familiar with the classics and film culture, and my opinion is that a social reality like caste and an artistic expression and reality is not homogeneous. I tried to put that across, but I cannot raise my banners in my first film.

Film is primarily the creative expression of the director, so did you think of making the film since as the writer, the project seems to be very close to your heart.

The director has his own priority. Whenever I see the film, I feel it could be made differently. One concern is that of position, the dialectics part, the philosophy and the second concern is aesthetics. For example, I was not for the use of songs but the director has different priorities.

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The woman in the film is made out to be the villain and in the context, it is troubling and the end of the film is a clear reassertion of patriarchy. 

I gave the film to my friend, PN Ramachandra and he said that we had demonized the woman in the film. Personally, I feel we did demonize the woman and I agree with you. Which is why I said that my understanding of art and aesthetics is different and the director’s perspective is different. I strongly contended this and the use of music in the film but his priorities are different from mine.

Your film opens up a range of issues as it explores the negotiation of ethics in the daily struggle of life but what was the perspective about caste and reservation that you wanted to bring forth in the film? 

We need to critically evaluate the institution and the experience of caste. At the same time, caste is a material, it is fodder for political parties and pressure groups in India. That is why Papilio Buddha is such a critical confrontation between the State and so-called liberal left ideologues in India. It’s not so easy to make a statement on caste. 

In the film, I do not know what is the clear statement of the director. A filmmaker can be a social scientist, a philosopher, a prophet even, for example if you look at Tarkovsky and Bresson, you find a philosopher but it depends as everyone cannot be a prophet and political philosopher but there are a variety of paradigms.

It depends on his training, ideology, his worldview derived from his reading and experience. Everyone in Maharashtra cannot be expressing caste experience like Nagraj Manjule but you have to watch Papilio Buddha (2013), Sairat (2016), Fandry (2013) and Anhey Ghorey da Daan (2011) as they are three models and three paradigms based on geographic topography and a topography filled with people. 

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What is the next project that you are working on and I hope that you will get to make this film the way you want this time?

That is my own project. The story was published in a leading Kannada daily called Prajavan and is by a retired doctor Mirza Basheer. The story is about a marginalized Muslim community, known as Pinjars, who were converted to Islam some 400-500 years ago, during the Sufi movement. But they didn’t have a precise identity. Their identity boomed after the 1990s. Lots of communities and groups sought clear-cut identities but Pinjars still practiced Ganesha puja and every Pinjar house has a shrine dedicated to Goddess Yellamma and they speak a dialect of Kannada.

After Godhra, their communitarian anatomy totally shifted. They are mimicking and equating Urdu with an Islamic identity. They are slowly losing the Ganesha puja and it’s a total metamorphosis that’s happening. They are losing the communitarian aspect which is highly syncretic and liberal. In that community is a girl, Ginny, so this is her story.

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