Professor’s friend to Professor: “You are a difficult man!!“; Prof: “I am as simple as my chinna“
John Abraham’s Agraharathil Kazhutai (Donkey in the Brahmin street) do has a lot of similarities to Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, yet so different in its own portrayal of characters, circumstances and of course the protagonist, donkey. Narayana Swamy (M.B.Sreenivasan) is a professor working in a christian college. Once, he encounters a donkey at his doorsteps while returning from work. And he comes to know that its mother has been killed by an angry mob. So he decides to take care of ‘Chinna’ (name by which he calls it). Being a part of an orthodox brahmin community, what are the problems he faces after he brings chinna to his home, forms the story line of this hard-hitting, thought-provoking yesteryear Indian (Regional language: Tamil) cinema.
The director has impressed me with the way he has shown the back-drop of a perfect Brahmin-ghetto (or agraharam). A lot of issues like untouchability, exploitation of the down-trodden, blind-superstitions, commercialization of the religion in the name of god have been taken and I have to say it has been well handled with a subtle touch and a pure master-class.When his mother complains to his father about the donkey in the house, the father calmly replies “He is an educated guy and he knows what he is doing”, which made me think that to show humanity, you need not be a learned or a literate. You just have to be a part of the civilization.
The narration of the complaints put forward by the people about the professor was awesome. Every now and then, you almost feel superstition and circumstances were the culprits in making chinna, a bad omen to the village. Even when the priest notices a corpse of a baby on the temple, he interrogate the woman and in reply she puts the blame on the donkey, and after some convincing arguments (which were not), the group of people come to the conclusion that the donkey could have been responsible for this activity, which is a true reflection of the sad state of our society when it comes to religions and superstitions.
Though Hinduism has a lot of castes, sub-sects and all, this film could give a glimpse of how a class of Hindus (who think they are elite) have their mindset towards some of the untouched subjects (pun-unintended) in the society to the world audience. I wont deny the fact, even nowadays, in this globalized world, some parts of the Indian society still needs an open-minded approach towards humanity. In that way, this film is relevant even in this modern-age.
Professor is just one of many such exceptions from this Brahmin community to take such bold stance and defend on what he thinks is right instead of getting carried away by the so-called ‘society’. From the house-maid to the Professor’s relatives, they think that he is eccentric to do such things in the orthodox community and they even question his marital status, education etc linked to his insanity (as perceived by them). Most of the characters in the film tend to get so judgmental towards the donkey, Professor and his family. There lies the big problem and it almost makes you question the very existence of society and its contribution for our well-being. Even in the film, the neighbors, out of sheer hatred against others use donkey as a toy to get their revenge fulfilled.
Worse, even nowadays many ignorant people suffer from that phobia of ‘What will the society think of us??’. You are a part of society and no matter whatever the society foul-mouth or talk about you, it all finally comes down to the mindset of the individuals as to how they take it. (Although on the hindsight, this issue of bringing a donkey aint that much blasphemous I guess).
Film starts and ends with the verses of renowned Tamil poet Subramanya Bharati on the significance of fire. Fire, a major part of our lives should burn in the form of courage, wisdom, thinking etc., which reminded me of the theater plays and dramas that instill the spirits among the audience by their narration. You can see the relevancy of the Professor always bound with the books about great minds with rational thinking throughout the film, which is reflected in his body language and thoughts. At one point of the film, Professor’s colleague gives him a book named ‘Balthazar’ and the Professor in turn asks him whether he has watched the film. I think this film is so different from Balthazar in many layers.
Still I feel I have missed many layers of the film as its my first viewing and hope I get enlightened and have some more points to ponder about the brilliance of this film by John Abraham. I also noticed the fact that this is one of the many precursors to the Sussendran’s ‘Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai’ mainly on the grounds of superstitions. Cheers!!
(PS: Just noticed, this is my first post about Tamil cinema since the advent of the blog, hope I do more of it in the future)