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Friday, December 10, 2010

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Movie - Better late than never!

So it’s finally hitting the screens next week. Jabbar Patel’s much-awaited movie, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, for which Mammootty bagged the best actor award, last year, is being released at long last...

“THE film’s making, right from conception to creation has, for me, been an experience in itself. Recreating the life of one of the greatest visionaries in Indian history has been an experience of a lifetime,” says Jabbar Patel.

The film evolved from the documentary film he made on the life of Dr Ambedkar for Films Division in 1989. Shooting for this documentary was also done part in the US and the UK and mainly in India when Patel met people who were in actual contact with Dr Ambedkar. “The incidents related to me by these people, their fond memories of the learned visionary were so touching and exciting that I thought, the only true tribute to the great man would be a lifesize sketch of Dr Ambedkar on the silver screen.”

The recreation of the period in India and abroad as well, was a huge task. Institutes like the Columbia University New York and the London School of Economics where Dr Ambedkar studied, lent support and the shoots were done free of cost.

The ordeal of recreation did not limit itself to just the architecture or the period but it went as far as the actor who had to live the role of Ambedkar. The search for the actor did not limit itself to India but was also carried out on the other side of the Atlantic. But finally it was the face and the talent of the Southern superstar, Mammootty that presented itself.

The choice of Mammootty to play the role of Ambedkar was so appropriate that hundreds of untouchables or Dalits who would come to take part in shootings would be so emotionally moved that they would come to Mammootty with devotion in their hearts and tears in their eyes.

The technicians working for the film had an ambition. They wanted to achieve technical excellence, a film that was made on international standards and that would stand the test of an international audience. And so the style of production was lavish.

A select few have already seen the film in special screenings and have appreciated it to a great extent. These include people from the field of art, literature, law and politics. And their reactions have been favourable. Some representing the common stratum of society have also previewed the film and their reactions have been touching and overwhelming, especially those who were contemporaries of Dr Ambedkar.

The film is significant in that, though the ethos is Indian, it has an universal appeal. After all, political and social disparity is a feature of civilisations all over the world. The basic aim of the social revolution is to uphold the meaning of humanity in its true sense.

The film spans between the years 1901-1956, and takes us through 60 years, two world wars, and three countries — India, USA and Britain. Both a personal portrait, as well as a record of the times, it is above all one man’s fight against the tyranny of Hindu orthodoxy, against tradition, against Indian political heroes and saints such as Mahatma Gandhi, who were more interested in political reforms than social reforms. Dr Ambedkar walked a lonely path: he never once strayed from it, even though in the process he became the most hated man in Hindu India.

Born in an ‘untouchable’ family at a time when untouchables were forbidden education, Ambedkar bore many insults and humiliations at the hands of his fellow students and became the first graduate of his community. Later, while studying at Columbia University, New York, Ambedkar was able to rid himself of the stigma of untouchability and breathe the air of freedom. But at the same time living next to Harlem he could equate the fate of his people with that of the Afro-Americans.

Though they belonged to the same religion, untouchables were treated worse than the lowliest animals by the upper castes. Sanctified by religion and centuries of tradition, high caste Hindus considered themselves polluted if they came into contact with an untouchable. Though they worshiped the same God they could not enter the temples. All public services including the police and the military were closed to them. They were permitted only to follow their hereditary occupations of scavenging, street sweeping, skinning and tanning animal hides.

Gandhi appealed to Hindus for a change of heart. On the other hand Ambedkar wanted political rights. Gandhi saw untouchables as an indivisible part of Hindu society. Ambedkar, disgusted with Hinduism saw the depressed classes as separate. Gandhi thought once the British left, India would right itself.

Ambedkar was not willing to take the chance. “Don’t call Gandhi a saint. He is a seasoned politician. When everything else fails, Gandhi will resort to intrigue. Don’t fall under his spell, he’s not God... Mahatmas have come and Mahatmas have gone but untouchables have remained untouchables,” Ambedkar warned his people.

This confrontation with Gandhi, which made Ambedkar the most hated man in India, was resolved with Indian Independence when Gandhi insisted Ambedkar to be inducted into the first cabinet. Even though they had been on opposite side of the fence, Gandhi respected his former adversary. Thus Ambedkar became India’s first law minister under Prime Minister Nehru and it fell upon him to draft India’s Constitution.

Throughout his life Ambedkar’s endeavours to reform Hindu society had borne stubborn resistance and he had been on a life long search for a religion, a moral social order that would not sanctify the exploitation of man by man. His search led him to Buddhism, which he regarded as rational and egalitarian.
On 14th October 1956 Ambedkar renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism. Millions of untouchables followed him, threw away their Hindu idols, embraced en masses this new religion. This perhaps was the biggest social revolution witnessed by the subcontinent in a millennia.

Though this story is particular to India, it is also universal. While Dr Ambedkar was rooted in India, he also had an international outlook. There will always be people like him who struggle to better the lot of the exploited, the downtrodden, and the forgotten. His was the universal fight of the underdog, to gain his people a rightful place in the sun.


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