Who Was Komaram Bheem and Why is SS Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’ Under Fire?

Who is Komaram Bheem and what’s the controversy around Rajamouli’s new film RRR?

Published
Indian Cinema
3 min read
The portrayal of Komaram Bheem has become controversial after the release of <i>RRR’s </i>teaser.
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The character teaser from SS Rajamouli’s upcoming film RRR has brought the lesser known adivasi leader Komaram Bheem under the spotlight. Jr NTR plays the Gond real hero in Rajamouli’s multi-starrer, and a shot of him wearing a skull cap in the teaser has irked several organisations and political leaders.

A couple of Telengana BJP representatives have threatened the filmmaker over the depiction of Komaram Bheem in his teaser and even warned of violence if Bheem’s look is not changed in the film.

Jr NTR as Komaram Bheem in <i>RRR.&nbsp;</i>
Jr NTR as Komaram Bheem in RRR. 
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Who is Komaram Bheem?

Born on 22 October 1901, in Sankepalli of Adilabad district, Telangana, Komaram Bheem was an Indian tribal leader belonging to the Gond community. Komaram Bheem is said to have fought against the feudal landlords during the Nizam’s rule. He defied any form of authority coming from the Nizam and fought against the Nizam’s military might while seeking refuge in the forest and fighting for the land rights of his community. The popular slogan for adivasi movements - Jal Jangal Jameen - was given by Bheem.

According to Akash Poyam of Adivasi Resurgence, “...during Nizam’s time unbearable taxes were imposed and exploitation and atrocities of local zamindars were rampant on Adivasi masses. In the background of ongoing atrocities, Bheem launched massive agitations against Nizam government, and started guerrilla warfare against their army. Making Jode Ghat the centre of his activities, Bheem continued his guerrilla war from 1928 to 1940.”

Komaram Bheem’s Uprising

After a failed attempt to meet the Nizam to discuss the plight of the adivasis, Bheem mobilised a guerilla army to protest for their land rights. He also proposed a plan to declare themselves as an independent Gond kingdom. Bheem and his army began to attack landlords under the Nizam’s rule.

Fearing that the uprising under Komaram Bheem would spread, the Nizam sent a collector to negotiate with Bheem and placate him by promising that the farmers will be given their land pattas and even assured a separate land to be assigned to Bheem to rule over. After Bheem refused to negotiate and announced that he would fight for justice till the end, they faced a backlash from the Nizam. An army of over 300 soldiers were sent to the Jodeghat area and after repeated refusals to surrender, Bheem and his army of revolutionaries died fighting in September 1940.

“Not a Hindu Nationalist”

In his article Komaram Bheem: A forgotten Adivasi leader who gave the slogan ‘Jal Jangal Jameen’, Akash Poyam writes that the claims that Komaram Bheem was a nationalist Hindu leader who fought against the Nizam government because of the Islamic oppression on Hindus is wrong. Koyam, who belongs to the Koitur (Gond) tribe from Balrampur, Chhattisgarh, argues that Gonds aren’t Hindus and that such claims are only being made to assimilate Bheem into the Hindu nationalist discourse.

Rajamouli’s RRR is scheduled to release on 8 January 2021. With the political noise from just a teaser of the film mounting, the controversy over Komaram Bheem will continue to be fanned by organisations and individuals with vested interests. On the other hand, the criticism of the appropriation of Bheem by Hindu nationalist groups is also likely to make headlines. On the whole, for the team RRR, any publicity is good publicity for now.

(With inputs from Adivasi Resurgence)

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