'Rudra Thandavam' 'Draupathi': Mohan G's Sexist, Casteist, Problematic Films
Why Mohan G's films 'Draupathi' and 'Rudra Thandavam' are hugely problematic and need to be called out.
"If my sister falls in love with someone from a different caste, I will kill the guy or my sister".Audience member after watching 'Draupathi'
As these words are spoken by a young man outside a cinema theatre, a group of men cheer him on as if he's just made a revolutionary statement.
This clip intrigued me to see what they were so hyped about, bringing me to filmmaker Mohan G's Draupathi - a casteist film masquerading as a revolutionary piece of art that's fighting atrocities against women. A film that reduces women to mere property and objects who exist only to uphold a family's honour and pass down caste hierarchies. A film that conveys a deeply problematic sexist narrative that women are incapable of making their own decisions and easily fall in love with anyone who has an iPhone and a bike.
While Draupathi was heavily criticised for its regressive storyline it was alarming to see the reception that it got from young men who hailed from particular communities. The film glorifies a particular caste and positions them against Dalits, which remains to be the only reason for its celebration and success. There has always existed an attempt to misguide youngsters of the dominant caste by giving them fairy tales of a royal bloodline and pit them against Dalits.
All this while such activities were carried out by random caste frenzied men on apps like Tik-Tok, Reels, and other similar social media platforms.
The last two Mohan G films are nothing but caste fanaticism combined with zero historical understanding of the struggles of the oppressed to attain the rights they have now.
Both his films should have just been a Tik-Tok video because it would have been easier to dismiss such mediocre content and not mistake it for cinema.
With his latest film Rudra Thandavam, Mohan G seems to have doubled down on all the regressive ideologies and fails at his miserable attempt to justify the hatred. But the chaos on the streets during the release of the film and young men pledging to kill their siblings or their lovers is a classic example of what Mohan G intends to accomplish. Rudra Thandavam uses a bigger scare or a huge societal issue to push his regressiveness on the side, hoping that the average viewer might be as ignorant as his target audience.
Draupathi (2020) was a fabricated imaginary story that spoke about how Dalit political organisations and leaders sponsor young Dalit men with expensive clothes, phones, and bikes and ask them to trap girls from dominant caste families.
This is the equivalent of Love Jihad to vilify Dalit youths because of the hatred dominant castes have towards Dalits. Just like how Love Jihad gives the majority an imaginary right to inflict violence and lynch Muslim men, Mohan G uses the term 'nadaga kadhal' (fake love) to justify violence against Dalits.
Drugs, Police Brutality and the Intoxication of Caste
Rudra Thandavam takes the bigger issue of drug abuse, addiction and makes careless assumptions and bogus claims to once again vilify oppressed communities. The film opens with the most brainless introduction for a hero where Richard Rishi playing the cop Rudra, tells an undercover female cop to drink a cocktail laced with drugs just to have her kidnapped and then saved from imminent rape. Logically, they could have arrested the guys who laced the drink with the video evidence gathered or could have even asked the female cop to pretend to have finished drinking it. But how else can Mohan G justify police brutality if not for exaggerating the evilness of the wrongdoers.
Police brutality combined with moral policing is yet another aspect that Mohan G seems to justify in his films. A scene depicts castration with a make-shift fire inside the police station because the accused is convicted of raping a 5-year-old. Yet, Mohan G contradicts himself when he justifies the kidnapping of the wife and daughter of a henchman to get to trap him.
Glorification of police brutality in times that brought upon the custodial deaths of P Jayaraj and Bennicks is neither funny nor new. Such films furthermore inflict pain on oppressed communities that have minimal access to justice. There is a conscious attempt to normalise police brutality either through exaggerating the crime or through prolonged nauseating scenes where Rudra attempts to show remorse.
Rudra shoots an accused even before the interrogation starts and this is depicted as heroism. In another scene, the justification for kicking the bike of two young boys running away from a drug bust is established by portraying them as putting a pregnant woman in danger. There are failed attempts by Mohan G to hide his casteism when he places dialogues like "Nee ellam meesaya pathi pesalama (Can you even talk about a moustache)", reminding the caste oppression where Dalit men were attacked for sporting a big or curled moustache.
Scare the Parents, Police the Children
As a cop, moral policing is also on Rudra's job description list. Throughout the Rudra Thandavam, Mohan G employs Rudra and every other character available to shove down unwanted advice on women. In just the first few scenes, Rudra uses a media interview to remind all women to be extra careful with new men, not to trust them, and not to fall for their evil schemes.
Joseph, the assistant to Rudra, physically assaults and slaps a boy for having an Oyo app on his phone because according to Mohan G, anyone having an Oyo app on his mobile is using it for unsanskari sex.
Joseph chases the guy and proceeds to reprimand the girl saying "Pethavanga pecha kellunga" (Listen to the ones that gave birth to you). Though these bits of advice seem harmless on the outside, they are nothing but everyday reminders for women in families to make sure endogamy remains. In an era where women from smaller towns and remote villages are coming out to cities to seek education and build careers, Mohan G shows girls in the city as 'drunk indecent women'. When Rudra, a cop, says stuff like “Pub-ku pora pengalukku adikkadi idhu nadakkardhu thaan” (For pub-going women, this is a common occurrence), he is not just victim-blaming but also normalising sexual assault and violence against women.
Showing cities as drug and alcohol-filled spaces unsafe for women is a conscious, insidious attempt to scare their parents. Films like these will prevent parents from sending their girls for higher education or better careers to cities.
The deeper intent in this skewed portrayal is to take away women's choices and freedom just so they can serve as submissive wives in the village.
This is just one of the false parallels Mohan G seems to draw, the others include the connection between PUBG and "Cool Lip" tobacco usage, the connection between eating non-vegetarian on Tuesday, and Dalit activism, the connection between The Communist Party and the drug mafia. The best of all is when a doctor in the film says "Pasanga pagalila samantham illame thongina parents yaenu kelvikekanum" (If children are sleeping during the day parents must question them). Because according to Mohan G the only thing that the kid who sleeps in the day might be doing is drugs and gaming. Also, for a person who kept complaining about the horrible portrayal of North Chennai youngsters, there was hope that Mohan G himself would change it. To no one's surprise, Mohan G seems to have done the worst portrayal of them all - he shows young boys as fatherless drug peddlers and adult men as thugs working for the drug mafia.
Cheap Caricatures of Real-life Activists and Leaders
As Rudra Thandavam progresses, we come across even more deranged parallels and prejudiced thinking. For both his films, Mohan G seems to have a special interest in showing political leaders fighting for the upliftment of the oppressed as some huge conspiracy with an evil master plan to harm the dominant caste. He depicts them through cheap caricatures who use all means necessary to wage war against the dominant caste. In reality, these are the same leaders who are at the forefront fighting to get oppressed people their rights. Mohan G adds dialogues like “Sattam namakku saadhagama illa,” (the law isn’t on our side) to show how they are not able to control women and their choices.
The most problematic part of the film is where Mohan G talks about the misuse of the PCR (Protection of Civil Rights) act and Crypto-Christians without understanding either.
Attacking the PCR (Prevention of Atrocities) act is nothing but a pure exhibition of anger and vengeance against reforms that were given to the oppressed to stand up to their oppressors.
Just like how we can't remove the dowry harassment law because some people misuse it, similarly, the PCR act should not be diluted or criticised because the dominant caste feels it is harsh on them. Mohan G also seems to be annoyed at conversion, and to be more specific he seems more bothered that converted people from marginalised communities avail government reforms like the PCR act or reservations. Mohan G calls them Crypto-Christians but in actuality, Crypto-Christians is a term used to define people who do not show external symbols or any signs of a practicing Christianity due to the fear of persecution of the state.
Portraying such wrong and irresponsible ideologies through mainstream films makes it worse not just for marginalised communities but also for dominant caste communities that want to convert out of their free will. The narrative that conversion to another religion automatically elevates social, financial, and economic standing for a person is a complete myth that seems to have originated out of nothing but pure hatred.
Not About the 'What' but About the Who'
The problematic aspect of Mohan G's films Draupathi and Rudra Thandavam is not just about 'what' ideologies they espouse but also 'who' he uses as a mouthpiece to spread them. In Draupathi he uses the female lead to speak dialogues like, "Engalukku mannum ponnum rendumea mukkiyam athula yaru kaiyavachalum kaiya veatovum" (Both land and women are important for us, we will chop the hands of anyone who touches them) thereby you have the heroine herself equating all women to mere property.
Mohan G uses real-life Christians like Richard Rishi and imaginary Christian characters like Joesph, the police assistant, to spread hate against Christianity and conversion. He takes an actor like Radha Ravi and casts him as a Dalit lawyer who fights the misuse of the PCR act and uses a Dalit woman character to spout lines such as, "I want to die in the same religion I was born in". An attempt to contradict BR Ambedkar's statement "I was born a Hindu but I shall not die a Hindu" and blame the oppressed for turning Ambedkar into a caste leader. In actuality, the dominant castes of Tamil Nadu have been the ones who have turned Ambedkar into a Dalit leader. They've reportedly beheaded and desecrated Ambedkar statues and are the reason why most of the statues are kept within iron bars.
Though Mohan G might think that he has placed these ideologies cleverly and masked them, the average audience can see through the deception from a mile away. This is not the first attempt to do so and he is not the first person to do it either. This generalisation of the oppressed and minority communities like Dalits and Christians as conversion mafia and North Chennai youngsters as drug peddlers is extremely problematic and has real-life implications. As shown, his portrayal of women is extremely regressive and problematic too.
As a society, there is no doubt that we need to constantly strive towards achieving freedom of creative expression for all individuals but films like Rudra Thandavam make it harder to believe in. Bigotry, casteism, and negating women's choices cannot be called alternate perspectives or creative freedom and need to be called out.
(Daniel Sukumar is a writer and a celebrated spoken word poet. His passion lies in writing extensively about caste inequalities, mental health, and social injustice. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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