Mari Selvaraj's film Maamannan, which released in theatres on 29 June, had created quite a buzz. The film stars Fahadh Faasil in the lead role. Following its successful theatrical outing, the film dropped on Netflix on 27 July.
However, amidst the appreciation that Maamannan has been receiving, Fahadh's character Rathnavelu is being appropriated and celebrated by dominant caste groups on social media. Expressing their love for Rathnavelu, these groups have created a compilation of "mass" videos, asserting their caste pride by sharing them on social media.
What Is 'Maamannan' About?
Featuring Fahadh Faasil, Keerthy Suresh, and Udhayanidhi Stalin in lead roles and Vadivelu playing the titular role, Maamannan tries to debunk the unaware, naive, and, at times, problematic opinions of the privileged section about caste-based discrimination, reservation, and social injustice. Directed by Mari Selvaraj, the movie mostly succeeds in putting things into perspective about how oppression works and delves into its structural and systemic nature.
The story revolves around a Dalit MLA, Maamannan (Vadivelu), and how he faces discrimination based on caste, even after attaining power and position in politics. The film talks about the prejudices a person belonging to an oppressed community faces, no matter how successful they are.
We also have the despicable Rathnavelu (Fahadh Faasil), a man hailing from the dominant caste but holding a lower-ranking position in the same political party that Maamannan is from. Rathnavelu is so accustomed to looking down upon the other community that he disregards the importance of education and only believes that his caste is meant to oppress others.
Maamannan highlights how social hierarchy and discrimination can render education and other values meaningless in the eyes of the oppressor. The protagonist's plight, even after attaining success, urges us to take note of how deep-rooted caste-based atrocities are.
Fahadh Faasil's performance as the antagonist has been appreciated by critics and audiences alike.
Rathnavelu, a vile character, shows no remorse as he heartlessly kills his pet dogs or beats his subordinates without a second thought when he believes that they no longer serve his purpose. Even though the movie does not reveal Rathnavelu's caste, several dominant caste groups like Gounder, Vanniyar, Nadar, Konaar, Nayakkar, and Thevar have begun associating the character with their respective communities.
These Tamil caste groups have taken it upon themselves to glorify the problematic character. On social media, viral video clips featuring Fahadh's character have surfaced, and people have been calling them out for blatantly celebrating Rathnavelu. This misuse of the character's qualities has extended offline as well, with caste meetings being held and banner photos being circulated in several places in Tamil Nadu.
What Activists Say About The Glorification of Fahadh's Character
Dalit activist Shalin Maria Lawrence has voiced concerns about the glorification of the character, emphasising that celebrating a casteist character can reinforce harmful stereotypes and glorify discrimination.
"While acknowledging that Fahadh's remarkable talent is warranted, it remains crucial to confront the troubling reality of celebrating the character Rathnavelu in Maamannan. Casteist individuals, devoid of any semblance of self-reflection, have taken offence and now employ this glorification as a defence mechanism. Instead of confronting the brutality they witness, they continue perpetuating casteism with impunity, fortifying their regressive ideologies."Shalin Maria Lawrence, Dalit Activist
Evidence Kathir, a human rights and Dalit activist, told The Quint that filmmakers face significant challenges when creating anti-caste films, as more often than not they face opposition from those who believe in casteism.
"The reactions of caste supremacists are not only problematic but also pathetic. It is disheartening to see people claiming that a character, who kills dogs and ill-treats fellow humans based on caste, is representative of their community."Evidence Kathir, human rights activist
Kathir also said that those in favour of Fahadh's character in Maamannan are hesitant to confront uncomfortable truths about their own privilege and the sufferings of others. He continued that the reaction also highlights deep-rooted caste issues prevailing in our society.
Echoing Kathir's thoughts, Shalin said,
"The film's intention was right. It portrayed Rathnavelu as a casteist man. However, the glorification of the character serves as a mirror to society, revealing that caste discrimination persists, despite efforts to challenge it. It shows that Tamil Nadu is not entirely anti-casteist, as dominant caste groups continue to cling to their casteist and regressive ideologies".
Shalin explained that the reactions around Rathnavelu have opened conversations around casteism.
Kathir also said,
"Caste should never be celebrated as culture. In my opinion, the right way to propagate culture is through values of humanity, equality, and dignity."
Here's How The 'Maamannan' Team Has Reacted
Following the controversy, Fahadh Faasil removed his character's photos from social media.
Mari Selvaraj and the Maamannan team also shared reviews by prominent critics who weighed in on the character's actions, thereby sharing a message that they are not in favour of this discourse. However, till now no one from the film's team has issued a statement.