It’s what filmmakers dream of—the trailer going viral on the Net even before their movie releases. It did happen to Telugu film A Woman in Braamanism, but the producers had to quickly yank it off YouTube in a few hours. The randy trailer with steamy scenes between a Brahmin couple has got the community’s goat and a case has been booked against the filmmakers.
The film is said to be based on Gudipati Venkatachalam’s classic 1937 novel Brahmanikam but the eight-minute teaser clip was more a collection of rather shoddily shot sex scenes. Among other mildly amusing moves, the man is shown pouring milk down the woman’s bustline, running an apple over his partner’s body and some other squidgy belly button moves. The Andhra Pradesh Brahmana Seva Sangh Samakhya promptly staged a protest in front of the police HQ with vice-president Subramanya Prasad demanding the film be banned for its “vulgar content”. As he thundered, “They are just using the name of Chalam to promote an obscene film.”
Chalam (1894-1979) is a well-known rebel Telugu writer whose novels were considered much ahead of their times, often touching taboo topics of the time. His novels were popular in the 1930s and ’40s and they did not shy away from talking about a woman’s sexuality and her need for emancipation from rigid Brahminical customs. Indeed, Chalam was known as the D.H. Lawrence of Telugu literature. The writer is said to have led a bohemian life though in the ’30s it was considered sacrilege for a Brahmin woman to be caught reading his books.
While Chalam’s literature leaned towards flesh-and-blood romance more than platonic relationships, he never wrote bad sex or even erotica, say his readers. “I’d say the love-making scenes in his books like Maidanam or Brahmanikam are more philosophical, seeking to expose the sexual politics of the day,” says novelist K.N. Malleswari.
“It’s important to understand that famous writers like Gurjada Appa Rao, Sri Sri and Chalam—who were all Brahmins—chose to rise above their caste and looked at the customs therein critically,” says Sahitya Akademi award winner Kethu Viswanath Reddy. “The character Sundaramma’s ordeals were clearly felt intimately by Chalam in his own family when he saw his sisters suffer because of rigid Brahmin customs,” he elaborates.
It’s of course always tricky when it comes to portraying the essence of a classic novel in a film. “Yes, some ‘elements’ were added to give the film a commercial look,” says harried producer and distributor Gangadhar, dazed at the way things have panned out. “It has to sell, after all. But I request the protesters to see the complete film before arriving at a conclusion. If the audience find some of the scenes objectionable, they will be removed.” The movie is slated for release on November 16. Regional censor board chief Dhanalakshmi has avoided taking calls so far (films are generally given censor certificates 2-3 days before their release). So class or crass? The debate is still on but Chalam admirers say apples on heaving bosoms and milk on writhing bodies is certainly not what his free-spirited and socially illuminating literature was about.
Apropos Lawrence ’n Tollywood (Oct 29), caste has now become such a delicate subject in Andhra Pradesh that if Chalam were to bring out his Brahmanikam and Maidaanam today, he would be dragged to court. I would not be surprised if a call to ban his works arises, because oneupmanship is the norm among the narrow-minded who use casteist arguments for self-aggrandisement.
G. Niranjan Rao, Hyderabad
Chalam was a progressive writer who sought to highlight the unfairness of the institution of marriage to women and raised his voice against the feudal ideas predominant in his society. Here though, the filmmakers look to be piggy-backing on his name for cheap publicity.
Jayatheertha S.A., Hyderabad
The movie is a reflection of a changing cinemascape. The director probably prefers the direct approach. After all, we are all voyeurs. Only the degree of perversion varies from individual to individual.
Tushar Meshram, Bangalore
All these idiots claiming Brahminness based on birth are responsible for the caste system.
If these idiots realised that you don't become a brahmin by being born to brahmin parents, we wouldn't have this supremacist bulldust we call the birth based caste system in this country
Caste has now become such a delicate and politically senitive subject in Andhra Pradesh that if Chalam were to be alive and bring out his hugely admired and immortal classics like "Brahmanikam" and "Maidaanam", he would have certainly become a controversial figure, being dragged into court cases. It is such a pity that religion, caste, region and now even Classics in Telugu literature have been unduly and unnecessarily dragged into controversy .
I will not be surprised if now a demand arises from some quarters to ban Chalam's immortal classics. Because one-up-manship is the rule rather than an exception among these narrow-minded people who make use of caste and region for their ego-satisfaction and self-aggrendisement.
Caste-identities have now got strengthened all over the country due to their linkages with political power. And major political parties do not shy away from yielding to the pressures from such caste-based groups, associations and parties just to be able to tap their vote-banks.
Writers like Chalam, Gurajada , Sri Sri and Veeresalingam Pantulu were much, much ahead of their times both in their social commentary and intellectual and literary endeavours. All of them came from the Telugu Brahmin families. But unlike the present day self-styled and hypocritical radicals coming from many castes, who in their heart of hearts are rabid narrow -minded castiests and regional chauvinists, the poets and social reformers mentioned above turned out to be genuine radicals, pioneers, reformers and revolutionaries in their intellect, writings and activities.
Hats off to these Great Souls and "Vaithaalikulu" as we often call them admiringly !
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