The first Marathi film release post-Corona and the lockdowns – Jayanti – has both its heart and head in the right place... Most films which talk about caste politics are problem-intensive. Here’s one which is solution-intensive. At a time when the system keeps devising newer political battles of identity, the appropriation of victimhood and ensures that the right-wing coterie of politicos and their crony capitalists keep laughing all the way to the bank while those who could (should) challenge them are kept busy fighting each other, this good, brave and important film is a must-watch.
Jayanti which holds the mirror to bhakts from all camps (especially of a young & restless vintage who keep getting used as cannon fodder to polarise, spread hatred and hate-crime by shrewd politicians and their parties) is a serious wake-up call... It underlines how idolising Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj or Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar need not be mutually exclusive and exposes those who like to create polemic around these ideologies both these legends.
Jayanti has some cracker performances by Ruturaj Wankhede, a rather pleasantly surprising Milind Shinde and the ever-brilliant Kishore Kadam... I thought given the length of her role and the lines she had the actress who played Santya's mom also did a spectacular job. There's also Amar Upadhyay aka Mihir Virani of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thhi fame who's playing a real-life Shiney Ahuja-type character in the film in what seems like an outing on camera after eons...
Jayanti not only ticks all the boxes in the acting department but also in the music department... The track Tula Vandanyachi has stayed with me long after the movie...
Maharashtra – which has given us the triumvirate of Shahu, Phule and Ambedkar - has always prided itself as a progressive, liberal and modern state with a rich legacy of social reforms, anti-caste campaigns and impressive industrialisation.
The state’s downward spiral into vicious caste rivalries, and lately Hindu fundamentalism, has been both slow and steady since the early 90s. The RSS had no social base, except among some fringe Brahmin communities and it was perceived as the organisation of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’, it always had a distinct Brahmin face. Only in Maharashtra, there are less than 4% Brahmins. Kunbi/Marathas are nearly 36%, OBCs/EBCs are over 30%, Adivasis nearly 20%, Dalits more than 10%.
The 40 million Marathas who have begun demanding reservations and other benefits from the state in recent years have always wielded considerable clout in the politics of this state even going back to Medieval India. They still control the levers of political, social, and economic power. Almost all sugar factories, most educational institutions, and several cooperative banks have had a Maratha stranglehold for decades.
Though they collectively have the numbers to create a bulwark of a challenge to the Marathas the OBCs and EBCs are divided into several smaller castes and are kept busy taking on each other in hyperlocal confrontations. not a dominant force, although (Malis and Dhangars are the most formidable among them but they often get co-opted by the Maratha leaders)
Until well past the late 80s, Marathas, Dalits, OBCs and even Adivasis were socially and politically hostile to the RSS. Even urban educated Brahmins often used the pejorative “chaddiwalas” for the RSS who the Marathas, particularly in rural areas treated with disdain as politically irrelevant. But this began to change in 1990 after BJP leader L K Advani clambered onto a rath to polarise and ride the Hindutva hate wave to power. Knowing that they had the muscle power and numbers, the Hindutva brigade began swaying the Marathas and the OBCs with propagandist Hindu identity politics. With the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 and the massive riots that followed – Mumbai was the worst-hit - Hindutva politics got the toehold it had been waiting for since Independence.
The street-style lumpenism of the Shiv Sena met the shrill temple politics of the BJP to seal an alliance. And yet they couldn’t be more different. The Shiv Sena was Mumbai streets party which conveniently picked and dropped the tonality of its sons-of-the-soil campaign and drew unemployed Marathi youth by the hordes. Their kangaroo courts became the go-to as people wanted to avoid the corrupt police or the terribly slow judicial process. The Sangh Parivar struck a chord with the white-collar middle and upper middle-class Maharashtrians and Gujaratis who looked down on Sena’s street-style thuggery.
Though Congress and then the breakaway NCP like to invoke Dalit rights in the election season, it is perhaps the most ill-kept secret that they are both outfits that are of, for and by the Maratha lobby.
Only there’s a slight problem there. Although they seem homogeneous, the Marathas have a rigid hierarchy within the community which frown on intermarriages within caste sub-groups too!
Over the years, the landless poorer on the lower rungs of the Marathas who were not part of the ruling hierarchy have become more and more alienated. The rising unemployment among the Marathas, deepening agricultural crisis and declining career opportunities among the educated have fuelled frustration. Their grouse was mainly against the “Maratha ruling clique”. That anger was simmering. To add to the growing resentment, Kunbis, the associate caste of the Marathas, were given reservations. Marathas were ruled out for reservation because they were identified as “forward” caste under the Mandal system. Kunbis too have now joined the “uprising” because being recognised as Maratha gives them a stake in the ruling establishment.
The ruling elite among Marathas realises that these disenchanted lower rungs could sooner or later join rank with the Dalits to take them on. Creating a Shivaji-Ambedkar polemic is their cunning strategy to keep them distracted and at each other’s throats.
Jayanti seeks to address that… gently… but firmly. Without getting into dark zones. After all, it's time to take the second step, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had suggested after education. Building sociopolitical bridges are a great way of organising to take on thousands of years of discrimination and being treated as sub-human.
Apart from a few really small blink-and-miss continuity kinks, there's little not to like in Jayanti...
A big shoutout to director Shailesh Narwade whose really brought the right nuance to a film that could either go very wrong or fall completely flat with just a notch here or there... Also whoever trained the actors in this signature Vidarbha dialect needs to be lauded!
Go watch this IMPORTANT film running at a theatre near you from Nov 12th. And thank me later!
Director: Shailesh Narwade
Cast: Ruturaj Wankhede, Milind Shinde, Kishore Kadam, Titeeksha Tawde, Anjali Joglekar and others
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