In Mari Selvaraj’s “Maamannan,” the piglet, once deemed an animal of filth with no upward view, takes flight with wings of equality.
The clash of power and principles ensues when an MLA and his son, hailing from an Oppressed Caste, refuse to bow down to the dominant privileged and imperious scion of a deceased political figure.
Athiveeran (played by Udhayanidhi Stalin) is the son of a Dalit MLA, a pig rearer, a skilled martial art trainer and artist. He takes a journey that lays bare the central theme of the movie – the relentless Struggle for equality and the formidable challenges he encounters while asserting his rights and identity.
Mari Selvaraj’s unwavering commitment to truth and social commentary has been consistently evident in his movies. As the film unfolds, a scene captures Athiveeran’s search for his keys, with Dr. Ambedkar’s revered portrait standing tall in the background. The presence of Buddha sculptures in the background throughout the film enriches the story, serving as powerful symbols of our culture and resistance.
In the film’s opening sequence, a moving shot captures Athiveeran engaging in a Heartfelt act of feeding the piglets. This powerful moment foreshadows the narrative’s unfolding, wherein the connection between Athiveeran and the pigs serves as a metaphorical representation of his quest for liberation and dignity. The scene beautifully Portrays the deep-rooted ties between Athiveeran’s Inheritance and his pursuit of asserting his rightful place in society.
Growing up in a pig-rearing family myself, I witnessed firsthand the stigmas and prejudices attached to it. People would shun us, saying, “Stay away from them, they rear pigs—yuck!” In a society where pigs and pig rearers are deemed lowly and unclean, the disparity with professions like cattle and goat rearing, considered shepherds, was stark. It seemed as though the reverence for cows and the affection for dogs did not extend to our pigs.
As the film progresses, an excerpt from Omprakash Valmiki’s Autobiography “Joothan” echoes in my thoughts, highlighting the cultural importance of pigs in various life events.
“In the afternoon I was responsible for feeding the pigs. Pigs were an important part of our lives. Pigs were important in marriages, loss-illness, life-death. Even worship was incomplete without a pig. The pigs roaming the courtyard were not a symbol of filth but a symbol of social prosperity, which is still the case today. Yes, the educated class has distanced itself from these beliefs.This is not due to any reformist approach but due to inferiority complex. This inferiority complex is more prevalent among educated people, which is due to social pressures.”
Over the course of time, the term “Suar,” originally referring to pig, has unfortunately evolved to carry casteist connotations, turning it into a derogatory label. Individuals involved in pig-rearing or those who consume pork have been subjected to this term as a caste slur.
Drawing a parallel to the Hindi film industry, predominantly dominated by Punjabi Khatris and Pathans, I couldn’t help but notice the mocking portrayal and perpetuation of Caste slur like “Suar” which means pig, in movies. However, amidst this Ignorance, Mari Selvaraj’s “Maamannan” stands apart, resonates deeply with our experiences and feels intimately familiar, as if it becomes an inherent part of your own encounters and emotions.
In a powerful scene, Athiveeran sketches a pig with wings, symbolising once deemed an animal of filth with no upward view, takes flight with wings of equality.
Dr. Ambedkar’s staunch efforts and enduring struggle have laid the way for the mere opportunities what Maamannan and Athiveeran now possess, igniting a determined dream to fly freely beneath the boundless blue sky. However, their path is marred by an unceasing struggle for equitable treatment from society, impeding their pursuit of basic human rights. Despite progress, they remain entangled in a fight for fundamental dignity and equality, a battle that continues to define their lives.