Handcuffed by birth

Ananth Mahadevan, reputed actor and National Award-winning director of Mee Sindhutai Sapkal is energised to concentrate on his next project, Uchalya that goes on floor in June. The subject of the film is the plight of a wandering tribe known as Uchalya that are born to thievery and have been exploited since the time of the British rule in India.

A screen grab from the teaser of the film Uchalya by Ananth Mahadevan

Mahadevan elaborates, “Mee Sindhutai Sapkal had won four National Awards and other international awards after which the pressure was immense. Thus, I had to make sure that my first film lived up to the first one. After a friend introduced Laxman Gaikwad’s book The Branded (English translation of Uchalya) to me, I was blown away.”

Brandished as criminals for life, Gaikwad was born in this community and went on to publish a book articulating the plight of his community and won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1988. Mahadevan feelingly says, “The community is severely exploited. Although India attained independence on August 15, 1947; these people were only free on August 31, 1952 as the British had largely restricted them before.”

When probed about the meted out challenge of adaptation, Mahadevan believes, “This was one of the books that pushed your limits of imagination. It is raw, brutal and bloody. These people ended up eating rats, pigs and mongooses for mere survival in the most squalid circumstances. Yet, I don’t believe in making a sick film.”

“Govind babu (Govind Nihalani), Shyam babu (Shyam Benegal), Avatar Kaul and Mani Kaul never did make such films. While depicting any kind of exploitation such as of women, never does one feel repulsed while watching these films. These days, cinema is glorifying these things rather than conveying the undertones,” he rues. On a concluding note, he shares book lovers with invaluable information: “An additional bonus to the film will be looking at Gaikwad after he published the book in 1987. We will explore how after the book came out his community created dilemmas for him and how he de-notified the tribe.”

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