Director Jayan K Cherian's Papilio Buddha is a strong statement against the hypocritical stance of the society when it comes to Dalits and their issues. In the process, the film questions certain conventional thoughts and beliefs, which exist here for several decades now.
Shankaran (Sreekumar) is an educated youth and the son of a Dalit activist named Kariyan (Kallen Pokkudan), who wants to move away from the discrimination shown towards to his group. He is having a gay relationship with an American lepidopterist, who is in search of Papilio Buddha, a rare species of butterfly found in the forest region.
After a while, an auto rickshaw driver named Manjusree (Saritha) is brutally raped by fellow auto drivers, when she opposes the sexual advances of their leader. There is an NGO working to help the tribal groups but they barely do anything worthwhile to find a solution to their actual sufferings.
After several setbacks, Shankaran realizes the insincerity of the society and the attitude towards the lower caste people. He has a sexual relationship with Manju and slowly, he realizes the need to support the causes of the oppressed class. The Dalit groups move closer towards Buddhism and turns to violence, vehemently opposing the Gandhian peace talks that results in brutal attacks from the authorities.
The issues raised by the film are bold, provocative and the film ferociously questions the existing beliefs. The double standards taken on issues concerning the Dalits, the agonies that women suffer, the corruption in the values and the double standards of the so-called activists all come under the scanner here.
Papilio Buddha is meant for the viewers who are ready to look beyond ourselves and acknowledge the existence of a society where we live. The partial treatment meted out to a sidelined population and to women reminds of some of the widely discussed topics in Kerala.
From the Muthanga and Chengara controversies, the ruthless attack on a woman auto driver at Payyannur, the DHRM movement and the issue where a group of Dalits accepted Buddhism are being handled here.
You can agree to the politics put forward by the film or not, but it is for certain that this film will make the viewers think about certain issues that remain ignored by the privileged classes in the society. But even while the film succeeds in generating such thoughts and also in making some bold stances, the script tends to be inconsistent at times. The film is not taking any particular side as such and leaves it to the viewer to discuss the issues.
The film had generated controversy after being refused a censor certificate due to its provocative content, dialogues and nudity. Even with the many cuts, the film shakes you up in a fantastic way.
M J Radhakrishnan's excellent visuals are one of the highlights of the film. The performances of the film's main cast, including Saritha, Sreekumar and Pokkudan need to be applauded. Padmapriya's presence is limited to some minutes.
The statements put forward by Papilio Buddha needs to be discussed by the society and here is a movie with its heart at the right place. The inherent honesty with which the film has been made needs appreciation.
It's not often that you witness such brave, genuine attempts on screen. You can accept the ideas or oppose it all, but this film will make you think for sure. Don't miss this one!
Verdict: Very Good