Analysing the feudal, casteist masculinity portrayed in Viswasam, Petta

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 24, 2019 15:03 hrs
viswasam petta

Immanuel Nehemiah on the masculinist violence of Petta and Viswasam predicated on caste.

A teenager set his sleeping father on fire in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu after the latter refused to give him money to watch Ajith’ s Viswasam which displays the valour of “the hero,” the masculine ideal to be, along with Rajini’s Petta. The victim isn’t just the father who lives to with a distorted, burnt face but also the son who tried burning the father. The victim is not the primarily affected as projected by the mainstream media but rather the one who is manipulated and directed to exercise the act of violence.

Usually the provinces of the poor and their living spaces are the venues where such episodes are recorded, as though the poor are themselves the reasons of their own “affectedness” and “victimhood”. In a way, the dominant construct the very idea of experience. The public in general are continuously informed by the dominant caste, class and gender bias, thereby a disfigured projection of facts and actualities are accepted as the ‘truth.’

On the other hand the cheri, the colony, the slum, are the places where the assumed hero lives and his heroism sustained, a caste, class and gender bias manufacture. MGR, Amma, Kalainar, Rajini, Vijay, Ajith and many more are held high. Some among the older generation in Tamil Nadu still believe that MGR lives. This is one among the many grave, hopeless and despotic realities that compound the life of the vulnerable in the state and country.

Teenagers and young people in Tamil Nadu and other states in the country are governed, inspired and misdirected by a fascist, jingoistic, fanatical rhetoric. Though Ajith might not take responsibility for his fan club, he is definitely in line with the culture that subordinates, discriminates and affects the flow of young people’s imagination of themselves, the present and the future. What one must consider today, apart from the exuberant inaugural celebrations of movies like Viswasam and Petta are the stars cast(e/e)s and their projection of the ideal.

In Viswasam and Petta, a masculine, protective, successful and vengeful fatherhood is portrayed as the ideal and, on the other hand, both the movies subtly project the Dalits and their weapon (the parai) of resistance and tools of celebrations as subordinate to the vigorous command of the elite, feudal caste hero. Brutality marks his governance and continues the culture of how privileged men and women demean the lives of the vulnerable.

In Viswasam, Ajith, the uneducated feudal lord who rules and reigns over the village and its whereabouts, is further privileged with the woman who is a fair, cosmetically fashioned, luxuriously dressed doctor, surrounded. After the marriage when Nayanthara is on her way to the pursuit of her career is accompanied by a huge mass of family and people, along with some parai artists. The focus of the camera is on the hero and Ajith loudly and vigorously asks the parai artists to play the parai even more effectively.

In Petta, Rajini, in a funeral scene, decides to kill the perceived enemy at the funeral. He gets up from the chair, walks towards the parai artists and tells them in a commanding, stern voice to play brightly, then stylishly walks towards the car where the gun is located. These two scenes may be accepted as mass scenes. They disclose the patriarchal, casteist nature of mass entertainment, where the art forms and aesthetics of the Dalits are used and subdued by caste war lords.

Throughout Petta, Rajini addresses the students as kuzhandhaigala, in patronizing avuncular and at the climax discloses to the character played by Vijay Sethupathy how he manipulated and orchestrated the entire pogrom with the notion of being a father and a father who was inspired by Rama, the avatar of the divine.

Rajini is the saffron inherent not the characters played by Vijay Sethupathy or Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who claim their fascist inclinations in the movie. Rajini’s Rama rhetoric is the unintended twist by Karthik Subbaraj, his casteist Freudian slip.

Ajith, on the other hand, shows how a feudal rural father is the ideal protector of justice in the village and also the father who protects his family with heroic gestures, like physical strength and masculine intelligence. These stereotypes projected in both the movies are not ideals that even the women in general are asked to look for but these are projections of caste and gender impunity traits that men live by.

Films like Petta and Viswasam will be made not only to subdue the imaginations of young people and larger society but also to remind and inform the public about the feudal necessity of caste and patriarchy. Both movies display how caste and the masculine, macho maleness is the credo to live by and also how caste pride is important at all levels. The poor and the Dalits are to be at the disposal and mercy of the dominating caste men who will be embraced, celebrated and applauded by their women and held high as the man to the beat of the parai.

Experiences of a young person burning his own father for not giving him the money to watch Viswasam play out the plot intended by the dominant caste, in this case of the film industry and its feudal lords.

Read more at:

What the beheading of a TN Dalit girl says about us

Miners you should be wary of Rajinikanth and Sterlite's Anil Agarwal

The Dalit Erasure of Ilayaraja

The case of Dr M Mariraj: Caste is all around us

Dalits, Tamil cinema and Tamil society

Rev. Immanuel Nehemiah is a pastor at two churches in Zuzuwadi, Hosur and Electronic City, Bangalore.

Note: The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not of