Ram ka kya hoga? Part III of the Dalit Women Speak Out Conference

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Premalata is a 23- year-old MBA graduate from Telangana. I met her on Day Two of the Dalit Women Speak Out conference in Pune, 20 Dec 2017.

When I first saw her, she was angrily untangling the beads from her dupatta. She had just ended a very upsetting phone conversation. She snapped the phone shut and jammed it inside her bag. On the other end of the phone, I had heard a man who was persistently asking her where she was.

Poooonaaa, pooonaaa. Pooongaa alla pa, thooo. Poooonaaaa, she’d screamed. After she noticed me, she smiled apologetically and began straightening the creases on her orange Anarkali salwar-kameez.

–          Appa? I asked, pointing to the phone now recovering in her bag. Father?

–          Illa. Mera Maama – Morning se phone karta. No, my uncle. Has been calling since morning.

This girl was my heroine. She’d refused to give the annoying uncle any bhaav, and now she didn’t want to waste her time talking about him.

She saw my open notebook and asked if I was writing about the conference.

Yes, I tell her but I want to write about her. Is that ok?

She giggled and said, “Main itna bada aadmi nahi hoon.” But I’m not a big man.

“Main bhi itna bada aadmi nahi hoon.” I’m also not a big man.

She smiled and I was distracted by the calm in her eyes. I didn’t know Telugu and she didn’t know English so in our garbled Hindis we continued to talk.

She said she was fighting with her family because they didn’t want her to work. And that she was seeking an NGO’s help to negotiate with her parents.

When she thought she’d said enough she began interviewing me.

–          Tum kya karta? What do you do?

–          Main English teacher. I teach English.

I thought back to what I knew about Telugu and grudgingly arrived at fair-skinned heroes against shiny backdrops of big temples; and bubbly heroines with flowing hair. But I’m wondering what her version of the language is.

So I asked her the most personal, most important question in my life.

Tum picture dekhta? Do you watch films?

She nodded wildly and her eyes looked like they were swallowing me along with the entire room.

–          Tumko heros main kaun pasand? Who is your favourite hero?

–          Ram, she blinked.

–          Kaunsa Ram? Ram Charan Teja? Which Ram?

Cheeee! Her face tightened up with disgust and my eyes widened with surprise.

–          Toh phir kaunsa Ram? Then which Ram?

–          Ek hain Ram karke. Ready main bahut acha acting kiya woh. Ram has done super acting in the film Ready.

I felt slaughtered. I was desperate but equally dreading her answer to my next question.

–          Mahesh Babu pasand? Do you like Mahesh Babu?

 Cheeeee! She squirmed again.

–          Kyuu? Sabko pasand hai na Mahesh Babu? Why? Everyone loves Mahesh Babu no?

–          Agar sabhi log Mahesh Babu ko pasand karenge, toh Ram ka kya hoga? (I don’t want to translate this sentence. English doesn’t deserve it)

My shame shame -puppy shame evaporated because I had fallen in love with her. I was too unsettled to say anything but her eyes were calmer than ever as she stifled her guffaws behind the beady orange dupatta.

Even before I could ask her the next question, she had answered– “Genelia girls main pasand.” In girls, I like Genelia.

And then she blushed like red balloons.

–          Tum idar kaisa aaya, she asked me. How did you come here?

–          Plane.

–          Akela? Alone?

–          Haan.

–          Tum bahut daaare, she said, giving the English word the lift of a plane taking off. And with a thumbs up in my direction, her eyes drank all of us in again.

Premalata gave me more moments to live in than all the waste Telugu friends from college who gave me nothing more than dabba fair heroes to remember them by.

I think of her occasionally and every time I do, I wonder why I didn’t ask to take her picture. Then I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. You can’t trust cameras for moments like these.

As I left the room after saying bye to her that day, I fished my phone out and began looking for Telugu actor Ram. Google showed me pictures of Ram Charan Teja. I rolled my eyes.

Rudhramadevi

cine_gallery_41442299526I like the end -semester time when nothing happens as planned. Last semester was the coolest. I spent three days of my pre-invigilation week sitting at my desk and reading. Sadly, this has left me with an odd sense of competition with myself. Every time the end-semester time is around the corner, I roll up my sleeves in anticipation of what I’m about to do next. Which these days, is to wave at the passing time from a distance and complain about not having any free time. In compensation for this, my bruised ego mooed twice when I decided to go watch Rudhramadevi at Vision yesterday.

So when I stood in the queue to collect my 3D glasses, a fight broke out between two men who were standing in front of me. One refused to pay ten bucks for the glasses so the other man told him to go rip his own pubic hair off. The man who refused to pay was being dragged into the theatre by his friends but he sprinted back and asked him if he really should rip his own pubic hair off (Yenande? Naanu shaata terkobeka?) I giggled and stood watching this for sometime.

Hoping that my seat would be nowhere near the pubic hair man’s, I walked in and found that sitting next to me was a middle-aged woman who sighed when I took the seat next to hers. Her husband who was sitting on her other side sighed louder. Behind me, a bunch of Telugu speaking college boys sat and proclaimed deep lou for Allu Arjun.

‘Screw you’, I said. I was here for Anushka Shetty. Actually Jejamma. But I forgot about Jejamma sooner than I want to admit because there was more Bahubali in the movie than Jejamma.

The movie opens with Marco Polo (I swear) addressing a board meeting that quickly ends when he expresses respect for Rudhramadevi. Rudhramadevi is the princess of Kakatiya dynasty, who upon birth was declared a boy because the enemies would have usurped the throne if they found out that the queen had failed to produce a male heir.  So Rudhramadevi becomes Rudradeva and is oblivious to her sex throughout her childhood.

It’s when she sees boobs on a sculpture for the first time that she becomes suspicious.

In a startling throwback to Bahubali, Rudradeva looks at his reflection in a pool of water and sees Rudhramadevi – a girl. Next thing she knows, her pants are wet with her menstrual blood. And so it is that she becomes a woman. Taking a slight detour away from Bahubali, the woman here becomes a woman by her own accord; though this is something that will eventually get punctured more than twice in the movie.

So she is Rudradeva by day – riding eloquent white horses, sword-fighting the crap out of her male cousins, taming a wild elephant with her bare hands, escaping death loads of times, apparently doing everything men do. By night, however, she escapes through a trapdoor, goes underground and embraces her womanhood with all her might — which means that she becomes fairer, more charming, dances and sings with other women, apparently doing everything women do.

Actress Anushka in Rudramadevi Movie Stills

This goes on for a while and then Allu Arjun comes and everybody in the movie and in the theatre salivated. See, I like the man, he’s gorgeous and something about the way he delivers his dialogues is like watching Telugu slam poetry.  But post his entry, the movie seemed to slow down and I started missing Bahubali. It seemed almost deliberate how the narration suffered at this point. As if everybody in the movie literally stepped out and made space for him so he could emerge triumphant.

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I wondered if this happened because the movie was trying too hard to cast him as an equal to Rudhramadevi. It became very visible because this is something he didn’t have to struggle for in Arya 1 & 2 or any of his other movies for that matter.

Chalukya Veerabhadra (played by Rana Daggubati) seemed to make up for this slack in direction. In another tribute to Bahubali, while sword-fighting with Rudradeva, Veerabhadra accidentally disrobes Rudradeva and finds Rudhramadevi, the woman he’s been in love with. This quickly became one among the very few moments when the movie surprised me. And this is because I expected something to happen after this earth-shattering revelation but as I came to learn, nothing happened.

Nothing ever happens. This is probably why I liked the movie a little bit because there is this one big secret that you know and you hold on to, like you would an ice- cream. You expect it to melt but it doesn’t.

I sat up straight when Rudhramadevi’s marriage to Muktamba (Nithya Menen) was fixed. I was convinced that they would not get married. When they got engaged, I told myself that I would be the happiest woman in the world if they get married. And they do get married. The woman sitting next to me quietly giggled into her husband’s shoulder when they did. And that’s the proof that they did get married.

I waited for the ice-cream to melt because now I was sure that it would. But on their first night, Rudradeva uses the poor state of his kingdom as an excuse to avoid sex. Later in the movie however, it is revealed that Muktamba knew long before anybody else did that Rudradeva is Rudhramadevi. When their fingers touched to exchange rings during their engagement, Muktamba knew but decided to go ahead with the marriage anyway.

Much as I enjoyed this conversation and the fact that they remain married, I couldn’t find what I abundantly found in Arundhati or even Bahubali; which was an easy relationship that I had with the characters. Everytime Rudhramadevi picked up a sword, I was praying no man would come and help her. This was something I didn’t have to worry about when Jejamma picked up a sword.

In Bahubali, I was able to prod my way into the story. I was aware of how captivated I was for a full three hours and fifteen minutes. Right from Bahubali climbing the enormous mountain to Ramya Krishna killing a man with one arm while she held an infant in the other — to the epic war scenes.

This is something that Rudhramadevi doesn’t give its audience. However, I do take consolation in the fact that my favourite scene in the movie has Muktamba and her friends drunk as hell and teasing each other.

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