Sarapatta Parambarai is about the victory of inherited strength, not inherited wealth. The philosophy of Buddha and Babasaheb both reiterated the cultivation of the mind to hone it into a disciplined, focused scalpel to build social heritage. The social heritage we build will be used by the next generation to out-punch their opposition. The film, released on Amazon Prime, starts as a battle of the entire fraternity of the Sarpatta boxing clan to win back their honour yet it also becomes an individual’s struggle with Anicca which sets him in pursuit of Sadhamma to cleanse himself of all impurities.
To the non-Bahujans, Sarpatta Parambarai may seem like a sport drama following the usual storyline of the reluctant heir pushed into boxing to save the clan pride, and coming out victorious after battling his inner and outer demons. But for us, it is a moment of finally watching our stories on screen.
Sarpatta Parambarai is about Kabilan (Arya), a dock worker who labours daily at the Madras port carrying heavy sacks of grains on his strong back, and probably only wants a permanent job at the dock to secure his future. However, boxing has a special place in his heart, thanks to his deceased boxer father. It is a sport that was introduced in Madras by the British as a form of modified Tamil boxing. The lower castes have always had a tradition of physical prowess and mental toughness. Malkhamb (gymnast’s pole) and kushti (mud wrestling) have a rich history in Maharashtra; Ustads would come to the Maharwadas to select the budding wrestlers. Sarpatta shows similar wadas in Tamil Nadu, with Babasaheb, Periyar, C.N. Annadurai, Karunanidhi and Dhamma Wheel images dominating the background and a statue of Buddha prominently displayed while Kabilan, the boxer protagonist practices and trains under his coach, Ranga (Pasupathy). Ranga Vatthiyar as the coach is the cement holding Kabilan and the movie together- as the triumphant retired boxer, the strong detached leader, one of the many among the clan and trying to keep the clan together. The clan is shown to be akin to a Sangha democracy, where everyone’s voice is heard and decisions reached are supported by all.
The political undercurrent runs through the entire film, including the arrest of the coach Ranga (of DMK) during Emergency, which derails Kabilan. He, along with Ranga’s boxer son Vetriselvan (Harikrishnan), takes to the vice of brewing and drinking liquor, which has destroyed countless Bahujan families. However, it is not the upper caste but another Bahujan, a boxing coach who is a fisherman, who helps Kabilan find his footing again and trains him for his final bout with rival Vembuli (Kokken) of the Idiyappa clan.
Ranjith uses this film to point to the common ancestry of the rival clans and the class struggle within the clans, with the better off in the Sarpatta clan willing to use all means possible to help the rival Idiyappa clan win the match and hence, gain power within their clan. The ruling Idiyappa clan is also shown to have no qualms about committing fouls if it helps them gain supremacy. But the working-class background with the thatched houses, the Idiyappa boxing champion labouring on making banana leaf patravalis (dining plates) and the presence of livestock makes the social background of the clans very clear.
This movie also shows the easy camaraderie between the various Bahujan castes and religions. Kabilan’s close friend is another memorable character, Kevin ‘Daddy’ (Vijay), a Christian ex-boxer. He also tosses a few flirtatious one-liners to the newlywed couple of Kabilan and Mariyamma (Vijayan). His teammate is a Muslim boxer.
We again see that for Bahujan families, equality starts at home. The women are adults- articulate and assertive, and the men and women are shown as partners and companions. Kabilan’s mother, Bakiyyam (Kumar), the single mother who works as a cook asserts that she is a worker, not a slave. Mariyamma as the vivacious wife demands that she be fed dinner before Kabilan sets out to his coach; Vetri’s wife, Lakshmi (Natarajan) stands up to her father-in-law in defence of her husband.
Pa Ranjith uses colours and symbols to show social locations. Though used more vividly in Kaala, here he uses the colours to show the antagonism between the Tamil party of DMK and the Congress at the Centre in Delhi and later the blue scarves are prominent around the port workers neck. Besides the Dravidian parties, the film also shows the Republican Party of India, which has its roots in Babasaheb’s Scheduled Caste Federation. They gift the blue coloured robe to Kabilan for his final match.
Like the Buddha, it is only when Kabilan sets out to search for who he does he realise the meaning of Atta Deep Bhava. The philosophy of Buddha is contained in the last song where Kabilan digs deep within himself and wins back control over his mind and body. The stunning scene where Kabilan walks out of the ocean, punching, is akin to Moses leading himself to the Promised Land, or perhaps he now begins to experience Atta Dwipa Bhava. He enters the ring wearing the blue colour of metta, peace and emancipation for all. In the end, coach Ranga in white guides Kabilan to the last few steps to personal liberation.
This movie is one of the finest from Pa Ranjith. Maybe we need to start learning Tamil now to thank this master artist!
Writer Dr Anuradha Bele, a social activist is a veterinary doctor and an engineer with a degree in management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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