Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Open Letter to Kamal Hassan

Dear Mr. Hassan,

Let me start off saying that I am an admirer of you as an artist. As a Tamilian, I inevitably grew up watching your movies and I can say with little hesitation that I'm yet to see a better actor than you. I have always respected you for the fact that you are passionate about your art. I can still mouth dialogues of movies like Michael Madan Kamarajan, Avvai Shanmughi or Indian, even though I haven't seen many of them since several years now. I loved those movies then. I still do.

Having grown up outside the south, I was quite unaware of socio-political realities of Tamil Nadu. I was completely unaware of the anti-brahmin sentiment that existed in Tamil Nadu (my parents too never lived in Tamil Nadu). Unfortunately, now that I know a lot more about the subject, I have started understanding your movies better and there's one common thread running through most of your movies which I'm tired of seeing: brahmin bashing.

Admittedly, I am a tam brahm myself- not that ever I cared about it. Growing up in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, I was hardly ever aware of my caste. It never entitled me to any privileges, nor did it ever prove a disadvantage. Frankly, my caste identity has never made a pennyworth of difference to me. Whatever I am today, I have achieved out of my own efforts and good fortune. That's equally true of you Mr. Hassan, isn't it? The people of Tamil Nadu accepted you, nay, embraced you in spite of the fact that you were yourself born a paapan.
I know that my forebears were active protagonists in an inhuman social system. Its not something I'm proud of. I can completely understand the hatred for brahmins in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. However, I am unashamed about my identity Mr. Hassan, nor am I apologetic about it because I am not responsible for things that happened long long before I was even born. I happen to be a brahmin by accident of birth, not by my deeds. Truth be told, I never even bothered about it. Its people like you who make me aware of my caste identity.

I have never disrespected or judged anyone on the basis of his or her caste, nor will I ever do it. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same of you. The negative portrayals of tam brahms in your movies are far too frequent to be a coincidence. Its sad to see a great artist like you demeaning himself by reinforcing negative cultural stereotypes about a particular community.

I'm not in a position to judge anyone Mr. Hassan, let alone a living legend like you. If you've disowned your identity, so be it - that's entirely your prerogative. If you are confused or ashamed about your identity, that's for you to sort out, not for others who did nothing to create that situation. You may be a great artist, but that does not give you license to judge others on the basis of their caste. I am first and foremost, a human being. If others have the right to live a life of dignity, so do I.

I'm not asking you to change your views Mr. Hassan. I'm only asking you to be a good citizen and treat everyone equally, irrespective of their caste. Surely, that isn't too much to ask for.