30 May 2006

Dark Side of the Epic

A review on Anand Patwardhan's documentary We Are Not Your Monkeys.

Anand Patwardhan’s We are not your Monkeys is about many things: the caste system, gender oppression and humanity.

Backdrop: The Ramayana.

Thematically, We are not your Monkeys could be broken down into two parts.

The first part is about the condition of Dalits, an untouchable caste in India, in today’s world. It talks about the dehumanization of the Dalits by the upper castes who call them “untouchables” and yet enjoy a comfortable life due to them. We see frames of Dalits doing all the dirty work like cleaning sewers, etc. to make life easier and much more livable for the upper caste people.

The second part is about the Ramayana. A dalit’s perspective that talks about caste oppression and lack of basic human rights in the Ramayana.

It starts off by telling us how Lord Ram, a foreigner, took over from the Dalits their land.

(Sanksrit literary scholars have actually found references over a take-over of a dark-skinned populace by nomadic Aryan tribes. Lord Ram belonged to the Aryan race and is hence portrayed as an outsider.)

Some excerpts:


“You portrayed our god Hanuman as a monkey.”

“You formed a monkey army to attack Lanka.”

“When you finally captured Lanka, you wanted Sita to prove her chastity to you.” (Portraying Lord Ram as a male chauvinist.)


There are also references to the Babri Masjid dispute at Ayodhya and their opposition to the issue.


“You now want a monkey army to grab Ayodhya. But this monkey army will not help you seize Ayodhya.”


The video ends thus:


We sing the song of humanity. And we will make you human as well.


“We are not your monkeys”, released in 1993, is only 5 minutes long. It is a music video. It is a song composed by Sambhaji Bhagat, Anand and the late Daya Pawar, and sung by Sambhaji Bhagar.

This perspective of the Ramayana, though very controversial, is novel and thought-provoking. It is something we haven’t heard. Though not many may agree to this perspective, it still makes one think for a long time.

The video is a must-watch. It is powerful and hard-hitting. It questions the character of one of the biggest heroes in Indian Mythology, a hero who has an “all white” character. It questions history, religion, and things we have believed in all our lives.

PS: The quotes I have mentioned above are from memory and hence may not be accurate.

© Guru Smaran

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