Art & Culture

Dashakriya is an offensive film, it attempts to democratise Brahminism

Suraj Kumar Thube
Suraj Kumar ThubeDec 03, 2017 | 17:59

Dashakriya is an offensive film, it attempts to democratise Brahminism

As the Padmavati controversy intensifies, there are a few other films whose controversial content has gone largely unnoticed. In the city of Pune, the vitriolic attack of the fringe groups was directed at the recent National Award winning film, Dashakriya (10th day ritual for the deceased).

The storyline revolves around how a bunch of venal Kirvanta Brahmins extort money from indigent families for the last rites of their kin. This financial exploitation under the pretext of ensuring moksha (salvation) for the dead is based in Maharashtra's Paithan, also known as the "Benares of the west". This area was under attack from organisations such as the Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Mahasabha and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, as they believed the core tenets of their religion were being tampered with for a nefarious purpose. Even though the film has been widely applauded for its progressivism, the storyline needs to be dug deeper for a more critical understanding of the same.


After watching the film, it becomes clear that there is no problem with religion per se. The problem lies with those who interpret it. In the penultimate scene where the Kirvant Brahmins refuse to perform the last rites of the Savkar of the village as he had humiliated them recently, Bhanya, the child who normally collects coins with his iron sieve during the ashes immersion ritual in the river, is shown to be performing the Dahskriya ritual. This is purportedly "progressive".


To extend the moral argument of the storyline highlighted above, one can say that making a business out of rituals is immoral, so we democratise Brahmanism.

This reminds me of the incessant glorification that came in the way of the Kerala Dalits, who were appointed as priests recently under the auspices of the Devaswom board. In both cases, we are made to believe that something truly unprecedented has happened. However, the sanctum sanctorum of the world of Brahminism remains unscathed. The hegemonic ideas continue to reign supreme by generating a feeling of faux happiness. Democratisation as a process sounds promising. But the more important question is democratisation of what? Dashakriya doesn't answer this question.


It is surprising to see a rancorous response by the fringe groups to something which is, strictly speaking, not an attack on their core beliefs. Interestingly, the film is about the pervasive avarice of the Paithan Brahmins.

For those who are aware of the territoriality and the rootedness of the feudal networks that come along with it, the relationship between Brahmins coming from different parts of the country is extremely bitter.

There is a scene in the film which shows how the Paithan Brahmins will not entertain the Nashik Brahmins to perform the last rites of the Savkar. The body turns into a space where everyday feudal dealings are carried out. They signify not just the territorial differences but also the peculiar cultural baggage that come with one's sense of the local.

Bhanya is one of the central characters, who is fun loving, jovial and a street-smart chap who knows how to deal with practical vagaries of everyday life. However, his street-smart attitude is conveniently extended to show how he knows what he is doing while performing the last rites.

This made me wonder as to how exactly is the exploitation by the Brahmins any different from this one where the kid's innocence gets preyed upon by making him feel that he is performing a morally superior task. He is good at mathematics and science in school. This almost makes one feel that he is treading a logical path that will one day see him become a scientist who seeks blessings from a nearby temple before launching satellites. Quite simply, tradition and "progressivism" commingle with ease.



Moving ahead, the two- hour-17-minute movie has only two shades of life to offer: happiness and grief. People are happy when a marriage commences whereas they are seen mourning the death of a loved one signifying grief. This village life is lived on polar extremes. There is no space for an overlapping mixture of multiple emotions. Even happiness and grief revolve around one single activity each. The one single exception is villagers thronging the local liquor shop whenever the fleeting moments of happiness begin to fade.

The cultural fabric of Paithan is seldom scratched to unearth the social grammar of the landscape.

The caricaturing of the village continues when one thinks about the larger issue of how art and artistry get depicted on-screen, especially in the much glorified Marathi films of late. Not casting local people in lead roles reinforces the perception about how urbanites posses the virtues of art and artistry while the rural folk are better off congregating as the nameless and the faceless in the background.

In films like these where established actors having roots in an urban lifestyle get transported to a completely different social geography, the dissonance between the modern day sensibilities of the actors and the actual lived realities of the rural realities is extremely sharp. Another pertinent issue is how does one deal with notions of time and temporality? As the film is an adaptation of a 1994 novel in Marathi, how much of the earthiness can one really maintain in the process of offering it as a novel and making it more accessible to the urban mind? Have the feelings mentioned above been the same in their invocation over the past 20 years?

The film falls flat on these questions as modern contrivances have an overweening dominance in bringing alive a distant memory of the past. In this way, the ambiguity of the universality of Brahminism comes back to haunt the progressivism, which was the purported intent of director Sandeep Patil.

The novel change then that appears in the end of the film fails to jettison itself from its hegemonic rootedness in the remotest antiquity.

Last updated: June 25, 2018 | 13:52
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