‘An attempt to shrink the gulf of caste’: 18 feet director Renjith Kuzhur

Award-winning documentary on caste and the music of resolution screened at SiGNS 2016


Kochi, Oct 2: In a scene from Renjith Kuzhur’s documentary 18 feet, a cast member narrates an incident from his school days. When Akhilesh’s teacher asks him where he resides, he is hesitant to say that he is from a ‘Parayar’ colony. When he answers, the other students and the teacher laugh.

This binary of reluctance and ridicule is the crux of casteism and its adversities, Kuzhur said. “A person from a marginalised community should never feel inferior to anyone else because of identity. Transformation should happen from both sides,” he said.

A 77-minute documentary made over a span of eight years, 18 feet – Kuzhur’s debut – follows the cult indigenous music band ‘Karinthalakootam’ and its music of resolution. The production follows the band members, all from the Dalit community, who share their experiences with casteism and how they overcome them through their music.

18 feet won the Best Director award in the documentary section at the Kerala state awards and the Best Editor award at the Mumbai international Film Festival. The documentary, in the competition section at SiGNS 2016, was screened on Saturday.

The title symbolises the distance oppressed castes were required to keep so as to preserve upper caste ‘sanctity’. “Caste and casteism prevails even today. There is no denying it. Fighting it from within is the way forward,” Kuzhur said.

“It was hard to extract their experiences at first, though I have known all of them from childhood,” he said. “But once they started to open up, it was an emotional release, which I tried to capture with authenticity.”

After the documentary was screened at ‘Vadama’, a village in Thrissur from where the band members hail from, their relatives and people from the Dalit community expressed a new sense of self-assurance, Renjith said.

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