Athiyan Athirai’s IUKG throws the spotlight on youth activism, showcasing inequality & oppression
Athiyan Athirai has quietly crept up on Kollywood with his earthy, in-your-face debut film, Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu (IUKG). The movie’s quirky title translates from Tamil to ‘the last bomb of the second world war’.
A steadfast communist by leaning, the director in fact categorically says that our nation’s future rests solely on the shoulders of the youth and how far they are ready to struggle will help shape a fair society, one that is equitable for all.
Here are excerpts from an interaction with Athirai.
Q: IUKG is a huge canvas. You have shown labour, exploitation, war and peace, the rich-poor divide, family dynamics, dignity of labour in the context of love between a lorry driver and a school teacher, solidarity of the working class, women’s empowerment, rural culture, belief, superstition and so much more. You have made a nuanced film, and people are talking about the minutiae. Was this a conscious decision?
A: Yes, very much. I wanted to portray the world as it is. There is so much happening around us in our daily struggles, and we are all what we are, what we shape ourselves to be. A few fans have asked me why I did not focus on only the struggles of the labour class or the love angle and explore it further. Each creator is different. For me, it was important to showcase everything, make it a more rounded story arc for even the minor character. Whatever I am aiming to say, should be understood by the audience. Just as how we use language as per the prevailing situation-like how we switch to Hindi and English when the other person does not know our language - cinema too should speak to the target audience. If I have succeeded in doing so, I can only say I am very happy.
Q: You have even used comedy tracks in a film that deals with a serious subject. Why is that?
A: Knives alone are not weapons. Humour is also a powerful weapon. 90% of movie goers fail to appreciate this reality. In fact, the comic track in cinema is so much a part of our culture that it has evolved into memes. They are so powerful and almost all of them are based on dialogues and situations from films. Be it in my village in Villupuram or in Teynampet Chennai, where I worked in a scrap metal shop, jokes were a part of our daily grind. In our village, my father and uncle used to bandy words, even when they were toiling on land; even during times of hardship, we do not forget to smile. Humour is very important.
Q: Today, youth activism is at a never-before-high and your film is all about youth activism. It shows the young fighters as fearless, in the face of police highhandedness and the power brokers. What inspired you?
A: Our youth, the next generation, is the bedrock of our hope and I am very happy to see them take up the challenges in a fight for a free and fair society. For me, life itself is the inspiration. As I said before, I come from a village and my father was a daily wage earner as a farm hand. Throughout school and even in college I was like many others, getting an education, trying to find my feet, while fascinated by technology, visual communication, etc. Later, when I working in a scrap dealer’s yard in Teynampet, I began to see the outside world and the story began to take shape. From concept to execution it was a tough journey, but I am happy to have pulled it off. All thanks to director Pa Ranjith, who agreed to produce the film.
Q: Throughout IUKG, there is this constant refrain of thozhar, which is evocative of a Communist. Many of the male activists are shown sporting a black shirt, which traditionally is associated with Periyarists. Which one are you?
A: I am a Communist, a Karl Marx devotee, but there is only a thin line between Communists, Periyarists or others with strong Dravidian ideology. What is important is to empathise with our fellow men and women. I grew up in a traditional, devout home, but as I grew up I began to question a lot of things and became a rational thinker. One can be anything but one should strive for a society where everyone is equal.
Q: In IUGK, the heroine’s brother is against her romance and goes to the extent of condoning a drowning attempt of her by his wife. Why is he against the match?
A: The caste nuances are often not appreciated by people. No one gives his daughter/sister to a man from the same caste if the man is poorer or not well employed. This is true of all castes, from the top to the bottom most. This is another kind of oppression, where one looks down upon another because of wealth or qualification. The rich can never empathise with the poor truly, they can only look down pityingly. The protagonist may be a lorry driver, but he is always thinking of improving himself, working and saving harder in order to buy his own lorry. We have to respect dignity of labour.
Q: What about your next film? What are you working on?
A: I am working on it. What I can tell you is that it will not have any negativity or vulgarity. Whatever I want to convey, I will do so in a positive manner. And, oh yes, I know the movie has to make money at the box office. So, I hope to be a responsible filmmaker all round.