Renjith Kuzhur, born in 1982, graduated from the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata, with a specialization in Film Editing. His achievements as an editor include a diploma film, which won the best film award at the National Students Film festival in 2014 and Kapila, which won the national award in 2015. His works as an editor have been screened at film festivals like Munich Film festival, Beijing International Student Video and Film Festival, International Film Festival of India, International Film Festival of Kolkata, Mumbai International film Festival, Switzerland and International Short and Documentary Film Festival of Kerala.
18 Feet by Renjith Kuzhur (A film review): The film raises important questions about Dalits, untouchability, and India in the 21st century.
Remesh asks his father, once one of many Dalits bought by a local landlord, “How can anybody buy human beings as if they were inanimate objects?” The father has a simple explanation. “A landlord needs serfs to work on his land. He has the money. So he buys them.”
This matter of fact approach, non-pity narrative continues through this amazing film from debut filmmaker, Renjith Kuzhur, who won the prestigious Best Editor award 2016 at Mumbai International Film Festival 2016 as well as Best Director (documentary) 2015, Kerala for his film, 18 Feet.
18 Feet, as explained later in the film, refers to the distance an untouchable or a pariah must keep from the upper castes. When Remesh asks his father what happened if this distance was violated, he replies simply, then we were beaten. As the conversation continues, much as the weather is discussed, he further asks, were you ever beaten? To which the father replies, yes, by the grandfather of such and such…
18 Feet, as the director, Renjith, explained last night, when we were in conversation after his first screening in New Delhi, at the India Habitat Centre, is shot completely in Vadama, Thrissur district, Kerala. When I asked him how he got the idea of this film, he says they all live in the same village and it took him a while to gain the trust of the band members, Ramesh’s mother, for example, would pose like a statue initially when he would show up with a camera, but over time, opened up to sharing her innermost thoughts. Because after a while, they stop noticing the camera.
The band is called Karinthalakkoottam, and its founder explained how it came to be, that he just started writing the songs of the oral tradition, celebrating life, love, nature, harmony, and it grew organically. “Falcon in the sky, bring my baby a wink of sleep,” they sing. “For three months we eat this leaf and that leaf/ For three months we eat this fruit and that fruit/ For three months we eat this tuber and that tuber/For three months we eat this and that.” The joy and exuberance belies the hardship behind their lives, often living on or below the poverty line. In Remesh’s words to his band: “Black is strength. Don’t deny who you are. Hold your head high and say you are a Pariah.”
18 Feet is 77 minutes long and is not a minute too long. A second screening is scheduled at JNU tomorrow, 8 October. I strongly urge you to go and watch. If not for the message, then for the catchy music and beats.
18 Feet took eight years to complete and the film effortlessly travels between the amazing music and the live performances of this band, Karinthalakoottam, that Remesh, bus conductor by day, runs. It raises important questions about Dalits, untouchability, and India in the 21st century. Unfortunately, though a lot has changed, it is far from enough. Band members recall how they were ragged at tuition class, at school; how one member had a crush on a girl, but when she found out his address, Pariah Colony, she stopped talking with him. The ease with which these terms are discussed, yes, we are pariahs, we live in the pariah colony (which has abhorrent conditions) makes one sit up straight and watch the entire documentary with rapt attention.