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Kishore and Salmin Sheriff decode their short film on Periyar’s conversation with Gandhi

Called The Icon and the Iconoclast, the 18-minute short was recently screened at UK’s Being Human Festival.

Prathibha Joy
Nov 17, 2021
cover image
A still from The Icon and The Iconoclast

On Tuesday, the University of Wolverhampton had an online screening of the English short film The Icon and the Iconoclast, which captures a conversation between the Mahatma Gandhi and Periyar EV Ramasamy. The event was part of the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national fest of the humanities and was followed by a webinar with the cast and crew speaking about the film.

Directed by Vilasini Ramani, the 18-minute short The Icon and The Iconoclast captures the English translation of a a conversation that reportedly happened between Periyar and Gandhi in 1927. During this conversation, Periyar, a rationalist anti-caste leader from Tamil Nadu and the key figure of the Dravidian Movement, and Gandhi, the well-known pacifist leader of the Indian Independence Movement, discuss their views on religion. Where Gandhi, a believing Hindu, argued that it was possible to reform Hinduism from within, Periyar, an atheist who was sharply critical of religion in general, claimed that Hinduism had to be removed for any reform to be lasting. The film also shows how two thinkers with radically different views on religion could nevertheless have a respectful dialogue with each other.

Featuring actors Kishore as Periyar and Salmin Sheriff as Gandhi and Swami as S Ramanathan, a close associate of Periyar, the short leaves audiences pondering given that Gandhi was assassinated by a right-wing Brahmin.

Kishore as Periyar in the film

Speaking at the webinar, Kishore started, “I am very happy to be a tool for a discussion which is very relevant today. It is perhaps far more relevant today than it was before. Let’s also have a conversation, which is the most important part of this film – a conversation with audiences on what is necessary.”

Salmin said, “The subject of this film is so interesting, because it has to do with caste in India, which is a huge issue and has been there for centuries. Rather than try and look like Gandhi, I decided to play with the emotions of the dialogue between him and Periyar. I think it worked out really well. Periyar didn’t only speak about caste and religion; he was very vocal about women’s rights too, so it is important that we remember that. Indian history books don’t mention or give him enough credit for what he did. I also feel that there is an erasure in history books about him. If you step out of Tamil Nadu, perhaps even in the rest of south India, not many know about Periyar and they should. The North of India, of course, knows absolutely nothing. It is important to know people like Periyar who tried to bring in so much social reform.”

Salmin Sheriff as Gandhi in the film

Agreeing with Salmin, Kishore added, “Whether we agree with what Periyar said or not, it is important that we know about him and his ideas. He is a representation and reminder of all the problems we’ve had in our country because of religion. He spoke against oppression and discrimination of all sorts and not only caste based. What makes him relevant today is that the discrimination is at another level; it may not be as pronounced, but it is still there."

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