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The Rhythm of Caste

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Music is well known for its tranquilising effects, and songs in particular tend to linger in our minds for long periods of time. It also has a significant impact on the society. The article titled, “Beats of Misogyny” by Anjana Menon (EPW, 1 August 2020), denotes the misogyny and the deep-rooted patriarchal thoughts that exist within song lyrics in Malayalam cinema. In addition to that, songs appearing in the Malayalam cinema are not just propagating misogyny, but also caste hegemony.

There have been several discussions regarding the presence of caste dominance within Carnatic music, as pointed out by different scholars through articles in EPW. T M Krishna, a renowned Carnatic music vocalist, has mentioned in many instances that, “Carnatic music is a Brahmin-dominated world.” This notion of upper-caste dominance is reverberated and reinforced through Malayalam cinema. To further reinforce this notion, one of the most crucial techniques employed within Malayalam cinema is to build a storyline around women falling in love with the hero through their musical abilities. In most cases, these scenes involve Carnatic music or even music with a classical feel to it. The song “Nagumo” in the film Chithram (1988) evidently portrays a scenario where the heroine, who initially has an extreme dislike towards the hero, eventually falls in love with him post the song sequence. Beyond the storyline, there are some subtle references that revolve around casteism as the characters involved in this scene belong to the upper caste.

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