The Icon and The Iconoclast

The Icon and The Iconoclast, a short film directed by Vilasini Ramani, premiered at the Being Human Festival (BHF) on 16 November 2021. The short film is based on a conversation that reportedly happened between Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and Mahatma Gandhi in the year 1927. Over this conversation, Periyar, a rationalist anti-caste leader from South India and the key figure of the Dravidian Movement, and Mahatma Gandhi, the well-known pacifist leader of the Indian Independence Movement, discuss their views on religion and caste.

The Icon and The Iconoclast features Kishore as Periyar, Salmin Sheriff as Gandhi and Swami as S. Ramanathan, a close associate of Periyar. Kishore is a widely acclaimed actor in the Indian film industry. He is most known for his collaborations with the award-winning director Vetrimaaran, Pa Ranjith and he will be playing a key role in Mani Ratnam’s upcoming historical epic Ponniyin Selvan. Kanti, Polladhavan, Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu, Aadukalam, Haridass, Visaranai, Vada Chennai are some of the many films where his performance was greatly lauded. Salmin Sheriff is a playwright who has been involved in theatre for over 25 years and is a founding member of the theatre group Playpen. A well-known and much celebrated artist from Bengaluru, he has also acted in films, most notably Nirmal Anand ki Puppy and The Sky is Pink. Swami is a theatre artist based in Chennai, who has acted in the plays of renowned playwrights like Indira Parthasarathy and others, and The Icon and The Iconoclast is his film debut.

This is the second film for the director Vilasini, who is also a freelance publisher and translator. Her first film No Means No, which is a part of a trilogy titled Are You Divorced Yet?, is currently in post-production. The screening of The Icon and The Iconoclast at the BHF was well attended. The historical background to conversation between Periyar and Gandhi shown in the film was introduced by Dr. Karthick Ram Manoharan, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Wolverhampton, and the project consultant for the film. The event concluded with a spirited interactive session with the director, the actors and the attendees.

Within a month of its premiere, The Icon and The Iconoclast made it to the official selection of several international film festivals, winning awards and honorable mentions at a few.

Excerpt from Manoharan’s introduction below:

“I do think that this interaction throws good light on the approaches of these two leaders to caste and religion. Most importantly, it shows how these thinkers, with significantly different views on religion could nevertheless have a respectful dialogue with each other. Issues of religion involve difficult conversations, but they also need these difficult conversations. Of course, Periyar is greatly attractive to atheists and anti-casteists in India. But what about believers? To those who feel that their religion and caste is threatened, the views of Periyar might appear offensive and blasphemous. To those who are firm of faith, but are open to alternative viewpoints, they might find something humorous and perhaps even something to reflect on in this conversation between Periyar and Gandhi. The lead character of Umberto Eco’s The Name of The Rose says that the mission of those who love humanity is to make people laugh at divinely held truths. I hope our viewers today can laugh and learn from The Icon and The Iconoclast.

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