In an exclusive interview to The Federal, Kannada filmmaker Nagashekar talks about ‘Bhima Koregaon’, his multilingual feature film, which will be released on January 1, 2025

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The success of filmmakers in portraying Dalit sensibilities in the Indian cinema in recent years appears to have changed the dynamics of ‘star-centric’ trend and managed to raise critical questions about the representation of the oppressed and the minority castes on the silver screen.

The Kannada cinema, which took up daring themes and questioned the caste hegemony in the 1970s and the 1980s, has kept away from making films on the caste conflict in recent decades. For this, the general reason being attributed to by sensitive Kannada filmmakers is the ‘risk factor’, especially, when it comes to ensuring a return on their investments. Kambala Halli (2002), a Kannada film made by Senthilnathan Jambulingam on the Kambalapalli outrage in which seven Dalits were burnt to death by upper-caste Hindus, failed miserably at the box office.

Mahars’ role in Bhima Koregaon

Undeterred by the treatment meted out to films on Dalit issues, Nagashekar, a popular filmmaker, has mustered the courage to make a Kannada feature film on the historic battle of Bhima Koregaon. The film, titled Bhima Koregaon, delineates historical events that led to the defeat of a Peshwa army, led by Peshwa Baji Rao II, in Koregaon on January 1, 1818 battle between British Army and the Peshwas. Since then, Bhima Koregaon is associated with an important phase of Maratha history.

The British forces, led by Captain Francis Staunton, with 500 soldiers from the Mahar (Dalit) community, defeated 28,000 warriors of the Peshwa and defended their position for nearly 12 hours, before the withdrawal of Peshwa troops. This battle attained a legendary stature for Dalits, who considered the win as a victory of the Mahars against the injustices perpetrated against them by the Peshwas for decades. A pillar, known as Vijay Sthamb (victory pillar), was installed by the East India Company in memory of those who fought for them in the battle. It is this pillar that thousands of Dalits come to pay their respects on January 1 every year.

The multi-crore, multilingual project

The poster of Bhima Koregaon, produced by Chalavadi Kumar, was launched in Bengaluru recently. Noted journalist and writer Sarju Katkar and filmmaker Chakravarthy Chandrachud are jointly writing the script for this ambitious multilingual film with multi-crore budget.

Nagashekar wants popular actor Sudeep to essay the role of Sidhnak Mahar of Mahar regiment and Deepika Padukone as female lead

Though the cast for the film has not been finalised, Nagashekar wants popular actor Sudeep to essay the role of Sidhnak Mahar of Mahar regiment and Deepika Padukone as female lead. “So far, we have not approached Sudeep and Deepika. But I kept Sudeep and Deepika in my mind when I dreamt of making Bhima Koregaon,” says Nagaeshekar in an exclusive interview with The Federal.

There is little doubt that it is a multi-crore project. “I am not worried about the budget. I am prepared to provide whatever filmmaker demands in making this historic film,” says producer Chalavadi Kumar, adding “Bhima Koregaon will become the ‘Dalit Files’, like Kashmir Files and Kerala Files.

The inspiration

Bhima Koregaon is not the first film to be made on the participation of Mahars in the Koregaon battle. Filmmaker Somnath Waghmare made a 50-minute documentary film, The Battle of Bhima Koregaon; An Unending Journey, in April 2017. A crowd-funded film, it was screened in the first-ever Dalit Film and Cultural Festival at Columbia University, New York.

What triggered Nagashekar and his team of writers to make a film on Bhima Koregaon? “The Bhima Koregaon battle has no mention in the text books, which talks about the Anglo-Maratha War. No one knows why this chapter from 200-year-old history has been conveniently forgotten. But, the present day ultra-nationalists are treating Mahars as traitors. It is right for those who claim to respect native history. On reading every minute detail about events that led to the battle of Bhima Koregaon, I wept silently and decided to make a film on this subject,” Nagashekar states.

Chalavadi Mahasabha and Jnanaprakash Swamiji of Chalavadi Urilingapeddi mutt of Mysuru and the entire Dalit community are behind this project. Noted intellectuals of Karnataka, including B. Gopal, Dr Raveendra Nath, politician Nehru Olekar and others, are supporting the project. “Koregaon Committee has extended its support to the film and assured us to help us in making it,” says Nagashekar

Widespread support for the project

According to sources who are part of the film crew, the Bhima Koregaon project enjoys the support of important political leaders, including Priyank Kharge, G Parameshwar and H C Mahadevappa. “We will hold a series of discussions with all Dalit leaders in the state and across the country before finalising the script”, says Chakravarthy, co-script writer, adding that it will take at least six months to finalise the script.

Team Bhima Koregaon is not in a hurry to make this ambitious film. “Since it is a historic film, we don’t want to take any risk as a film of this kind will be made once in the lifetime of a filmmaker. We are planning to launch the film on January 1, 2024 and the plan is to complete and release on January 1, 2025 to mark the 207th anniversary of Bhima Koregaon war,” Nagashekar says.

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