On International Nelson Mandela Day
Remembering Mandela’s Values through a Tamil Film on Mandela Day
On Mandela Day, let’s reflect upon the principles of identity, education, nonviolence, hope, and social unity through the lens of a Tamil film. Today, it is fitting to acknowledge the profound impact of the revered South African leader on India and its people. During the India-South Africa Unity Summit in 1994, Nelson Mandela expressed deep admiration for India, stating, “As we bask in the glory of victory and embark on the challenging task of building a new life for our people, we remember with pride and gratitude the outstanding contributions made by India and its people towards the achievement of our goal.”
Mandela recognized India’s compatible and principled role in focusing global opinion on the evils of racial discrimination, even breaking ties with racially divisive states as a manifestation of disdain for racism. India’s advocacy for the anti-apartheid struggle on international platforms and other international forums amplified global support for oppressed and voiceless South Africans. India played a leading role in the international anti-apartheid movement.
Contrary to this, Mandela’s life continues to inspire popular Indian culture, including mainstream films. In 2021, a Tamil film titled ‘Mandela’ made its debut on the popular OTT platform Netflix. Directed by Madonne Ashwin, the film serves as a powerful political satire that resonated with audiences and even became a national award winner.
Understanding the rationale behind the inclusion of Nelson Mandela’s name by the film’s creators and its relevance, especially on this occasion, is significant. In my opinion, this film touches upon several important themes, with identity being the foremost.
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In a memorable scene, the protagonist, played by Yogi Babu, searches for a name that goes beyond being referred to as ‘Podhu’ (a public property) and provides him with a distinct identity. Eventually, he is named Mandela, symbolizing solidarity with the popular South African leader. Like Mandela, Yogi’s character struggles to find his identity within his village. Mandela’s name has become a catalyst for change, with even a picture of Mandela displayed alongside Mahatma Gandhi in the local post office.
Education is another significant theme in the film. Mandela is famously quoted as saying, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This adage is exemplified through a beautiful scene in the film, where Yogi Babu’s helper Kirutha is offered assistance to become literate. Yogi’s character also encourages and enables the children in his village to receive education in the local primary school.
The third theme is nonviolence, as Yogi Babu’s character eschews the path of violence, and the director has made a deliberate choice to depict the character steering clear of violence. As widely known, Nelson Mandela drew inspiration from nonviolent struggle to end racial divisions. History testifies to the fact that many have demanded social change in our society through nonviolent means.
The fourth aspect is how Mandela’s life works as evidence of the power of hope. The film tackles the recurring subject of gaining control over adverse circumstances, emphasizing that hope prevails amidst challenges. The film culminates with a high point of hope, illustrating that the village emerges as the ultimate winner when confronted with basic infrastructure issues such as road connectivity or even access to piped water. This represents the true vision and mission of Mandela.
In conclusion, there are films that inspire viewers to question inequalities, engage in introspection, transcend existing human divisions, and encourage positive changes within ourselves and our surroundings. It is simple, is it not, that every individual has the capacity to be an example capable of enabling an inclusive and egalitarian society for future generations? By portraying the similarities between Mandela’s life and the present context, this film encourages reflection and introspection within our society.