The Cannibals of Kashi
“The first time I saw an aghori eating flesh at a midnight ritual on a ghatin Varanasi,” said Bala to me over the phone, “I felt disgusted. But then I got used to it.”
Bala is the rocking noir Tamil filmmaker whose much-awaited film, Naan Kadavul (I Am God) was released last Friday in Tamil Nadu.
The Telugu release will happen any day now. It was filmed over three years at Varanasi and stars Arya. The ‘hero’is a Tamil boy left in Kashi by his father for astrological reasons. Years later when the father goes to retrieve him, he finds his son is now an aghori sadhu and king of a beggar mafia.
Mindblown friends in Madras have been calling me to say it’s beyond words, a stinging social satire and noir like never in India.
Aghoris are a very ancient Tantrik sect of Shaivas who eat dead human flesh at burning grounds as part of their ritual. They have been around forever but since they don’t eat living people, nobody has messed with them yet. In any case, they are a highly secretive lot. As to which, the Irulas (snake-catchers of Tamil Nadu) eat rats. I once asked Kutty Revathi what rats tasted like. She’s a poet and a sociologist at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) who has lived with the Irulas for her field studies (they also eat geckos). Kutty Revathi answered quite clinically in Tamil, Konjam kozha-kozha (a little mushy).
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What I’m trying to say is there’s a whole world out there beyond butter chicken (which itself is hideously revolting to vegetarians), so it’s a matter of degree, you have to keep an open mind about what people like to eat. “There are about a 100 aghoris in Varanasi. Two of them are in my film. I can’t tell you any more because it will become a problem for them” said Bala.
He smartly took 500 saamiyaars (religiously-garbed beggars) to Varanasi for shooting the crowd scenes. Madras had a pretty good holiday from them, though they’re all back now! Nobody bothered him one bit in the holy city, says Bala, an intriguing thought when you consider how Deepa Mehta was chased away by Bajrangis for wanting to make a film in Varanasi on Hindu widows (Water).
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Hear the Naan Kadavul songs (myoosik by Ilayaraja!) and see the trailer on YouTube. I must have called Bala and Co six times between Wednesday and now for a hi-res trailer and song for you to taste here, but they sent just these stills. No prizes for guessing who’s Bala and who’s Arya-the Aghori!