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News |  22 Apr 2016 19:06 |  By RnMTeam

Chalissery's YouTube tribute to Vemula keeps the protest alive

MUMBAI: Several quotes and statements spring to mind while watching Kerala-based Martin John Chalissery's latest creation of art through 'Oorali'. John Lennon's popular quote – "My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all" – suits the best for Chalissery’s artistic execution of his emotions. On 20 April, a YouTube video titled ‘Oorali: An art tribute to Rohit Vemula’ started making rounds on social media, and as the title suggests, the 7-minute-long ‘art’ is as an emotional and immensely powerful tribute to the late UoH student Rohith Vemula. The 26-year-old student had committed suicide after the University suspended him for his role in protests against the ‘fascist’ policies of the educational body.

The death triggered outrage and protests from across the country signifying the pain caused with the entire episode, and Chalissery was one of them. Music has been an effective catalyst towards any essentially required change, and Indian musicians, however less often, find themselves on a mission to oppose the wrongs of the establishment. Through ‘Oorali’ – a conversational band comprising of Chalissery, guitarist Saji Kadampattil and percussionist Sudheesh Veloor – the musician expressed the troubles an oppressed or a minority faces, and the cruel realities revolving similar issues. The composition- with Malayali lyrics and English subtitles- begins with the statement: “An art tribute to Rohith Vemula who sent shiver up the spine of fascism with his death” and continues with footages of protests and rallies that snowballed into a national movement. Art, believably, continues to remain more or less an oblique form of confession and Chalissery, since the death of Vemula, vomits out the sheer anguish through his voice, a guitar and cajon drum box. Further, the video shows an actor, performing the role of a cop, intrudes on the stage during the trio’s performance and aggressively strips off Chalissery clothes until the frontman is bare naked, a dramatic recreation of what Chalissery had to experience on 18 March. The long-haired musician was arrested and assaulted for “looking like a drug peddler”, and branded him as a criminal.

Chalissery, upon the release, staged protest in front of the police station. With ‘Oorali’, the musician expressed his outrage over the injustice towards the handling of the issue, and beyond. James Baldwin once said, “The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone” and however Chalissery is not alone in the journey against the impostor of justice, but the tribute surely inspired people around him to join for the cause. The video, shot and edited by Anand Ramdas, gradually moves to the ironic scene when the cop recites the national pledge and with the rough handling of the badly beaten and naked Chalissery (as part of the act) reminds the attendees ‘All Indians are my brother and sisters’ providing it an ironic poetic essence. The song ends with Chalissery’s narration of Vemula’s suicide note, and later swallowing it.

The poignant video offers several reasons to ponder upon the issue of Vemula and casteism that continues to haunt the fabric of Indian society in the 21st century, and Chalissery – a rebellious artist, to say the least – again proves the power of art has the ability to challenge and change.

Oorali’s performance, shot by Anand Ramdas, can be viewed here -