PK Rosy (1903–1988),The first Dalit woman, Dalit actress-Can we imagine that in a country like India, a Dalit woman will act as a leading actress in cinema? Today Google is celebrating the 120th birth anniversary of one such artist PK Rosy. Let’s know about P.K. Rosy
Who was P.K. Rosy
PK Rosy was a Dalit Christian woman from Pewad, Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, India. She is best remembered as the first heroine of Vigathakumaran, the first film in Malayalam.
The film was directed by JC Daniel. in 1928 and has been the center of much controversy in the Kerala film industry. Several films have tried to capture her life story such as Celluloid directed by Kamal based on the life of JC Daniels. The film is based on Vinu Abraham’s novel Nasha Nayika which narrates the life of Rosy who played the lead role in her debut film. Other films have been released that are partially based on her life, such as The Lost Child and This Is Rose’s Story (Rosieud Katha).
Kunnukuzhi Mani, a prominent journalist, and Dalit activist spent years visiting Rosy’s relatives to try and build a comprehensive story of her past and wrote about her in several Malayalam magazines such as It is written in Chitrabhumi, Chandrika, Tejas, Samakalina Masika.
India’s first Dalit actress
Several attempts have been made to reintroduce PK Rosy as a prominent Dalit actress in Malayalam cinema, such as the PK Rosy Memorial Committee, which was inaugurated by Kerala’s Cinema Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan in memory of PK Rosy.
Similarly, the first PK Rosie Memorial Lecture was held at Jamia Millia Islamia in 2013 and was chaired by Jenny Rowena.
PK Rosie: Can a Dalit woman play a Nair in Malayalam cinema today? by Dalit cinema
The lecture focused on the politics of caste-based discrimination in Malayalam cinema when it comes to Dalit women. It introduces the principle of caste-based oppression experienced by Dalit actresses and the class politics present in the film industry.
Early Life of PK Rosy
PK Rosy was born in 1903 in a Pulaya family in Trivandrum. Her father passed away when she was very young, leaving her with the responsibility of taking care of her brother and aging mother.
She then went to live with her uncles in Kavalur where she continued to work as a laborer along with her family members. She came from a family of grass cutters while belonging to a group of sub-caste Dalits (or untouchables) in the Indian caste system.
Her love and interest in theater started at a very young age. She was fond of acting in plays and insisted on attending rehearsals at the traditional school of performing arts where she studied Kakkarashi (folk dance and drama).
It was a matter of time before women were not included in theatrical staging. The field was dominated by men and women who fought against the industry’s gender politics, being labeled as indecent and socially pushed into the confines of the industry.
PK Rosy continued against her grandfather’s wishes and joined a drama company in Thycaud, Thiruvananthapuram, where she stayed. Rosie pursued her passion for theater at a time when there were severe restrictions on women’s entry into theater and cinema.
There has been a debate regarding PK Rosie’s conversion to Christianity.
Because many members of her family have disputed the notion that she was Christian, she claims that it was her stepfather who converted her to accept a Christian missionary at a local school. Yet their sons acknowledge that their mother was from a Nair family, the same caste they identify with. She is known as the first female Dalit actress.
P.K. Rosy emerged as a figure who questioned prevailing beliefs that prevented women from other classes from involving themselves in theatre. It was widely prevalent that entry into theater and cinema was allowed only if they belonged to upper-caste actresses. It was present in the Malayalam cinema industry, where PK Rosie was working.
Her story helps us understand the limitations of the upper-caste-dominated industry and offers an understanding of the politics of gender, caste, society, and cinema in India.
Her successful performance in the cinema industry was The shooting began with the silent film Vigathakumaran, directed, produced, and written by J.C. Daniel. The film follows the kidnapping of a rich man’s son in Ceylon. She played the role of a Nair woman in this film. The move was opposed by many cinephiles – directors, producers, and actors alike.
Earlier, she acted and participated in various theater roles as an accomplished and experienced actor for Tamil Dalit Theater called Kakarashi. Her involvement in local theater led to her discovery by director JC Daniels.
The release of her film Vigathakumaran led to violent protests by the upper caste community. They opposed her role in the film and the reasons cited tell us about the prevailing beliefs in popular theater and cinema. The portrayal of a Dalit woman as a Nair woman enraged many members of the feudal Nair community.
It also existed at a time when Dalits were seen as untouchables in Indian society and forced to perform low and inhumane tasks such as manual scavenging, tanning and preparing leather, along with removing human excreta. She was dropped.
Many prominent members of the film industry refused to come to the film’s opening if Rosie was to attend. JC Daniels, the director, himself did not reach out to invite her to a screening of the film. Rosy participated in the film but was forced to watch the second show because Mallur Govinda Pillai, an impromptu lawyer who was supposed to inaugurate the film, refused to do so when he appeared.
In a scene that left the audience elated, PK showed Rosy kissing her lover a flower that she wore in her hair.
This enraged the crowd as the unimaginable display of affection of an upper caste man towards a Dalit woman was shown on the reel screen. Angry mob.
Violence continued for several days after the film’s release. PK Rosy had to take shelter in the drama company where she worked but the mob eventually found her. The violence extended to her family who managed to escape as their house was burnt down. All this was a response to the anger in the upper class after the film’s release.
Life after cinema
Rosy managed to escape when a lorry driven by Kesava Pillai was on its way to Tamil Nadu. She decided to take her back on the Nagercoil-bound lorry. The incident was reported to the Nagercoil police station, from where she was taken back to her home.
This marked the end of Rosie’s involvement in cinema. She married the truck driver who belonged to the Nair family. Many people find this story ironic as her role in Vigathakumaran was her only film playing the role of a Nair woman. She then married Kesava Pillai, a Nair.
She and her children later identified themselves as Nairs. There are accounts that suggest that Pillai was thrown out of her house because of her marriage. Some say that she was Pillai’s second wife when he left his family after his marriage.
Legacy and death
Rosy never achieved great fame after the film’s release and instead remained detached from her previous life of acting.
It was not until Dalit activists presented her life story through politicization and lack of representation of Dalit women in mainstream cinema that we came to know about her story.
Many Dalit activists, such as Jenny Rowena, have spoken out about the systematic exclusion of Dalit women from public life in Kerala. She also discusses the narratives of caste and gender and the roles they play in present-day industry politics.
Many believe that Dalit roles in mainstream cinema are characterized by over-sexualized portrayals by upper-caste or Nair actresses, which deepens the lack of Dalit representation in cinema.
This is believed to be true by Charu Gupta, Associate Professor at the University of Delhi, who has written several books and papers dealing with the identity of patriarchy and dominant Brahmanical ideologies governing Indian society.
She points out that women in Indian society were portrayed as ambivalent, with the dominant caste being the upper caste. Dalit women were cast as the “other”. leaving them to be recognized as the opposite of the ideal – a chaste, pure, dutiful, and religious wife or woman. While upper-caste women were seen as chaste, the untouchables or Dalits mentioned in contemporary literature were untouchables.
Caste hegemony is another concept Dalit activists are trying to address. P.K. The recognition they are trying to achieve for Rosie has opened up many avenues such as the PK Rosie Memorial Committee, which was announced by Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
Several attempts have been made to reintroduce PK Rosy as a prominent Dalit actress in Malayalam cinema, such as the PK Rosy Memorial Committee, which was inaugurated by Kerala’s Cinema Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan in memory of PK Rosy. Similarly, in 2013, the first PK Rosie Memorial Lecture was held at Jamia Millia Islamia, which was chaired by Jenny Rowena. The lecture focused on the politics of caste-based discrimination in Malayalam cinema when it comes to Dalit women. It introduces the theory of caste-based oppression experienced by Dalit actresses and the class politics present in the film industry.