A couple of Tamil films characteristic butlers as distinguished characters. What are individuals’s recollections and ideas of those characters? What is the connection between what individuals bear in mind and what was portrayed? This essay will take a deep dive…

“We are not talking about the patnam butlers (butlers of Madras city) but the pannai parayars (parayars of farms),” Bharatiyar says. In the 12 months 1917, on the finish of a Justice Party assembly, through which TM Nair spoke, a couple of brahmins have been assaulted. Some complained that these assaults have been made by some ‘parayars’. It is whereas condemning this occasion that Bharathiyar wrote these traces.

Here he makes use of two phrases – patnam butlers and parayars of the farms. He makes use of these phrases whereas making the purpose that the parayars of the farms are being “used” by the Justice Party (which speaks the anti-brahmin rhetoric), and with a view to stop this from taking place, they (parayars) have to be embraced.

Though each phrases denote individuals belonging to the identical part of society, he says they’re of two sorts. And refers to these working as butlers amongst them, in unfavourable phrases. When he reveals sympathy in direction of pannai parayars, he excludes the butlers of patnam.

This ‘butler’ is a colonial legacy. Those who cooked primarily, but additionally carried out different guide labour within the houses, palaces and the workplaces of Europeans have been known as butlers. It was the marginalised who principally labored right here. Those who belonged to parayar teams in massive numbers, and some others from different castes, labored as butlers.

Denied even entry into the streets the place higher castes lived, these marginalised individuals discovered the chance to not simply enter the houses of Europeans who didn’t follow caste however to even cook dinner of their kitchens. The higher castes who discovered many alternatives due to the European colonisers, wouldn’t contact beef, whereas the marginalised who cooked beef, amongst different issues, labored for them.

Thanks to this livelihood alternative, butler Dalits have been higher off than different Dalits. Their garments, meals, and language too have been influenced by Europeans. Since they have been in shut proximity to the British, they have been capable of deliver issues to the British’s discover quickly and profit from it. Unlike different Dalits they weren’t depending on locals and have been capable of lead their lives independently. This additionally allowed them to advocate social justice. These weren’t individuals who lived on the mercy of higher castes and didn’t give the higher castes the sensation that they have been their saviours. Their connections with the highly effective and their ‘new money’ standing have been the explanations for this. The locals resented them. That even Bharathi was not free from this sentiment is evident from this instance.

Iyothee Thass was a pioneering Tamil Dalit who advocated a Buddhist identification as a substitute of Hindu identification. His father and grandfather have been butlers. His grandfather Kandappan, labored within the English family of George Harrington in Ooty. (That it was his grandfather who gave the manuscripts of Kural and Naladi to Ellis, a British civil servant is properly-identified now.) This connection to the butler lifestyle performed an enormous function in Iyothee Thass’ personal life.

There are a number of causes for the unfavourable associations our society makes about butlers. Two are most necessary amongst these. Firstly, most of them come from the oppressed sections of society. That they managed to acquire advantages from the British whereas working for them would have irked the locals. Secondly, the conflict between their newfound wealth and this new lifestyle, and the native lifestyle. ‘This new way of living has made them show-offs,’ the others thought.

When one is free of custom and embraces modernity, the outdated order opposes modernity on this approach. We can say that the society at massive, made its peace with this disconformity by making enjoyable of the ‘menaminikiththanam’ or this ‘flashy strutting’ of Dalits.

Even although these unfavourable concepts round butlers got here into existence through the time of the British, they continued even after they packed up and left. Even now, we name somebody’s damaged English ‘Butler English’.

In tales, home employees have normally been depicted as liars, snitches, as grasping or as thieves. (In Ramayana, a employee, Kooni’s crafty is the start of hassle.) They have been proven as individuals who have to be laughed at. Even in cinema, they’re portrayed in poor gentle and Tamil cinema’s depiction of butlers has been in step with this ‘tradition’. In some method or one other, butlers have been proven as individuals who have to be mocked. Recurring traits of butlers embody references to new cash, greed, fallacious pronunciation (Butler English), boastfulness, and so forth. Films with butlers have normally been set in estates.

The British arrange these estates in Ooty and Kodaikanal for his or her summers, the place bungalows and tea estates cropped up. In the maintenance of those cities and their houses and gardens, they wanted employees. It was the oppressed who principally labored right here as properly.

It is from amongst them that butlers got here to be. For a couple of months of the 12 months, even official enterprise was performed from these estates. Butlers would include the officers and keep right here throughout these months. These hill stations performed an enormous function within the political aspirations of the marginalised as properly. That the political origins of each Rettamalai Srinivasan and Iyothee Thass occurred in Ooty is crucial to notice.

It is as a mirrored image of this that films with butlers have been set in hill stations. As in actual life, the place they carried out the function of cooks, safety guards, drivers and caretakers of estates throughout and between summers, even in films, they have been proven donning a number of hats – as cooks, servers, drivers, and so forth. But when it got here to showcasing their traits, the movies confirmed us what society caricatured butlers to be.

Let’s take three film depictions of butlers. Anbe Vaa (1966). Vasantha Maaligai (1972). Idhayakkani (1975). All three are set in hill stations, in estates and there’s a grasp, servant angle. None of the three butler tracks have something to do with the principle plot of the movie. They are principally humourous roles. The humour is derived from the butlers’ garments, their mannerisms, the best way they speak, and so forth.

Vasantha Maligai

Vasantha Maligai is ready in Azhagapuri, a hill property. There are three butlers. VK Ramasamy’s character, one in all them, is Pakkiri. He’s a present-off. Every time he opens his mouth, he’s blowing his personal trumpet: ‘I was born in India. Brought up in England. Foreign return’. He speaks fallacious English and is launched to the palace’s inheritor on this method.

The inheritor (Sivaji Ganesan) considers this butler’s satisfaction and English as being in discordance with actuality. ‘Un peche seri illaye’ (The approach you speak is all fallacious) he says. He then asks, ‘do you know what you have to do, if you want to be here?’ To which Pakkiri says, ‘must keep my mouth shut’. In this occasion of butlers’ depiction, we see them as garrulous individuals who communicate unhealthy English and are boastful. These are thought-about discordant traits that need to be reigned in. All this can be thought-about a mirrored image of the society’s opinion of butlers, within the aftermath of their new moneyed standing.

Along with Butler Pakkiri, there’s Panju (Nagesh) and Muthamma (Rama Prabha), two different home employees. Panju and Pakkiri battle over Muthamma. She’s proven as somebody who could be received over with the promise of excellent meals.  They are proven as grasping, drunks, who change sides for his or her self-serving causes and as those that will associate with those that do in poor health. These seem as components of comedy within the movie.

We should additionally talk about Sethupathi IPS (1994) right here. In this movie, the hero is an IPS officer, his grandfather a retired military man and his sister, a decide. So this household’s life-style is just like the white households of the colonial period. There are three cooks on this home, two males and one lady. The three of them are the movie’s comedian reduction. We can see reflections of the three butler characters from Vasantha Maaligai on this film. Supplying liquor to the boss with out the family figuring out about it, greed, blowing their very own trumpet, these are all issues they do. This factors to the truth that the best way to make enjoyable of butlers virtually additionally acquired a formulation in Tamil cinema.


In Idhayakkani there’s a personality who works within the property proprietor’s (MGR) residence. As common, he’s a humourous present-off. His nickname is Isari (performed by Isari Velan). Because he doesn’t pronounce English phrases the fitting approach, and since he mixes it with Tamil, he’s known as this. Does not do the work assigned to him on the proper time; takes credit score for others’ work as his.

Anbe Vaa

Anbe Vaa is the top of this sort of illustration. A Tamil man has a European styled bungalow in Shimla. Since the proprietor lives in TN, an outdated man named Krishnayya is taking good care of the home. His aged spouse, younger daughter, and brother-in-regulation Ramayya stick with him.

In the primary scene, a household descends on the bungalow. The heroine performed by Saroja Devi asks him to assist her ‘Mummy’ get down from the automobile. Krishnayya doesn’t perceive English and thinks it’s Ammi (grindstone). When the proprietor isn’t round, the butler’s household acts just like the house owners and makes cash behind his again by renting out his residence. These individuals and their actions make up the comedy parts of Anbe Vaa.

Darling Darling Darling

Though butlers made small appearances right here and there in Tamil cinema, Okay Bhagyaraj’s Darling Darling Darling (1982) was the primary time, a full-size movie was set on this backdrop.

Ramayya’s scenes and story from Anbe Vaa was a full-size movie right here. However, this isn’t a butler story or an property story. On the opposite, this can be a love story. It has the butlers and different employees of the category as its characters. No different movie takes such a deep dive into this world. In Tamil cinema, particularly, that is the primary time, the son of a butler-like employee, is a hero.

A wealthy man with a bungalow in Ooty lives overseas together with his daughter. They come as soon as in six months for a couple of days and return. So Singaram, a employee, stays there completely and takes care of the bungalow. He’s the watchman; he’s the cook dinner. He has a son and a daughter. Daughter earns a small revenue taking vacationers on horse rides. Son Raja drives the automobile when the proprietor is round. He’s the hero of the movie.

The proprietor’s daughter, Radha (Poornima Bhagyaraj), research in the identical college as Raja of their childhood. Raja likes her as a child and thinks that if she have been to return again, she’d nonetheless be as affectionate. She grows up and does return to the bungalow to remain there. However, she thinks what occurred in childhood is infantile and doesn’t present any particular curiosity in him. She is herself round him.

This battle makes the story attention-grabbing. And units the stage for later scenes the place she understands his harmless love. In the tip, she concludes that Raja is extra loving than her wealthy suitor. There’s no villain right here. Both her personal wealthy father and the suitor’s father determine that Raja’s love is purer and pave approach for the connection.

There is not any denying that this story confirmed those that’d been ridiculed till then in Tamil cinema in new respectful gentle. This attracts from the broad understanding of contemporary politics that standing up for the welfare of the employees, the poor, versus that of the wealthy is the simply factor to do. If they’re poor, they’re more likely to be good individuals, is the idea right here.

It can also be true that as a substitute of difficult generally held beliefs about butlers, this movie additionally portrays them within the method they’ve been finished earlier than, all through the course of the film, after which in the long run reveals them in good gentle. The bungalow watchman (the hero’s father) is a present-off right here too. Since the house owner isn’t round, he wears his grasp’s garments, sneakers, even makes use of his smoking pipe and walks round as if he’s the proprietor. He too speaks fallacious English. He’s grasping. When he realises that his son is in love together with his employer’s daughter, he thinks that that is the straightforward method to come up in life. His son and his daughter, additionally communicate butler English.

Actors who’re identified just for their comedic roles play the butler roles in these films normally. Here, Kallapetti Singaram acts because the butler. Movies like Jallikattu and Sethupathi IPS even have comedians enjoying butlers (Janagaraj and Goundamani). Even the hero Bhagyaraj’s character too, within the identify of innocence, does solely humorous issues. This film performed an enormous function in bringing Bhagayaraj that trademark harmless picture. The butler background appears to have been picked for that reason. The hero’s tomfoolery is handed off as his harmless love, and the story means that the heroine is the silly one to haven’t understood this.

For the viewers to really feel sympathy for the hero, the wealthy suitor is proven as a person of vices. By having the hero polish this man’s sneakers and clear up his vomit, the screenplay makes the heroine really feel sympathy in direction of him.  In Darling Darling Darling the story and lifetime of a butler serves as a mere backdrop for a love story, however by no means goes additional.

This doesn’t imply that each one these films have been made with the express motive of portraying butlers in a unfavourable method. Those who made these movies could haven’t even identified butlers’ caste backdrop and written the roles on this method. They aren’t written as villains both. In some movies, they’re proven as individuals with self-respect as properly; those that don’t embrace the fallacious path regardless of the alternatives.

However, one can not solely dismiss the caste angle to the portrayals of butlers in our cinema. In these films that mock them, the caste system’s discrimination wears a distinct cloak and seems in a distinct kind to point out some individuals as larger and others as low. Caste doesn’t function solely when it’s properly-deliberate or in a direct method. Caste has grow to be part of our life and so it could possibly grow to be obvious with out somebody even noticing that he’s being casteist. The historic causes for the identification of a butler changing into a demeaning factor could have been forgotten over time and it could as a substitute be thought-about a factor to be ridiculed or one thing humorous. That this ridicule was born from a caste-gaze and continues to remain like that’s what we should take note of.

Stalin Rajangam is a Tamil scholar writing on Dalit historical past. He has written a number of books on politics, cinema and, literature. The article has been translated by Krupa Ge from an essay titled Butlergalai Parikasitha Cinemakkal