A book called Asura lies on the table of Kaala, the iconic, irrepressible, brave, compassionate leader of Dharavi. He is interestingly not a Marathi speaking person, but a second generation Tamilian who has made Dharavi his own; as much as Dharavi has made him his own.

The first and only reference to his being an ‘outsider’ emerges in the context of animosity he evokes by being resistant. First understand your roots, says Kaala the father to his son, tellingly named Lenin.

The proximity to people makes him understand the organic relation urban poor have their land, a discourse that cinema has generally reserved for rural farmers at a certain point in history.

This film is not about insiders and outsiders, nationals and anti-nationals, but about conditions of resistance that make mobilize such categories in motion. Perhaps the same thing happened with Asuras when they refused to concede to the Gods, the white looking, hegemonic Gods who will not tolerate revolutions, and who expect, like the politician Hari Abhyankar, people to touch their feet.

Dharavi in Kaala is the unintended city, and provides as Ashis Nandy has pointed out of Indian cinema, a slum side view of Indian politics. The conflation of both cinema and public, story and aawam makes Kaala one of the most rebellious and subversive films that Indian celluloid has seen. It disrupts not only the mythologies of black and white in both literal and metaphoric sense; but along with it disrupts mythologies of good and evil, of Ram and Raavana.

Although the graceful and riveting Rajnikanth carries the day; it is a film about people and the power they carry to topple the state; and hegemonic meanings of both past and present. The film deftly weaves race with caste and class; and makes intersectionality highly layered, that it can leave so-called intellectuals and educated people gasping for meanings they are used to.

Its subversive power extends beyond historical and mythological meanings to the BJP government. By presenting an allegory of our current government, the film not only questions its oppressive practices and its exploitation of the urban poor, but also the brahmanical ideology that underlay the schemes that spearhead its governance.

Schemes like Swach Bharat Abhyan and Digital India manifest as Pure Mumbai and Digital Dharavi. The obsession with cleanliness symbolises a drive for caste purity, as the unclean become the lower castes, the outcastes, or the ‘kaalas’ dwelling in the squalid slums. Further, patriotism is conjoined with this frenzied strive towards purity, as Hari’s campaign advertisements are inscribed with the words: “I am patriot. I will clean this country”. This patriotic purity is threatened by Kaala when he warns Hari that if he talks about Dhaaravi again, he will turn his white shirt black.

The subculture of rap on one hand and a subverted historiography of the asura on the other hand puts on map people that a neo-liberal economy and fascist state systematically invisibilize.

The film barely uses the word caste, but creates a symbolic universe in which dark colour, references to Bhim vada, a statue of the Buddha in Kaala’s living room ,refusals by the upper –caste politician to touch water make it clear that the state is out of sink with the lives of the poor and Dalits.

It does this whileby making sure that women, children and Muslims are part of the conversation, and albeit there is some instrumentalization of gender, on the whole, the films attempts to sustain a syncretismsyncreticism of all constituencies that do not live the pure and swatch life of the upper-caste, but are purer than paragons of purity.

The film also manages to keep alive meanings of the city and region; of Mumbai and Tamilnad, of Dalits and Muslims and becomes in that sense a re-focussing on those who truly constitute and serve the nation. The paradox of this situation lies in having both charisma in a leader; and in that sense corporeal presence, but also the need to multiply the charisma and go beyond the body. For the kaala to spread across the starched whiteness of the upper caste.