Silence and Marginalisation: Exploring Identity and Ecology in Girish Karnad’s ‘Cheluvi’

This article critically examines the complex negotiations of gender, class and caste identity in the Kannada film Cheluvi [Beautiful Girl] (1992), a film about a young woman’s ability to transform herself into an exotic fragrant flowering tree. It was the recipient of the ‘National Film Award for Best Film on Environment Conservation/Preservation’ by the Government of India in the year 1992. The film written and directed by the acclaimed veteran Indian playwright/director and actor, Girish Karnad, forms a part of his larger body of work exploring themes around gender and environment. By deconstructing the narrative, this film provides an insight into how the experience of embodied gendered identities are constitutive of unique subject positions constructed through the layerings of both immediate and overarching social markers. In the context of this film, it is this mélange of seemingly incongruent identities that defines the thematic spine of the cinematic narrative of Cheluvi as a visual text. Using the analytical lens of the ‘silence versus speech’, this article demonstrates the intersectional dynamics of identity in relation to caste, gender and class and its significance in shaping the lived experience of marginalization of people and ecology.