FERDINAND’S TAKE ON JALIKATTU AND OTHER THINGS
Sanyukta Biswas, B.Sc. L.L.B (GNLU), L.L.M. in Access to Justice
“My most ardent desire to see bulls disappear for once and for all is not based on a compassion for animals, but rather on a shame of Man".
- Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio
Watching Ferdinand took my breath away. All things bright and beautiful in the animal kingdom were shown making their way around the world inhabited by humans. This movie’s release in December 2017, coincided with the Spanish Supreme Court overturning the Catalonian government’s ban on bullfight and the Indian apex court upholding the ban on Bailgada Sharyat and Jallikattu in Animal Welfare Board of India v Nagaraj and Ors[i], made by the High Courts of the respective states of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, seemed more than a mere coincidence. However, a few days ago I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the movie is based on a story written way back in 1936 by Munro Leaf. Few stories age as well as wine, especially those targeting children as their main audience. A second viewing of the movie instead of revealing potentially problematic messages as most fairy tales do if you attempt to read between the lines would reveal parallel underlying themes in addition to the adorable moments that light up the screen.
The movie follows the journey of a bully who finds domestic bliss at a farm after escaping the monstrosity of a bullfight as a calf, only to return to the ranch due to a mishap. Early on, Ferdinand has introduced to us a peace-loving calf who is more enraptured by flowers than flexing muscles, unlike his peers. The impact of toxic masculinity on the perpetrator as well as the victim seems to be a recurring theme throughout the movie. Aggressiveness is a much sought after trait amongst the bulls. The aspirations of the bull manage to make a mark on the psychology of the calves present on the ranch, much like how it happens in the case of humans.
The calves are extremely violent and competitive with each other, except Ferdinand. Fuelled by ill-conceived notions of masculinity, they single out Ferdinand because of his unwillingness to comply with largely prevalent societal norms. The incessant bullying is painful to watch even in an animated movie. Lupe the got rightly sums up at one point that there is so much hate in the ranch that it is soul-crushing if you think about it. Ideas about masculinity affect not only peer bonding but father-son bonding as well. We witness how Valiente gets rebuffed by his father rudely in contrast to how affectionately Ferdinand is treated by his father. There is also a lot of physical display of affection between the father-son duos, which is a sight to behold. This is more so because, in reality, all children don’t get to experience it firsthand.
Believe it or not but there are regions in India, where men are looked down upon for holding their children in their arms as it is not considered a manly thing to do! Add in another heartwarming scene, when Ferdinand hopefully asks his father whether he can be a champ without fighting, he replies delicately that although he hopes that things work out for him, bulls got to abide by other unfair man-made rules and you get a training module for parenting done right. I was reminded of the lovely bond shared between Simba with Mustafa. Having been chosen by the matador, he then leaves for the upcoming bullfight proudly, after bidding adieu to Ferdinand. I was on the verge of tears when it is hinted in the next scene that he has passed away. But let us not forget to give credit to the director for sparing us the horror of witnessing a bull bleeding to death in the ring.
Prompted by his father’s death, Ferdinand makes a getaway. He is adopted by Nina and her father. The fresh air on the farm with flowers blooming all around is a welcome change to the barricaded ranch shed, Ferdinand is used to. The next few scenes tracing the journey of Ferdinand from childhood to adulthood are my favorite. I bet anyone who has ever fortunate enough to have pets at home, would be able to relate to it. I had a huge grin on my face when Ferdinand told the adorable looking white furry dog of the family, Pace, fondly that they are brothers because ask anyone with a pet at home and they will tell you that he is a sibling without blinking their eyes. It seems completely understandable when the dog for his part is both jealous and fond of Ferdinand at the same time.
Didn’t we all enjoy the complicated camaraderie shared by Stuart with the family cat?
As an adult Ferdinand is left behind at the wise discretion of Nina’s father during the annual flower festival. He explains to Nina that this is because bulls are considered dangerous at large owing partly to their sheer size and partly to how they are generally perceived by humans. A parallel can be drawn regarding the nagging fear pit bull owners go through daily in light of the recent debates surrounding how dangerous the breed is following isolated cases of attacks on humans that have received widespread attention. The accident on the pretense of which Ferdinand is sent back to the ranch he came from sounds very familiar to the reasons I have seen people cite around me to get strays thrown out of areas they were born in despite there being a law against it. When the law is of such little deterrent value, attempting to understand animal psychology seems nothing but fancy. After all, an aggressive bull is fun to watch in the ring, and getting rid of barking dogs ensures a good night's sleep. I sincerely wish other cities learn from Mumbai how to treat stray animals. One of the central themes of the movie is compassion towards yourself and those around you. There is a scene, where Ferdinand insists that chickens can indeed fly, thereby implying that labels are for jars and not living beings. To think of it, Ferdinand might have been spectacular in the ring considering his sheer size and strength, but he didn’t want to and that’s what defines him. Dumbledore has famously said that it is our choices that truly define who we are. Ferdinand tells Valiente at one point in time that he is a lot more than just a pair of horns. In the kind of competitive and success worshipping world we live in, it is all too easy to forget that we amount to a lot more than our mere job profile.
Random acts of kindness by Ferdinand are dispersed throughout the movie. When the time comes, Lupe the goat, the other bulls, and the hedgehogs return the kindness. The underlying message is not that you should be compassionate so that you can receive timely help when in need, but the fact that good karma would always yield love and happiness. The treatment of the hedgehogs and rabbits is a tight slap on the face of speciesism. When Valiente taunts Ferdinand for his love for flowers and friendship with Lupe the goat, in response he neither points out Valiente’s shortcomings nor glorifies his interests and ideas. His rather dignified response is to say to each his own. But the same Ferdinand has also taught us to be persistent with friends with a self-damaging belief system and harmful lifestyle choices. So maybe it is okay to urge a friend to give up smoking once in a while. Ferdinand is the perfect inspiration for not giving up on your ideals come what may, in this case, the much-cherished ideal being non-violence. Ferdinand is dramatically supported by the spectators while in the ring, but in reality, we are the same species that sent Laiqa away to space to her death, just because she was a mongrel dog that was friendly with humans. It is ironic how we humans manage to hurt animals for being both aggressive as well as friendly. If a manual was to be written in the animal kingdom regarding how to avoid the dangers posed by man, the response to be followed would be tricky for sure. I would like to end this movie review on a note as positive as the movie itself ended. The scene in which Lupe gets hugged by Nina for the first time is pure gold in terms of cinematic moments. When Lupe says that she loves love if this is how it feels, I can't help but fondly think of the naïve Olaf. It feels that the director has let you experience first-hand the meeting of an abused animal with his adoptive family.
Soon after the Animal Welfare Board of India v Nagaraj and Ors[ii] were delivered the Tamil Nadu government forced the central government to lift the ban on Jallikattu for Pongal in 2017 due to wide-scale protests in the state. As a result, the central government cleared an ordinance drafted by the state government to circumvent the aforesaid judgment.
In light of these happenings, it would be interesting to contemplate how Ferdinand would have reacted, had he been forced to participate in Jallikattu and Bailgada Sharyat. Let us first have a look at Jallikattu and Bailgada Sharyat are sports played in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra respectively. “Calli” means coins and “jalli” means a package, hence Jalikattu is a sport where pouches of coins are tied to the hump of a bull and the participants attempt to take away the pouches of coins whereas Bailgada Sharyat is an unmanned bullock cart race.
Both these sports are performed during the harvest season of January and February. At a first casual glance, one might say that Ferdinand probably would not have participated in these sports because these sports did not necessarily result in the death of the bulls in the end. However, it would be relevant to have a look at the report filed by the Animal Welfare Board of India during the proceedings. As per the findings, bulls were subjected to poking with sticks, irritants being rubbed into eyes, usage of nose ropes, mutilation of ears, dislocation of tail bones, soiling due to frequent defecation, lack of food and water, being forced to consume alcohol, cramped conditions, being forced to move sideways, grave injuries and subsequent death due to improper collection area in three areas of Tamil Nadu where Jalikattu was conducted. The vadi vasal is hidden from the view of the public and media and can be accessed and viewed only by select jallikattu personnel and hence it is a torture chamber for the poor bulls.
The Supreme Court’s guideline for arena barricades calls for them to be no less than 8 feet high was flaunted. This guideline was flagrantly ignored, and the barricade in the main area was as low as 5-1/2 feet. The path from the arena to the collection area was dotted with dangerous obstructions, such as tractor carriages, water tanks, and a small truck, and hence posed danger to the bulls. As for Bailgada Sharyat, the bulls are blinded and due to sudden exposure to the light, they get terrified and run. They are harassed to race for 10 kilometres. We humans conveniently forget that bulls are not anatomically designed to run. We take to exploit the fact that Bulls (Bos Indicus) are herbivores, prey by nature adapted to protect themselves when threatened to engage in a ‘flight response’, that is a runaway stimulus. Their anxiety, tendency of avoiding noise, and long memories do little to deter us. Had Ferdinand been aware of all this he would have probably told us that in today’s time and age it is not too difficult to inculcate a hobby or look for entertainment elsewhere. If not anything one can always watch television as good old Ferdinand did with his friends and family, or maybe OTT platform in our case.