Bollywood has no interest in Dalits, claims UK Indian researcher | bollywood | Hindustan Times
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Bollywood has no interest in Dalits, claims UK Indian researcher

Indian researcher Vishal Chauhan is exploring the stereotypical depiction of Dalits in Bollywood to understand why film scholars have not dealt with the issue till now.

bollywood Updated: Aug 09, 2017 18:33 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
A still from the film Sujata (1959), which starred Sunil Dutt and Nutan and dealt between a Brahmin man and an “untouchable” woman.
A still from the film Sujata (1959), which starred Sunil Dutt and Nutan and dealt between a Brahmin man and an “untouchable” woman.(YouTube)

An Indian research student believes varsities and film experts in India are not yet ready to deal with the stereotyping of Dalits by Bollywood, and has chosen to explore the issue at a university in Britain.

The claim has been made by Ajmer-origin Vishal Chauhan, who has been funded by the Birmingham City University to explore the issue. According to a statement issued by the university on Chauhan’s research, Bollywood has been wrongly portraying Dalits.

Chauhan told Hindustan Times: “I had spoken to some experts of Indian cinema about the stereotypical representation of caste and Dalits but the response was very cold. One of the professors denied the question and asserted that such things are not there in Bollywood.

“The professors I spoke to work at renowned universities and are seasoned cinema scholars…But my research does pose the question: Why hasn’t this issue interested scholars of cinema in India before?”

Chauhan’s research will focus on 15 Hindi films from the 1930s to the 2010s, including movies such as Sujata (1959) and Aarakshan (2011).

His research will cover the archives of the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune to better understand the context in which cinema-goers reacted to these films when they were released, and how people from the so-called lower castes were represented on screen.

Chauhan said: “Dalits represent around 22% of India’s population, yet they do not receive equal screen time compared with other societal groups…Where filmmakers have attempted to honestly portray Dalits, their films tend to be labelled as an art house picture and receive limited release.

“Most worrying, however, is the stereotypical portrayal of Dalit peoples – when they do appear – as intellectually inferior and only able to survive on the goodwill of upper caste peoples. The Indian film industry has helped create an untrue perception of an entire community.”

According to Chauhan, the 2016 #OscarsSoWhite controversy would not happen in India because “no-one is willing to attack the status quo”, which, he said, needs to change if popular culture is to be more accepting and truthful to the audiences it serves.

“Bollywood, I believe, has a social responsibility to ensure it portrays Dalits with integrity to help shift the public consciousness. It also needs to pave the way for a brighter outlook for millions of people who are currently struggling without a strong voice to stand up for them in Indian popular culture,” Chauhan said.