The difference between representing Dalits in both mainstream and regional movies

Most of the regional plots are based on their respective social struggle and movements. Therefore, Tamil modern movies are about Dalits and their oppression.

Indian cinema consists of sizeable contributions by multiple regional language movies. In 2019, Bollywood (Hindi) contributed around 44% of the revenue, followed by the Tamil and Telegu movie industries (26%). In 2020, the combined film revenue earned by the entire regional film industries had surpassed that of the Hindi film industry.

The regional cinemas consist of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Marathi, Sanskrit, Punjabi, and Bhojpuri film industries. The overall revenue of Indian cinema reached $2.7 billion in 2019, according to Wikipedia.

Apart from their contribution, the regional industries also treat their subjects very differently. Most of the regional plots are based on their respective social struggle and movements. For example, the new age movies in the Bengali and Tamil industry are different. Most modern Bengali movies are about youth and urban problems, women issues etc. On the other hand, Tamil new age movies are about Dalits and their oppression.

Dalits in Movies: Bengali Industry

Dalits are popular movie subjects across the industries, but each regional cinema treats them differently. In this article, only three movie industries are taken into consideration: Tamil, Bengali and Hindi.

In the Bengali movie industry, the coming age movies are predominantly about emotional hazards in city life, feminism and other social stigmas. Cinema like Praktan by filmmakers Shiboprasad and Nandita Roy spoke about a divorced couple who accidentally met each other during a train journey.  

As said earlier, Bengal did not witness any strong and influential anti-caste movement in the modern era. It mostly raised its voice against women oppression, Brahminical religious supremacy and other social stigmas. Movies about them are plenty. 

Directors like Srijit Mukherjee centralize his movies about women oppression, emotional turmoil amidst city couples and others. Movies like Rajkahini talks about sex workers during the partition.

Satyajit Ray’s Sadgati had a mute Dalit character. Even in their limited representation, Dalits would be shown as poor, wretched, targeted and uneducated.

The concept of saviours in Hindi movies

In both Hindi and Bengali Dalit movies, the concept of a saviour is common and heroic. The plot narrates the oppressing tales of the marginal community and how they are saved by a liberal and socialist upper class. Article 15, the famous Dalit movie in the Hindi language, had a similar plot. Even Gangajal starring Ajay Devgn had a same plot.

The main reason behind the saviour syndrome is Bollywood’s method of movie-making. Most film directors follow a similar pattern to direct a hit movie. They are less keen to experiment. As witnessed, Bollywood has failed to capture the post-independence struggle of Dalits that contributed to the new age cinema in India.

Hindi movies did not talk about the JP Movement, Mandal Commission and its complication during implementation, minority politics in northern India and others. If someone follows Indian history through movies, they will miss out on major events that shaped the country and its politics in the last 30-50 years.

Periyar literature has evolved Tamil Cinema

Unlike in the rest of India, Tamil Nadu has a dominant and active minority population. The first movement against Dalit oppression in modern India was ushered in Madras Presidency. Activist Thanthi Periyar rebelled against the Brahminical oppression and is called the father of the Dravidian Movement.

Superstars like Rajnikanth, Arya belong to Dalit-middle class and OBC. It is something both Bollywood and the Bengali movie industry are majorly lacking. An actor like Rajnikanth took the plunge into anti-caste movies. The success of Kabali has allowed deeper penetration into Dalit movies.

In Bollywood, superstars like Bachchan, Khans and Kapoors did not take the plunge yet. It seems that they will not dive into anti-caste cinema anytime soon.

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