top of page

Films And Documentaries Showcasing The Issue Of Caste

In the Hindi Film Industry, there is a clear divide between the mainstream films that appeal to the masses and the critically-acclaimed films. While it is true that films talking about off-beat real issues do not do well in the business, they surely help in raising the voice when concerned.

A still from the film 'Article 15'.

Let’s be honest, Bollywood makes some really problematic content which is often celebrated. Films like, ‘Pyaar ka Punchnama’ and ‘Grand Masti’ are cheap comedies consisting of jokes that are misogynistic and sexist in nature. The mainstream films have highlighted ideas of patriarchy and ‘upper caste/class’ to a very large extent. The patriarchal Indian society is a huge problem as it goes hand in hand with Casteism. Dalit activist Ruth Manorama in her concept of Dalit feminism points out that Dalit women face cyclical oppression in three ways: caste, class and gender. Women belonging to a lower caste community, with weak economic backgrounds face horrendous discrimination in their social life. Caste has given in to patriarchy, hence, deepening the oppression that these women face on a daily basis. Eliminating caste-based discrimination without acknowledging the existence of a patriarchal order will not yield results.

Despite having a deep-rooted, caste-based society; there is little mention of how problematic the structure is. Education and information are scanty pertaining to this issue. School textbooks have little or no mention, there are limited films and literature for gaining perspective. Even the films that are based around this idea of caste lack representation. The battle of representation in the Cinema Industry is an on-going one. Despite such problems, Bollywood has tried making films which are caste centric. It is important to understand that cinema is a mode of education, nonetheless. Hence, we shall look into certain films which revolve around the idea of caste.

1) Masaan (2015)

Masaan confronts us with the present-day discrimination based on caste. It does not begin as one would expect. It has two narratives; Deepak and Devi. Both these characters belong to ‘lower-castes’. Deepak belongs to the corpse burning caste, the doms, who falls in love with, Shaalu who is from the upper-caste. Deepak does not inform Shaalu about it until later when she pesters him to tell her the address of his residence. While Shalu’s young romance with her boyfriend is disturbingly caught when the two are caught while having sex in a hotel. The police dehumanizes Shalu after filming her barely clad, and demands a heavy sum while threatening to releasing the video. Shalu’s father bears the brunt after being harassed by the cops for days. The lives of all the characters are linked with a trap involving their identity. Winner of two prestigious prizes at Cannes Film Festival, Masaan belongs to the growing tribe of Indian independent films that have garnered praise and accolades in the foreign film circuit.

Masaan (Hindi, 2015)

2) Ankur (1974)

Shyam Benegal presents the intricate details of caste and gender, both in rural and urban settings in a very fascinating manner. The plot of the film surrounds Laxmi, who lives a poor lifestyle in a small village in India along with her husband, Kishtaya, who is a deaf-mute. The couple work for the wealthy landlord. The landlord's son, Surya, has to cancel his studies and return home to look after the estate, as he gets acquainted to the marriage with Saru, the girl he was compelled to get married to when he was very young. Kishtaya is apprehended stealing toddy from the fields and is severely beaten. Upon recovery, he absconds leaving Laxmi alone. Surya finds her attractive and starts an intimate relationship with her, at the displeasure of the rest of the family. Things only get worse when Saru moves in to live with Surya - compelling him to make a final decision about a visibly pregnant Laxmi. It clearly intends some measure of social protest against an impossibly rigid caste system, the subjection of women, and traditional ruling class privilege.

Ankur (1974)

3) Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (1992)

Shyam Benegal’s complex and multi-layered film is based on a 1952 novel by renowned Hindi writer and playwright Dharamvir Bharati. It’s a good combination of a brilliant combination of literature and cinema. Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda is a scathing commentary on values and attitudes that have been conditioned by class struggle. The book and film force you to think about abstract concepts such as love juxtaposed against the realities of poverty and class distinctions. The narrative of whether human beings will stand by each other if they are not bogged down by social exploitation is presented. The protagonist talks about three specific women he interacted with at different stages of his life and how they influenced him. These women not only represent different human qualities but also different economic sections.

Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (1992)

4) Article 15 (2019)

The newest film based on Caste presented in mainstream Bollywood is directed by Anubhav Sinha. The film draws its title from Article 15 of the Indian Constitution that forbids discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. It is set in a village called Lalgaon in Uttar Pradesh where the IPS officer Ayan Ranjan is posted. Despite his good intentions, he finds himself initially at sea here because of his skeletal understanding of the caste system. What causes Ayan to attempt a study of caste is the rape and murder of two Dalit girls whose bodies are found hanging from a tree soon after his arrival in Lalgaon. Although it may seem that ‘Ayan’ is portrayed as the hero but credit goes to characters like Gaura and Nishad who paint the true image of the social structure.

Article 15 (2019)

5) India Untouched (2007)

This documentary is the most comprehensive look at the "untouchables" in India. The film introduces leading Benares scholars who interpret Hindu scriptures to mean that Dalits "have no right" to education, and Rajput farmers who proudly proclaim that no Dalit may sit in their presence and that the police must seek their permission before pursuing cases of Dalit atrocities. Dalits themselves have not let off the hook: within Dalits, sub-castes practice Untouchability on the "lower" sub-castes, and a Harijan boy refuses to drink water from a Valmiki boy. Untouchability is also shown in the urban light where it is inflicted upon a leading medical surgeon and in such hallowed institutions like JNU, where a Brahmin boy builds a partition so as not to look at his Dalit roommate in the early morning. Its knowledge wrapped in a cinematic manner. Director Stalin K has done a marvelous job highlighting the system of oppression.

A Still From India Untouched (2007)

It is important to talk about films which highlight the realities of our society and bring them to mainstream cinema. They are revolutionary in nature and help in critically understanding history as well as the systematic institutions of our country.

bottom of page