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Upper Caste Characters Dominate Bollywood Storylines

Upper-castes dominate Bollywood storylines, whereas most of Tamil movies have at least one Dalit character.

Updated
India
3 min read
Mary Kom, one of the bollywood blockbusters that had a tribal lead character. (Photo: <a href="https://twitter.com/MaryKomMovie">twitter.com</a>/<a href="https://twitter.com/MaryKomMovie">@<b>MaryKomMovie</b></a>)

Hindi movies in recent times may have been able to break stereotypes when it comes to gender, but they still exhibit clear bias when it comes to portraying only upper-caste characters in storylines. This phenomena of the lead protagonists belonging to higher castes reflects the deeply entrenched prejudice of the north Indian Hindi speaking heartland where the obsession with the varna order continues to be dominant.

In an attempt to bring forth this prejudice, The Hindu analysed all Hindi movies released in 2013 and 2014, which had upper-caste characters in lead roles.

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1. Highway and Gulaab Gang, Among a Few Others

Randeep Hooda portrayed a Gujjar rogue in <i>Highway</i>.  (Photo: <a href="https://twitter.com/HighwayTheFilm/media">twitter.com</a>/<a href="https://twitter.com/HighwayTheFilm">@<b>HighwayTheFilm</b></a>)
Randeep Hooda portrayed a Gujjar rogue in Highway. (Photo: twitter.com/@HighwayTheFilm)

Only six of the lead characters in about 300 Bollywood movies released over the last two years belonged to a lower caste. Only two movies in 2014 had lead characters who were from a backward caste, Manjunath and Highway. Two others had characters who could have belonged to low castes, like the Madhuri Dixit-starrer Gulaab Gang, loosely based on the life of Sampat Pal, and Hawaa Hawaai, a children’s movie by Amole Gupte. Mary Kom, based on the life of the champion boxer, is another blockbuster that has a tribal lead character.

Barely two movies had Christian lead characters, three had Sikh heroes, and nine had Muslim lead protagonists. Among the rest, 66 lead characters were upper caste Hindus, while the remaining were Hindus belonging to unstated castes.

2. Same Trend Witnessed in 2013

Sonam Kapoor played the role of a Muslim girl residing in Varanasi called Zoya Haider in <i>Raanjhanaa, </i>released in 2013. (Photo: <a href="https://twitter.com/RaanjhanaaFilm/media">twitter.com</a>/<a href="https://twitter.com/RaanjhanaaFilm">@<b>RaanjhanaaFilm</b></a>)
Sonam Kapoor played the role of a Muslim girl residing in Varanasi called Zoya Haider in Raanjhanaa, released in 2013. (Photo: twitter.com/@RaanjhanaaFilm)

In Bollywood movies released in 2013, merely four leading men were Christian, one Jain, three Sikh and 5 Muslim. Of the rest, 65 were upper caste Hindus, while the remaining did not have their castes mentioned.

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3. Caste Discrimination in Bollywood

A screengrab of a scene from the film <i>Omkara</i>.
A screengrab of a scene from the film Omkara.

A few odd movies such as Aakrosh (2010), Rajneeti (2010) and Omkara (2006) starred Ajay Devgn in lead roles, .where the characters belonged to a low caste. It is worth noting that most movies with lead characters belonging to backward castes tend to be those that engage specifically with inter-caste issues.

4. Tamil Films Without Caste Prejudice

A still from a hit 2014 Tamil movie <i>Velaiyilla Pattathari</i>.&nbsp;
A still from a hit 2014 Tamil movie Velaiyilla Pattathari

Contrary to the trend seen in Bollywood, it is very encouraging to know that at least one lead character from the top 10 Tamil movies was dalit in 2013 and 2014. Out of the 16 top movies of 2013, seven had lead characters belonging to backward castes.

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5. Bollywood Clearly Lacks Diversity

Shyam Benegal’s 1974 film <i>Ankur</i> revolved around the love affair between the son of the village landlord, and the wife of a dalit potter.&nbsp;
Shyam Benegal’s 1974 film Ankur revolved around the love affair between the son of the village landlord, and the wife of a dalit potter. 

The overwhelming majority of nearly 750 actors and actresses in Bollywood who featured in more than five movies over the last decade are upper caste Hindus, followed by Muslims. Hence, one is struck by the lack of diversity among the acting professionals of Hindi cinema.

Evidently, the love for characterisation of the lead figures in Bollywood as upper caste goes against any pluralistic ethos.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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