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Compared to Sairat, Dhadak a Cop-Out That Sidelines Caste Nuances

If Sairat adapted to anything, it was to Bollywood and its audience’s casteism.

Updated
Indian Cinema
6 min read
In Dhadak, some of Sairat’s best scenes are lost in adaptation.
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SPOILERS AHEAD!

With the sole exception of the alternative ending, every single time Dhadak deviates from Sairat, it does a poorer job than the original and leaves you wondering what the folks at Dharma Productions must have been thinking. In the age of shot-by-shot remakes (look at the success of movies like Drishyam), why would Dharma attempt to change a movie that is possibly this decade’s most iconic regional language film?

The answer seems more insidious than is immediately apparent. The changes are made to cleanse Dhadak of the overt references to caste that were made in Sairat. Dhadak’s deviations from Sairat work to rid the nuances that made Nagraj Manjule’s work a masterpiece.
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Here are some examples that prove the point.

Lost in Adaptation: Diluting the Slap Scene

One of Sairat’s most powerful scenes is when a college professor gets slapped in class by Archi’s brother, Prince, an entitled upper caste brat.

The scene and the symbolism it is laden with, are potent reminders of the daily injustices that Dalits in our country continue to face, no matter how educated or seemingly “empowered” they become.

Lokhande Sir teaches his class: “There are many revolutionary and modern poets in Marathi also. Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal and others were also modern poets. Keshav Sud was the first modern Marathi poet. He reads out Keshav Sud’s Marathi poem, titled ‘Nava Shipai’:

I’m a brave soldier of the new world,
Let me see who can bring me to my knees.
I am not a Brahmin, nor a Hindu
Nor do I belong to any other caste.

Lokhande breaks off to scold Prince, who is speaking on the phone. But Prince slaps the professor and walks away with the dare: “My name is Prince, do what you want to.”

The lines of the poem establish the harsh irony. A brave soldier of the new world, who does not associate himself to any caste, who says, “Let me see who can bring me to my knees” is humiliated by a young “Prince”, whose privilege by birth allows him to trample upon those of the lower castes, like Lokhande.

On hearing about the incident, Prince’s father, politician and older upper caste entitled brat, praises his son, “Well done, my boy! You have taken after your grandpa.”

In the next scene, the college principal, Lokhande and another professor visit Prince’s father, presumably to complain about the boy’s behaviour. But the caste and power dynamic hits you in the face when Prince’s father is seen telling the college principal to introduce Lokhande to his other children so that the professor doesn’t repeat his mistake in the future.

When the classroom same scene plays out in Dhadak, instead of talking about Dalit poets, the professor is mumbling something about cooperatives. The reference to the poem is removed entirely, along with the reference to caste.

The scene with the brother slapping the professor for being told off about using his phone is retained, but the next scene is diluted completely.

Instead of the politician father warning the professor to beware of his other children, the errant son is asked to apologise in Dhadak. And though politician Ratan Singh warns the principal and the professor that he will soon become an MLA, Dhadak takes the sting out of one of Sairat’s best scenes. It’s a classic case of ‘lost in adaptation’.

And you’re left asking, “Why would they do that?” It was such a good scene, with overtones that established how systemic and naturalised caste oppression is. But no, Bollywood just said sorry and moved on.

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The Caste of Water

When Archi and her friend Annie ride a tractor and visit Parshya’s house, Archi asks for a glass of water. Parshya’s mom is visibly surprised, and asks again, just to be sure. “Water?”

When Archi is given the glass of water, she offers Annie first. But Annie, who hasn’t even got off the tractor and entered Parshya’s home, refuses to drink the water. Annie’s expression too, is one that shows the apprehensions that come with caste conditioning. It is anathema for upper castes to enter the homes of lower castes, and drinking water is strictly taboo. Because, of course, drinking “their impure water” will make you lose your caste and honour.

It is in this context that Archi entering Parshya’s home, asking his mother for a glass of water, and eventually drinking it too, is significant. It shows that she is consciously announcing the overcoming of caste boundaries. It is yet another nuance around caste that is moulded in the storytelling of Sairat, making it so political, poignant and powerful.

Dhadak draws a complete blank on this scene. The scene is situated in Madhu’s cafe, there is a glass of water on the table but it does not feature prominently in either the conversation or the screen. Yet again, Dhadak cleanses the story of an example of caste discrimination, and its overcoming. And in doing so, Shashank Khaitan’s version lets Nagraj Manjule’s film down, yet again

From Bittargaon to Udaipur

Changing the setting from the village of Bittargaon in Maharashtra to the city of Udaipur in Rajasthan robs the movie of another important scene – that of the village panchayat.

In Sairat, Parshya’s father pleads to the village elders that ever since his son eloped with an upper caste girl, his family keeps getting punished for it. For example, three suitors had already rejected his daughter’s hand in marriage. Parshya’s family are forced to leave Patil’s village as well.

These realities of ostracisation faced by lower caste families when they fail to live as per caste conventions is whitewashed in Dhadak due to its locale change. There is neither a village panchayat to which Madhu’s father has to beg to gain acceptance again, nor do his family members have to leave their home.

Instead, Dhadak deviates to show that Madhu’s father is pressured to come to the police station every other day. Understandably, this isn’t anywhere as powerful as the scene in Sairat where Parshya’s father tells the panchayat that his son means nothing to him anymore.

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The Changes Miss the Crux

Changes like these, and the significantly reduced focus on caste, makes Dhadak a film with far lesser context, nuance and strength of storytelling than Sairat.

It’s like making a remake or “adaptation” (the term Dhadak’s makers seem to prefer) of Lagaan, but minus the colonialism.

You could make a great adaptation of Lagaan, in another language and another setting, by making the movie even about a different sport. But you cannot make a faithful adaptation of Lagaan if you remove colonialism from the plot.

And make no mistake, there’s no denying that Dhadak does have two references to caste. On both occasions, Madhu’s father is seen warning his son that Parthavi’s folks are upper caste and that he’s better off staying away from her.

But it’s as if Dhadak raises the issue of caste, the two times it does, almost apologetically. Why else would they remove the other references to caste from the movie? Would having those references hurt the plot or storytelling of Dhadak? Definitely not. In fact, they would have embellished the setting, strengthened the context and made the film more powerful.

So then you ask, “Why were these changes brought in then?” Here’s a possible reason:

The Denial Complex

A lot of Indians claimed to be upset while watching Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. “How could they show our country to be so poor?” was the foolishly nationalistic refrain.

Were Karan Johar and co. worried that if Dhadak retained the numerous caste overtones that Sairat contained, upper caste sections of Bollywood’s North Indian audience would experience a similar denial complex? Would upper caste individuals watching the movie have cringed if all the references to caste realities and discrimination had been retained?

For proof that this phenomenon exists, go visit the comments section of any of the many videos The Quint has published on caste atrocities in India. Invariably, you will find entitled upper caste individuals denying that casteism exists in this country, and trolling the video and our publication instead.

Was this Dharma’s attempt therefore to try and save Dhadak from the ire of the upper castes and their interest groups? Was Karan Johar trying to play the safest he could, after past experiences (read Ae Dil Hai Mushkil) have proven costly and embarrassing?

Regardless of the reasoning though, Dhadak is more proof that Bollywood is happiest brushing the issue of caste under the carpet. And no, those two references to caste in the movie do not make up for it. Because for those two references retained, there was a long list of references deliberately removed in this “adaptation”.

So if Sairat was adapted to anything, it was to Bollywood and to the casteism of its audience.

(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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