200 Halla Ho: Beyond Powerless Dalit Women and Angry Dalit Men

The film shows Dalit women not as helpless victims, but as empowered beings with a collective voice.

4 min read
Hindi Female

In the climax scene of Mother India (1957), the iconic mother, Radha (Nargis Dutt), kills her own son. The mother is deeply annoyed and hurt seeing that her younger son, Birju (Sunil Dutt), is forcefully abducting the daughter of the village moneylender. To save her, she fires the bullet and thus punishes her own son for such an immoral act. We see that Birju had never expected his own mother to do something like that. Years have passed since that movie, but Hindi cinema’s audience still finds it a little scandalous when it is presented with women characters brandishing guns or swords to kill goons or rapists. Cinema rarely celebrates female characters who perform ‘man-like’ violent roles on the screen.

The general audience of Hindi cinema expects its on-screen women to be merely beautiful, vulnerable and compassionate characters, and rarely appreciates ‘femme fatale’ characters. On occasions, Hindi cinema has broken this stereotype by presenting women in militant violent avatars (in films like Khoon Bhari Maang, Mirch Masala, Pratighat, NH10, Mardaani, etc.) and challenged the patriarchal cultural values of Bollywood, but it is yet to emerge as a popular genre.

Interestingly, with films like Bandit Queen, Bawandar and Sonchiriya, Dalit women have also been presented as heroic characters who fight the exploitative male control with feisty anger. In Bandit Queen, the lead character, Phoolan, rises against the heinous crimes of rape and caste atrocities and delivers justice with violent vengeance. The recently released 200 Halla Ho on Zee5 is a brave extension of a similar post-rape-revenge theme. It presents a quasi-realistic narrative of about 200 Dalit women who lynch a dreaded history-sheeter in a courtroom to end his regime of brutal crimes against women.


The Real-Life Terror of Akku Yadav

The film is inspired by a real-life incident that took place in Nagpur in 2004. A large mob of Dalit women suddenly entered the district courtroom and lynched Akku Yadav, a gangster and serial rapist. The incident became national news. Many heralded the heroic collective power of the Dalit women and legitimised the act. The incident also served to question the lethargic police and judicial systems that often neglect crimes against Dalit women and provide legal impunity to such criminals.

In the film, we see Balli Chaudhary (Sahil Khattar), a notorious local gangster who harasses, rapes and kills poor Dalit women without any fear of the law. The victims live under his fear and violence for over a decade.

But a change comes when a young, educated girl, Asha (Rinku Rajguru), decides to challenge Balli. She mobilises the victims and launches 40 police complaints against the goon. However, Balli has protection from local politicians. With the help of some police officers, he threatens the women with dire consequences once he comes out of jail. In desperation, a gang of around 200 women attacks him and brutally lynches him in the courtroom. The police, after a shallow inquiry, arrest five women, and later, the session court announces life imprisonment for them. Their case is later contested by Vithhal Dangle (Amol Palekar), a renowned retired judge. Due to his critical persuasion and also because of lack of evidence, these women get an acquittal.


Poor Dalits and Educated, Middle Class Dalits

The film, on technical and artistic grounds, is weak and stretched in the departments of dialogue and casting. With some seasoned actors and enhanced production quality, it could have emerged as serious art-house cinema. However, more than its artistic endeavour, the film should be watched as a fresh and promising attempt to present Dalit life stories with nuanced attributes. It realistically showcases that even in urban centres, atrocities against Dalit women are not very distinct from the exploitation they face in the feudal-rural setup. The police officers mock, harass and violate Dalit women and defend the criminal. The local Dalit leader is shown as a powerless man who readily compromises under intimidation and fear.

Interestingly, the film offers two substantive Dalit protagonists — social activist Asha and Vitthal Dangle, the retired judge.

Often, in movies, Dalit women are stereotyped and caricatured as wretched rape victims (Bandit Queen and Bawandar), precarious labourers (Sadgati and Gidh) or as women dependent on feudal authorities (Damul and Nishant). The possibility of exploring the Dalit woman as a person with aspirational and heroic abilities has not been explored much in Hindi cinema.

Asha’s character fills this gap. She is presented as an educated community leader who fearlessly challenges the criminal and courageously fights social and legal battles. Importantly, she has no qualms about being a Dalit. Instead, she flags it as a symbol of brutal social injustice.


A Fresh Take 

Amol Palekar as the retired Dalit judge further enhances the screenplay. Hindi cinema has not adequately shown Dalits as being part of the upper middle-class society, though a handful amongst them have entered this domain.

Dalit men are mostly presented as victimised, powerless persons (remember Kachra in Lagaan ). In contrast, in recent Tamil films such as Kaala, Kabali, Asuran and Karnan, the Dalit protagonists are depicted as angry and violent men who avenge social injustice by killing the culprits.

In 200 Halla Ho, Dangle is distinct from both such portrayals. He is presented as a staunch constitutionalist who never allows his social attributes to influence his professional duties. He operates as a modern-secular citizen living under a mirage of middle-class securities, till the case of the Dalit women makes him aware of the brutal social realities under which Dalits are exploited. The realisation brings him closer to the community and he decides to fight the moral cause. Such unnuanced and sensitive portrayal of the Dalit person is rare in Hindi cinema.

Though 200 Halla Ho lacks professional finesse and popular cinematic elements, it conveys the essence of Dalit lives and their struggles firmly. It demonstrates that Dalits can suddenly erupt as a powerful collective army against the daily routine of atrocities, rapes and indignity. It suggests that even if the educated Dalit middle class is a little distanced from the precarious lives of poor Dalits, it is not alienated and has not forgotten its social responsibilities.

(Harish S. Wankhede is Assistant Professor at Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(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.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from opinion

Topics:  Film   Rape   Dalit 

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More