Bengaluru: The recent Hindi film Article 15, directed by Anubhav Sinha and headlined by the ever-reliable Ayushmann Khurrana, turned the uncomfortable spotlight on caste and caste privilege that come into play in everyday life in India, especially in the recesses of its small towns and villages.


The film, which raises some pertinent questions on the caste reality in India, had its heart in the right place, but speaks from an upper caste perspective. For all its good intentions, the film is not a Dalit movie, something which Bollywood is unable to come up with any amount of consistency because of a multitude of reasons.


One of them is, of course, the obvious fact that Bollywood has very little 'diversity' in its ranks.


"To make good authentic movies on caste reality in India, you need people who have that lived-in experience," says Amritha S, an activist for Dalit Rights.


"We have a few well-meaning directors who churn out realistic movies on the theme. Masaan is a good example. Yet, the gritty reality of, say, Sairat, will be missing because the realities of Neeraj Ghaywan and Nagraj Manjule are entirely different."


Manjule, the director of Sairat, is a Dalit, and hence what he brings to his films is an authentic experience which no amount of empathy and sincerity can adequately compensate.


There is no data readily available on this, but Dalit representation both in front and behind the camera in Bollywood is far and few between. And because of this, there are a lot of dangerous discrepancies and easy escapism. For instance, when Sairat was remade in Hindi as Dhadak, the Marathi original's fundamental point on caste was airbrushed at the altar of a star kid launch. So Dhadak, despite being a scene-to-scene remake, turned out to be a film with no soul.


To be sure, there have been explorations from time to time on Dalits and the oppressed people's realities, but they were mostly 'parallel cinema' explorations that inevitably came from upper caste perspective-  films like Ankur, Manthan, Nishant and Aakrosh that cast more light on upper-caste oppression.

Also, for Dalit lives and realities to get mainstreamed, what movies need to show are not just their trials and tribulations, but also their happiness and high points. Something which is happening in regional cinema because there are Dalit directors who are unabashed about aesthetically exploring their lifestyle. Pa Ranjith in Tamil is a good example. He has made four mainstream movies, including the two Rajinikanth starrers Kabali and Kaala, and each one of them speaks of Dalit reality in a different but every-day manner. Manjule's films also bear the same stamp.


Then there was Pariyerum Perumal, directed by Mari Selvaraj, a protege of Ranjith. It was verily the best Tamil film of 2018 as it gave a realistic and agonising peep into the Dalit lives without crude sermonising or maudlin sentimentalism.


"The film had heart, brains and soul. It was a Dalit movie. It was also a work of art that could be evaluated on its own merits without the Dalit tag. Such movies are rare," says Karunakaran, a film journalist.  


Not just in Tamil, Malayalam too regularly makes movies on Dalits and their predicaments. Kammatipaadam, released 3 years back, speaks of how a Dalit community is forced to give up its land to real-estate mafia. It is a stinging tale on how our modern urban locales are built by depriving Dalits of their legitimate holdings.


The thing to note is Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi moviedoms have space for multiple voices. It is not as nepotistic as Bollywood is.


“You need a Dalit to make a realistic Dalit movie. Bollywood doesn’t have it. It is as simple as that,” says Karunakaran. In recent years, things have gotten better in Hindi with movies like Chauranga, Court and Masaan. But unless Bollywood cedes spaces to diverse voices, especially from the oppressed and most backward classes, it will continue to be seen as a film industry that mostly churns out mindless entertainers bereft of heart, soul and authentic experience.