Romance sells, but it doesn’t sell for long. The Bollywood industry knows this. It caters to the entertainment needs of nearly 600 million young Indians and for years, has tried to evolve itself with their changing tastes. Both Bollywood and its western counterpart have realised that movies with social significance and commentary are widely watched and appreciated. When Slumdog Millionaire won 8 Academy Awards and 7 BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Awards in 2008, it also became evident that such movies are more likely to win awards and accolades.
While the Indian entertainment industry is growing and maturing, the changes seem to be concentrated mostly in the arena of series and documentaries like ‘Leila’ and ‘Period. End of Sentence.’
In terms of movies and mainstream cinema, their efforts are not faring all too well. One movie with immense potential which failed to deliver in 2019 was ‘Article 15’.
Article 15 is not only the perfect example of the ‘Savarna Saviour’ complex but also shows us that Bollywood is still not capable of writing strong Dalit characters.
The movie, which is supposed to comment on the ever-present and rampant casteism in India, reflected the true reality of the industry with its privileged directors and actors who continue to remain blissfully ignorant about the sufferings of the underprivileged.
Article 15 is not only the perfect example of the ‘Savarna Saviour’ complex but also shows us that Bollywood is still not capable of writing strong Dalit characters. The script falls prey to a lot of caste stereotypes and is perhaps a glaringly obvious example of why the industry needs greater diversity in terms of not only actors but also writers and directors.
Many, including the director Anubhav Sinha, have defended the movie and encouraged viewers to put aside the problematic aspects and appreciate the fact that it “raises awareness” and is “starting the conversation”, but Dalits and Bahujans in India don’t need awareness about their own sufferings which can only mean that the movie is for the privileged viewership, and therein lies the inherent casteism of Indian cinema. Article 15 shows us that the industry is willing to exploit the identities and issues of the marginalised for fame and gain all the while making a complete mockery of their sufferings.
Another movie that exemplifies the fact that Bollywood is not particularly concerned with social commentary but rather with the problem of showing something different and new for monetary gains is Akshay Kumar’s upcoming movie ‘Laxmmi Bomb’. Laxmmi Bomb is categorised as a comedy-horror and according to early promotions is supposed to be a movie about a transgender ghost which takes possession of Kumar’s character.
Let’s not forget that Akshay Kumar has previously hijacked movies which were supposed to portray female empowerment and is now, true to form, mis-representing a transgender person.
The storyline is an assault on the identity and struggles of every transgender person in India and elsewhere, who already receive treatment which is far from humane. The fact that the antagonist of the movie seems to be a transgender ghost who takes possession of the body of a cisgender man is deeply problematic and transphobic. Let’s not forget that Akshay Kumar has previously hijacked movies which were supposed to portray female empowerment and is now, true to form, mis-representing a transgender person.
Also read: Why Do Bollywood Movies About Women Have Male Protagonists?
Bala, an upcoming movie, has also received criticism for indulging in brownface. Bhumi Pednekar, the lead actress, who happens to be light skinned portrays a dark-skinned character. Ironically, her character is subjected to colourist remarks and is supposed to be a commentary on Indian society’s colonised obsession with light skin.
The fact that a movie which claims to challenge this colour bias failed to cast a dark skinned actress is far from coincidental. If the movie, set to release on November 4th, fails to completely convince the audience that colourism is a legitimate issue in India, the obvious discrimination evident in the casting should be sufficient testimony of the problem.
The industry does not seem to be making these movies out of genuine solidarity with those that face discrimination or exist in margins of society.
Also read: PadMan Review: It Fails To Be The Poster Child Of Social Change
Perhaps stories of characters with extravagant privileges no longer sell or maybe the directors and writers think being ‘woke’ is the newest trend, but that fact remains that Bollywood cannot comment on societal problems while continuing to indulge in them.
Featured Image Source: News 18
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