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Reconsidering Dalit representation

Researcher

Vishal Chauhan, PhD researcher

Aims of research

The research aims to highlight the representation of marginalised people in Indian cinema. ‘Dalits’ are traditionally portrayed as ill-dressed, under confident and ugly, and are often performed by upper caste actors donning blackface.

Method of research

Vishal, originally from Ajmer in Rajasthan, is conducting the research as part of his PhD, focusing his research on 15 Hindi films from the 1930s to the 2010s. Rather than solely relying on textual analysis, Vishal will engage with archives at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), as well as using contemporary documents to better understand the context within which cinemagoers reacted to these films when originally released and how people from lower castes were represented. The Indian caste system originates as far back as 1500 BC and, despite the practice of untouchability being constitutionally abolished in 1950, the hierarchy and social ostracisation continues. In cinema, Dalits – which means ‘broken’ or ‘oppressed’ in Hindi – do not receive equal screen time compared with other societal groups, with a recent analysis showing that out of 250 films released in 2013-14, only six lead characters belonged to a lower caste.

Benefits

Vishal hopes his findings can be used to inform Bollywood and Indian policymakers of the importance of normalising Dalit representation on screen. “Bollywood has a social responsibility to ensure it portrays Dalits with integrity in order to help shift the public consciousness,” Vishal said. “It also needs to pave the way for a brighter outlook for millions of people.”