A photo of a woman holding a broom. Everywhere else, the image can go unnoticed. But in India, the Madam Chief Minister movie poster, loosely based on the life of politician Mayawati, who is a Dalit, sparked an outcry for the perpetuation of caste stereotypes.
Bollywood actor Richa Chadha, who plays Mayawati, tweeted an image of the poster ahead of the film’s release later this month. She looks disheveled and holds the kind of large broom used by municipal sweepers. The poster slogan reads: Untouchable, Unstoppable.
The poster has offended on many fronts. “Untouchable” is now an unacceptable term in India – although some Dalits are clamoring for it – and the actor’s sloppy appearance implies that Dalits are unwashed and messy.
For those Dalits who strove to escape the hereditary and menial jobs that defined and dehumanized them, the broom is a particularly powerful symbol.
The outrage was instantaneous. Chadha and director Subhash Kapoor have been castigated for their inability – as upper caste and privileged Hindus – to escape the simplistic conceptions of the Dalits.
Many have expressed their opinions on Twitter. We wrote: “Over the years, Bollywood, under the pretext of breaking down caste barriers and making progressive cinema, has reinforced caste prejudices and solidified the symbols associated with discrimination. What does a Dalit leader who will become CM have to do with holding a broom? “
Another tweeted: “The understanding of casteism by the CUs (who claim to be secular and liberal) is still imperfect. Apparently everyone wants to make Dalit movies these days because it pays off and they do more harm to the community. “
While another wrote: “The recent poster of Madam Chief Minister once again leaves me heartbroken. I run out of words to talk about people’s deliberate reluctance to figure things out. Any so-called “progressive” behavior fails when it comes to the way a Dalit is imagined in this country.
Chadha dismissed criticism as an example of “cancellation culture” and urged his critics to look beyond the poster and appreciate the film’s “progressive and transformative” theme.
Political theorist and author Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd said caste prejudices were so ingrained that those who created the image ignored the fact that Mayawati was educated and worked as a teacher before becoming, as leader of the Bahujan party. Samaj, the first female chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. . She served four terms.
“The casteist spirit and the absolute stupidity of the director [meant he] did not see his image with a human eye, but rather with a caste eye. Bollywood is teeming with so many casteist and idiotic minds that they can hardly be expected to do what this film claims to be: a socially relevant and transformative film, ”said Shepherd.
Apart from a handful of new young Dalit directors who have unexpectedly emerged in recent years, the film industry has generally failed to tackle the caste realities of India, despite being the most important cultural force. most powerful country, shaping the perceptions of millions of people. Indians.
If Dalits are shown at all, it is as subordinate laborers or as victims of exploitation of upper castes leading brutalized and miserable lives.
A few years ago, a film production company shared a cast on Facebook looking for an “actor who looks like a Dalit”.
Director Rajesh Rajamani, who scoffed at the idea of casting someone who “looks” like a Dalit in his short film The Discreet Charm of the Savarnas, said even on the rare occasions when Bollywood brings up the subject of caste, the result is superficial.
« Unfortunately, stories about adivasis [the indigenous tribes of India], Dalits and Muslims have become very commonplace. It has become an easy way for upper caste filmmakers to appear progressive and popular when telling these stories, ”Rajamani said in a recent interview.