Nishant Roy Bombarde
In the winter of 2007, a peppy song rocked radio stations and went viral on social media, quickly making its way to the top of chartbusters. From wedding sangeets to urban gay parties everyone was grooving to this tune. It seemed like a perfect comeback film for one of yesteryears' Bollywood divas, who was known to be a good dancer. And thanks to the internet the lyrics of the song were soon available. Many did not even notice if something was wrong, but a considerable number of Indians were outraged by it.
The song I am referring to was Aaja Nachle from Madhuri Dixit's slated comeback movie with the same name. In the first stanza of the song, the heroine is concerned that she has made a mistake by getting her nose ring gold plated. Now when she stands at the balcony of her building... and here comes the golden line, "Mohalle mein kaisi maaramar hain, bole mochi bhi khudko sunaar hain" (meaning, that there is a hullabaloo in the neighbourhood to get her attention, so much so that even the cobbler is claiming to be a goldsmith). If you are sitting in the west reading this, this might just amount to a snobbish line coming out of a classist lyricist's pen. But in India, this is loaded with a long history of slavery, supremacy & derogation. It owes its origins to the system of caste which India still maintains, often under the wraps if not brazenly, even after the Constitution of India made it illegal to practice. When this controversy arose, UP was the first state to ban the film. This was by a party, BSP, which had come to power on Dalit-Bahujan vote and had to act when it came to protecting the community. But some people blamed it as selfish because Mayawati, the then Chief Minister, was from the same low caste community that the song mentions. Some people also called it petty politics and some went on to the extent of calling this casteism!
Now it is a very peculiar case, not rare but peculiar. For starters, let's make it clear that there are two Indias – The High Caste India & A Low Caste India. As a thought experiment for this article and the point I want to make, let's call the high caste India 'Parshu'. So Parshu, in matters pertaining to the realm of academics, merit & competition, believes itself to be casteless. At the same time in this and other aspects of life, it either directly keeps caste alive or is a passive contributor to it. The passive contributors include most of the human rights activists, left liberals, extreme leftists, centrists so on and so forth. So 'Parshu' actually thought that UP government banning the above mentioned song was casteism. Now this is like calling a black man a Negro in present day US and then claiming his retaliation as apartheid. Or better, make a song about how "Negros are also calling themselves white these days". Parshus live in a bubble and don't give a damn about how casteism doesn't just come into the picture when you are cut off by merit list, but casteism is breathed by more than half of the population of India at every step of their lives, day in & day out, affected either through slavery, supremacy or derogation.
I have been working in the media for the past 5 years and I know a film song passes through various stages. It is conceived first by the script writer, a brief is accordingly given to the lyricist/music director by the director, the lyricist writes it or the music director first composes it, however the case maybe. The producer, director & script writer approve the tune & lyrics, it is then recorded, choreographed by the choreographer, performed by the artist, shot by the cinematographer and finally edited by the editor. None of the Sahnis, Mehtas, Mishras, Merchants, Chopras, Dixits, Mohanans & Sonis ("coincidentally" all higher castes) working at the above steps realised this could be offensive? May be one of the passive 'Parshus' did! But then he must have held his wine glass up in the air and said in a very coffee house manner, "that's the way of the world! I am strictly against caste but I have to earn my bread as well."
It took a Dalit to realise what harm the song does to the pride of a fellow dalit and act. Why? Because only the one who has suffered at hands of the demon of casteism can feel this, others can at max empathise. And empathy is a second hand emotion. Too distant for us to feel happy about! The controversial lyrics were taken down later and an apology rendered, but it forces us to wonder how much of it was heartfelt and not a business decision. (The State of UP has the largest population and is the heartland of the Hindi belt). Doesn't that make one wonder about the intent of the decision?
The year 2015: 8 years post this controversy and Bollywood is growing strong in its insults against the dalits. Now comes the poster of a film from apparently the king of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan. It shows him in an angry look (Muslims are seen as an angry people by 'Parshu' if you didn't know, because they are, guess what, beef eaters) with the stereotypical kohl in his eyes, probably to make him look like a 'real' Muslim. A 'Khan' does need some kohl in his eyes to look believably Muslim after doing so many Hindu roles. Fair enough! It doesn't stop there though. It throws in a wonderfully creative line, "Baniya ka dimaag, Miyanbhai ki daring" literally translated as "A Merchant's (high caste traders) brains and the daring of a Muslim" This is problematic and raises concern at many levels. Daring of a Muslim? What daring exactly are they referring to? Is it the daring referred to in Parshu's prejudices, which talk about Muslims having invaded "Hindustan" and ruled it for centuries? Or of having bifurcated British India and created an independent state of Pakistan? It certainly cannot be referring to the alleged "all terrorists are Muslims" hypothesis constantly raised by the Sangh Parivar? Let's hope not! Since the actor is a Khan & the production company Red Chilies is owned by him, let's just give them the benefit of doubt and wait till an explanation comes out on that front. After all, the film has inserted a tag of a 2016 "Eid" release!
It is well known in India that the word "miyan" is used as an abuse. Whether adding 'bhai' creates a respectful word out of it, is not for us to decide! Let us stick to the earlier part of that wonderfully creative line for the discussions of this article. "Baniya ka dimag" it says! Who are the baniyas? Baniyas are one of the richest & upper caste communities of India. Deemed to be very entrepreneurial, they have been one of the most mobile communities since ancient times. Gandhi, the father of Parshus, I mean India, was also a Baniya. That they have been always associated with business and commerce is a well-known fact in India. But what does it mean putting that fact on a film poster? It basically reeks of supremacy. It says we have ruled you by unjust means, we know it & we will rub it into your face.
Let me again bring an analogy here. It's basically like having a line "The White Messiah" on the poster of Wachowski brothers' The Matrix. That Baniyas might have business acumen is a widely held belief. But, in a caste structure, this means that others can't have it and that is laughable and disgusting at the same time! But this is something high caste India believes in. This is the premise the Caste System has based itself on & propagated. That it penetrated Islam & created higher castes like Khan out of it is worth pondering then. Isn't it?
Why are there no counter voices from within the industry, you may ask? Because there are no voices on the other side. Not at least at positions where decisions are made. In 5 years of my career, I have not seen a single Dalit Bahujan at a decision making position. Because he is not competent enough? No. With a 5000 year head start, Parshus (mostly Brahmins) have occupied all the major positions in the media. Like merit, they have created their own definitions of creativity, aesthetics & culture. These are their own versions of the story & they are to be taken as the sacred truth. Anyone who goes against that is taken off the story like an unwanted character. And why not, history is always written by rulers. Particularly the post 1947 period, and the transfer of power that is known as Indian Independence today, made sure Parshus can again write the narrative.
Even when a major "liberal" & "secular" journalist, Rajdeep Sardesai feels happy about Gaud Saraswat Brahmin (a Brahmin sub-caste) victories, the secular India doesn't flinch. Because she knows whether Indraprasth remains with Kauravas or Pandavas, it doesn't matter. As long as, they don't have to share it with the rightful indigenous people or the working classes of dalit bahujans who make this country with their sweat and blood (they chose to call them Danavas, Daityas & Nagas in their myths), it's all fair. Rightists, Leftists & Centrists do not represent political ideologies in India, they are sub-castes of the Raees Higher Castes of India. Isn't that the reason, Parshus are extremely scared of the Caste Census? It has created a hullabaloo from Nagpur to New Delhi.
When the British ruled India, they had a custom-made map in circulation which showed India at least 7 times smaller than Great Britain. The Bahujan (literally majority) community in India should never realise the mere strength in numbers it has. Because regimes sometimes are not just challenged by the power of ideas like that of the Buddha's, but when those ideas spread among a number of victims with a common fate, the sheer number can lead to a coup-d'état. And the caste census might do exactly that. The great leader and architect of the Indian constitution Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar said, "Tell the slave he is a slave and he will revolt." We can only pray that the Brahmins & Baniyas have the daring to keep their dimaag open!
Nishant Roy Bombarde works for Essel Vision, the premier media house in Marathi, as an Executive Producer. He also heads the Social Media promotions at the firm. A credited writer for television show Fear Files, he has now shot his first short film Daaravtha meaning threshold in Zaadi; a local dialect of Marathi. The film is a compilation of real life inspirations around him and currently on the edit table.
Picture courtesy: the net.