Caste in Contemporary Indian Cinema: Representation, Realism, Audiences, and Lived Experience.
My project aims to resurrect muted Dalit subaltern voices, as audiences of cinema in India. The Dalit community in South Asia is one of the most oppressed and discriminated communities in the world. Throughout the history of 110 years of cinema in India, we, Dalits, have hardly had any opportunities to retrieve our Dalit lived experiences on screen. Dalit directors and actors have been systematically excluded on screen historically except as objects of an othering gaze.
The most important element of popular culture in India, the Hindi film industry, known as Bollywood, has touched caste in a tangential manner, only to focus on the heroics of the on-screen upper-caste messiahs, instead of focusing on Dalit struggles and Dalit resistance. My project traces the influx of Dalit directors and actors in vernacular cinemas since 2013. These directors, using films as a creative audio-visual medium to animate their Dalit lived experiences into mediated spaces, have come up with plots with original screenplays that portray not only Dalit struggles and experiences, but also on-screen Dalit resistance. I choose to name this socio-political film movement the Dalit New Wave, as they echo Ambedkar’s (1942) slogan “Educate, Agitate, Organise!”, aimed towards a form of Dalit consciousness.
Born a Dalit myself, the tensions between between Dalit lived experience and the verisimilitude of on-screen Dalit representation have been an issue that I have been living with. Working on the dialectic between critical and complacent spectatorship through the concepts of interpellation and oppositional gaze, my research would look to investigate how different audiences (Dalits, OBCs, Upper-Castes, non- Hindus) affectively respond to representations of caste and Dalit characters on screen. It would further look into what triggers particular responses in particular audiences: if it is the authenticity of lived experience, or if it is realism, or if it is an ideological/ political affiliation under the Hindutva rule in India since 2014.
This is an original interdisciplinary attempt towards Dalit consciousness on the dialectic between hegemonic and subaltern cultural production to revive the historically dying voices of my community that are getting lost amidst rising Hindutva fascism and the hammers of exclusion, and manual scavenging.
I hold a B.A in Sociology from the University of Calcutta, and an M.A in Sociology from the Presidency University, Calcutta, India (High Distinction). Since I have always been interested in the dissemination of social realities and epistemes through the lens of new media, I chose to pursue my second postgraduate degree in Media and Communications. I completed my second postgraduate degree, MSc Media and Communications from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Following this, I have joined the Department of Media and Communications as a PhD researcher.
Professor Shakunatala Banaji and Dr Wendy Willems.