Mithun Nagwanshi & Ajay Choudhary
Ideologies often get spread through different media to register their presence in the life world of members of society. Cinema is also one of the powerful ideological apparatuses to create sensitivity and emotions among the audiences. Historically, it has been revealed that cinema was used as an instrument not only to entertain the masses but also perpetuate the Brahminical ideologies among the Marathas & OBC communities and the so-called untouchables (SC) who were restricted from entering theaters exhibiting plays or movies based on the brahminical mythological heroes like Rama. Interestingly, in the early 20th century, the dramatic movies based on the so-called untouchables were released under titles like Chandidas (1934), Achhut Kanya (1936), Acchut (1940), etc. All these films were conceptualized around the plight of untouchables. It is our guess that that Dr. Ambedkar’s emancipation movement from 1932 to 1942 might have influenced the liberal camp of Brahmins–this must be investigated. Such cinema offered hardly any alternative worldview to the untouchables but created a Hindu paradigm as a part of their own reformation. On the other hand, films like Fandry (2013), Kabali (2016), Sairat (2016), Kaala (2018), Sarpatta (2021) etc. are questioning the paradigm of caste inequalities that exist in Indian society.
Educated Elite, Caste and Bollywood
Within the Indian social system, casteist values and norms often become guiding principles among the members of society. But this must be observed from two perspectives: firstly that they encouraged the lower castes to emancipate themselves within the Brahminical paradigm where the savannas would be self-proclaimed saviors of Bahujan communities. But what is important and troubling is that even the so-called savarna caste educated elite practise caste privileges in a subtle manner to maintain their superior hegemonic character by controlling material resources. This proves Dr. Ambedkar’s statement that educated upper castes instead of annihilating the caste system for establishing equality would take up all the possible ways to sustain this system at the any cost. Secondly, Bahujan communities challenging the savarna’s cultural hegemony have produced an alternative emancipatory platform based on Phule-Ambedkarite ideas not only in the socio-political sphere but also in social media like Bollywood.
Bollywood as a socializing media agency often enforced brahminical values and culture on the non-Brahmin communities by providing a false consciousness to them. In other words, it became a powerful weapon to influence the audiences and also portray utopian values and norms as real. It means that Indian cinema either purposely or unconsciously did not bring lower caste realities into the picture; instead, the cast, stories revolved around so-called savarna values and norms.
Entertainment Industry and Ambedkar in Fashion
In the last one decade, anti-caste themes have become the fashion among the so-called savarnas in cinema. In this regard, the display of the photograph of Ambedkar in different cinematic dramas is not exceptional. The use of Ambedkar’s portrait objectifies caste in brahminical, hegemonic and dominating paradigms and appeases the emotions of the so-called Phule-Ambedkarite communities. The brahminical liberative camps, including the so-called public intellectual dalits, may argue in a positive sense about the initiation of a new history without taking cognizance of its effect in the larger sphere. Here the question arises as to whether ‘Jayanti’, a Marathi blockbuster, could be differentiated from the rest of Bollywood industry? One may agree that it would be hard to locate any such movie spreading the ideas of anti-caste leaders like Ambedkar; but we feel ‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’ (2000) and ‘Palasa 1978’ (2020) could be exceptions in this regard. Such movies, which even had renowned actors, could not run in different multiplex theaters due to the existence of savarna caste players in the distribution networks.
Jayanti- A Celebration of Anti-caste Ideas
News around ‘Jayanti’ has been there for an year, through social activists and cinema lovers of Nagpur, but we were not conscious about its content nor about the meaning of the title of the movie. After watching the movie, we feel that it heralds the beginning of a new era of Bahujan ideas. ‘Jayanti’ not only offers an emancipatory message for the oppressed masses, but also depicts the social impediments to individual and community progress. The content and story line instigate the individual from oppressed communities to situate his/her own self and shows the way to the project of caste annihilation. This movie portrays the different shades of social realities that exist in Indian society. The democratic values and spaces have diluted caste relations but one can not claim there has been annihilation of the caste notion within individuals and the community at large. Sociologically speaking, inter-caste relationships are directly based on the caste consciousness of individuals but fraternity also often comes from individual choice. This dichotomy reveals the relationship between Santya (an OBC character played by by Ruturaj Wankhede) and his friend (an individual from an SC caste) on the issue of celebrating the Jayantis of Dr. Ambedkar and Shivaji Maharaj where Santya directs that donation should be given to Ambedkar’s people. It implies that individual choice sometimes influences the caste consciousness which reflects how political actors utilize Mahapurshas’ Jayantis for their own political benefits.
Caste Atrocities, Issues of Non-Violence and Media
Caste atrocities are a normative phenomenon in Indian society and are perceived as individual cases. Atrocities are carried on Dalits and Adivasis, as members belonging to particular lower castes and tribes. This should be observed in the framework of a class struggle, between caste Hindus and the sufferers of castes atrocities. Hence, it can be stated that caste atrocities would remain as long as SC, ST, & OBC demand material rights and the discriminatory brahminical culture places them at the lowest level of the social hierarchy. This approach is systematically dramatized by the director, but in a different context (murder of Adivasi women by powerful political elite). The caste atrocities reported by mainstream media (electronic and print) distort the incident in such a manner that it floods the minds of Dalit and Adivasi communities with psychological horror and provides an impression of them being weak and helpless; it never looks at the assertion against caste atrocities. This imaginary reality is shattered dramatically in the movie when the OBCs and SCs struggle to achieve justice against the powerful political elite.
Jayanti demonstrates that assertion is an imperative action against caste inequalities driven by money, muscle and mafia and OBCs, SCs and STs have to inculcate power for their own protection and safety. This idea that is theatrically presented is that if someone slaps you on one cheek, then don’t offer him the other one (as Shivaji Maharaj teaches us: जरकाएकागालावरपडली, तरदूसरापणगालपुढेकरायचाहेआपलेशिवाजीमहाराजनीनाहीशिकवल). Thus, sufferers of caste oppression asserted against oppression in the form of the anti-caste movement by following the Buddha’s doctrine of differentiating violence and non-violence where one must understand the difference between the ‘need to kill and will to kill’. The Scheduled Castes and Tribes asserting to protect themselves cannot be considered violence, is the message of the movie.
Effect of Misperception of History
It is not only caste atrocities that spread the feeling of purity/pollution based on religious norms and values but literature written by liberal brahminical scholars about the anti-caste heroes also do the same. Such interpretative understanding about the anti-caste leaders leads to create misperceptions and foster mental slavery among the marginalised communities. Therefore, Ambedkar observed that the brahminical scholar would never examine with a rational and scientific mind the literature written by their forefathers. But non-brahmin scholars are free to bring out the truth without any biases. Thus, the educational ideas become revolutionary only if they emanate from the lowest of lower strata in the society.
Whose effects, Youth and Payback
It has been observed that social transformation could not reach the shudra communities through the Scheduled Caste leadership because of the antagonistic relationship between them. The studies related to anti-caste movement reveal mobilization only around specific castes and there is hardly any effect on the shudra communities in the last three decades. This shows that there is lack of anti-caste leadership among the shudra communities. This movie actually indicates that the emancipatory consciousness against the caste system emerges only through the shudra (OBC & Maratha) and this was represented through the character of the teacher, played by the Milind Shinde (Ashok Mali) who inspires Santya to read books based on the ideas and contributions of Shivaji Maharaj (Shivaji Kon Hota written by Govind Pansare) and Dr. Ambedkar (Babasaheb Ambedkar written by Dhananjay Keer). He also makes him realise about the mental slavery perpetuated by the caste system. Even youth socialized in an environment of culture with higher education have very little understanding about the contribution of those leaders who had sacrificed their lives for the upliftment of oppressed communities. The reasons behind this can be traced to the syllabus based on ideas of Tilak, Savarkar and Gandhi prescribed by the universities, colleges and schools that hardly create any consciousness of caste annihilation among the oppressed communities, especially Shudras (Marathas). As Ashok (Mali) teacher tells Santya: ‘I was never angry with you, instead I felt pity for you, as I wonder how such people, who are of no use to others, are still living on this earth’ (मलातुजारागकदीचनाहीआला]मलातुझायाबदलवाइटवाट्याचा]मलावाट्याचाकीजगतअशीमाणसकशीराहूशक्तात]कीज्यांचामुळेकुणालाचफायदानाही).This philosophical line underlines that every individual belonging to oppressed communities must take up the responsibility to pay back to society and must recognize the contribution made by Dr. Ambedkar for all the other backward communities (OBC), especially women.
Why Inter-caste Marriages are a Temporary Solution?
The movie doesn’t limit itself only to ideas of anti-caste leaders–from Shivaji to Phule and Ambedkar to Periyar–but also suggests that their humanistic ideas could help them emancipate themselves from the clutches of brahminical values and culture. A powerful tool like education had not only transformed Santya but also Pallavi Lokhande (character played by Titeeksha Tawade). Pallavi who express her willingness to marry Santya rejecting her father’s objections. Her father says he could bear his daughter working for the community but could not tolerate her marrying Santya. Pallavi replies that inter-caste marriage is her part of social service or tribute to the anti-caste movement. Her reply conveys that inter-caste marriage is a basic tool for annihilating the caste system but the couple must consciously and scientifically negate the caste notion. Therefore, Ambedkar said that inter-caste marriages are a temporary solution or artificial means because he was aware that such types of marriages are based on affection, attraction and so-called love but not based on the anti-caste feeling which is often missing in inter-caste marriages. On other side, Ambedkar’s idea of caste annihilation was conveyed in the form of a social message through the ‘Jayanti’ movie that inter-caste marriage based on love could be successful only if the couple de-caste their minds of the feelings of caste superiority and inferiority and contribute to the emancipatory project of caste annihilation.
‘Jayanti’ seems to mark the commencement of a new era, specifically within the Marathi industry and Bollywood, ushering in the celebration of the ideas of anti-caste leaders. The most striking aspect of this move is making the OBC person an agent of social transformation. It deals with many relationships between different caste communities. Hence, it is interesting to watch how this movie impacts Shivaji’s followers, and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes in general.
Ajay Choudhary, Assistant Professor, P. G. Department of Sociology, Hislop College, Nagpur, completed my MA, Mphil and Phd in Sociology, CSSS/SSS, JNU. Area of Interest: Sociology of Caste, Religious Identity and Social Movements.
Mithun Nagwanshi, completed MA in Psychology/Mental Health, TISS, Mumbai. He is a Mental health Counsellor and Independent Research Scholar, Social Activist of Social Education Movement (SEM), Maharashtra.