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#SundayReading – So Many ‘Strong Women’ Movies, So Few Women Writing Them…

How does Indian cinema fare in terms of female representation? And how much does it have to do with the serious lack of female writers being included?

How do Indian films portray women? Especially, the ones that have done really well at the box office? After all, these are the movies that impact the largest number of people. Would Indian films do a much better job of it if many more of our stories came from women? How does the number of female writers on the team influence the representation of women in the film?

had to find out some things. I’ve tried to explore these questions by taking a look at some of the top Telugu, Hindi, and Tamil films (I considered only movies of those three languages because Tollywood, Bollywood, and Kollywood are the biggest film industries in India) of the years 2016 and 2017.

I did not go into this project thinking that there would be many female writers in the film industry. And when I say writers, I mean writers of any kind – screenwriters, female writers involved in the writing of the original story, and female lyricists. But I was still shocked at just how low the number of women who write for Indian movies is!

Having looked up the numbers, I tried looking at female representation in these films and what I found was quite disturbing.

Telugu cinema…in dire need of female writers

Let’s start with Telugu movies, since they have the least number of female writers in their top ten box office hits of 2016 and 2017. Out of the twenty Telugu films that I examined, only two had female writers in any role at all. (Data source: Compiled from

Out of the top ten Telugu box office hits of 2017 (having a World Wide Gross of 58 crore rupees and above), exactly one film gave equal importance to the male and female characters – Fidaa.Fidaa had an unconventional female lead and it can be said that she drove the film. She does stereotypically masculine things like driving a tractor, etc. The film even has the hero moving in to live with the heroine after they marry instead of the usual ‘women have to leave their family behind to join a new one’ cliché. It is also the only film on the list to have a female writer of any sort – lyricist Chaitanya Pingali.

Of course, it’s not like none of the other films have strong female characters; Baahubali 2: The Conclusion for instance does have some very well-represented women. But none of them are as important as the male protagonist. A fairly important female character from the first film (whose portrayal was already problematic) almost completely disappears in the sequel.

The situation wasn’t any better in 2016; in the list of top ten Telugu box office hits (with a World Wide Gross of 46 crore rupees and above) has just one movie that treats its male and female protagonists the same – A Aa. It is based on a novel called Meena by Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani. None of the other films had female writers in any capacity. Dhruva has an interesting heroine but she is not nearly as important as the male protagonist and male antagonist.

In both the years 2016 and 2017, the top ten Telugu films were mostly male-driven and the two films which gave women as much importance as men were also the only two that had female writers at all. Both these films were romantic, which is traditionally considered feminine. It would be nice to have equally significant female characters in other genres as well. But at least these two films gave the women as much importance as the men despite being problematic in other ways. Clearly, Telugu cinema is in dire need of female writers!

Hindi cinema…doing better but still some distance to cover

When it comes to Hindi movies, out of the forty that I looked at, only eight had female writers of any sort. (Compiled from

The year 2017 saw quite a few women-oriented films get released by Bollywood and do quite well, like, Toilet: Ek Prem KathaBadrinath Ki DulhaniaSecret SuperstarTumhari Sulu, and Lipstick Under My Burkha. But not all of these films had female writers. Only Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Garima Wahal was involved in both the writing of the film and the lyrics of the songs along with Siddharth Singh) and Lipstick Under My Burkha (Alankrita Shrivastava wrote both the story and screenplay of this film while Anvita Dutt Guptan was the lyricist) had female writers. In fact, out of the top twenty films, only three had female writers – the ones I’ve already mentioned and Hindi Medium which had a female lyricist – Priya Saraiya.

Despite this, some of the films have portrayed women really well – even the films that weren’t women oriented like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Many others have done a horrible job though. Even Bareilly Ki Barfi does a bad job in spite of having an important female protagonist – she isn’t very well-developed. Badrinath Ki Dulhania is superficially feminist, it’s all about breaking out of a patriarchal family hierarchy and letting women give importance to their careers. However, the male protagonist is quite violent towards the female protagonist and literally kidnaps her; yet, this isn’t seen as a big enough thing for her to let him go forever. This diminishes the seriousness of abuse and is a huge problem. Having a female writer might have helped.

2016 was the year of films like PinkDangalNeerja, and Dear Zindagi, all of which had strong female protagonists. However, only five out of the top twenty films had any female writers, three of them being PinkNeerja and Dear Zindagi. Out of these five films, two of the films had only female lyricists – Pink and Housefull 3Neerja was written by one female writer and two male writers. One of the writers of Kapoor & Sons was a woman and so was one of the lyricists. A woman wrote both the story and the screenplay of Dear Zindagi.

There is no doubt that the 2016 Hindi films that had a woman on the story writing or screenplay writing team succeeded in representing women better than those that didn’t. This holds good even for women-oriented films with all-male writing teams and not particularly ‘feminist’ films with a woman on the writing team. For example, Kapoor & Sons managed to treat its women with a lot of empathy and sensitivity despite its seemingly patriarchal name while Pink and Dangal were supposed to be feminist but ended up letting the male protagonists take centre-stage beyond a point, especially Dangal which punishes its female protagonist for going against her father.

Housefull 3 is proof that not all films with a female writer involved in any way are going to be progressive. But it does seem to help in most cases, especially, if the writer is involved in writing the story or screenplay. And that’s why Hindi movies are in want of more women who write.

Tamil Cinema…positive but on the surface

The pie chart for Kollywood paints a more optimistic picture than those of Bollywood and Tollywood. There were seven Tamil films that had female writers out of the twenty that I analysed. When we dig a little deeper though, the picture gets less positive. (Data source: compiled from 

First of all, in both 2016 and 2017, most of the female writers were lyricists and not involved in the story or screenplay of the movies. Now, female lyricists could help make a movie’s representation of women better but they wouldn’t be able to influence the film as much as a story or screenplay writer. Out of the ten Tamil hit films of 2017 that I researched, a few had interesting female characters like Baahubali 2: The Conclusion and Vikram Vedha (the only film on the list that was co-written by a woman) but only two gave very significant roles to women – Magalir Mattum which had two female lyricists and Aval which had no female writers (just three films had female writers out of which two only had female lyricists). And these two films weren’t perfect.

Magalir Mattum despite being empowering to women still seemed to imply that a ‘modern woman’ is required to rescue ‘traditional women’. This stereotype was also seen in the 2015 Tamil film 36 Vayadhinile in which the visibly ‘modern’ Susan is the ‘traditional’ Vasanthi’s saviour. As for Aval, it literally translates to She and the film has mostly female main characters who do very cool things. Yet, I got the impression that the story still revolved around the male protagonist – the film seemed to be narrating his story. Even when they have great female characters, a male character is still the centre of most Tamil films.

The year 2016 was even more disappointing in terms of female representation in Tamil films; all ten of the hit movies that I analysed didn’t have a single female writer in the story writing or screenplay writing team. Only four of the films had female lyricists. It is therefore no surprise that none of these films did complete justice to the representation of women even though some of them had really interesting female characters like Iru MuganKodi, and Kabali. The women, no matter how awesome they were, were always playing second fiddle to the men! For instance, Kodi had actress Trisha playing a brilliant politician who just happened to be the film’s antagonist and therefore had to lose to the male protagonist played by Dhanush. It’s almost like career women who put their career above everything else for ‘selfish’ reasons have to be portrayed as ‘bitches’ who lose it all in the end!

On the bright side, Thamarai is a very popular lyricist, something that isn’t seen very often of female lyricists in Indian cinema. And she wrote a feminist song, Gandhari Yaaro, for the feminist film Magalir Mattum. So, did Uma Devi, who wrote Adi Vaadi Thimira.

But on the whole, Kollywood could do with a lot more female writers, especially story writers and screenwriters to improve the female representation in Tamil films.

Women writers of India, Indian cinema needs you and so do we because movies tell stories that reach everyone and stories are the backbone of societies!

So Many ‘Strong Women’ Movies, So Few Women Writing Them…

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It’s tragic Priyanka Chopra is sorry for ‘Hindu terror plot’ in Quantico

The actor should condemn the mob instead of fanning its ego.


Almost a decade ago, I blogged about my disappointment with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty’s comment that anybody who wants to marry her should take her father’s permission, reinforcing the patriarchal idea that daughters remain subjugated to their fathers’ will even after becoming adults.

I am reminded of it today because even after a decade, leading Bollywood female icons are far from being truly empowered and still utterly incapable of being real inspirations for young Indian women. Highly successful women in popular culture are capable of making a big difference in the way the younger generation perceives what it means to be a brave, strong and independent. But is professional success enough?

Coming back to the present, actress Priyanka Chopra has succumbed to the coercive demands of an online mob outraging against her US television series Quantico. In one of the recently aired episodes of the series, there was a plot involving a Hindu extremist attempting to carry out terror activities that was busted by Priyanka’s character on the show.


The scene led to public outrage from the far-Right Hindu nationalists. In a press release, one of the fringe groups supposedly said: “Hindu Sena appeals to public in general to boycott any work, ads or movies of Priyanka Chopra and appeal to Indian government to strip her of Indian citizenship and deny her entry in India.”

Such demands are downright anti-constitutional and reek of the very intolerance and extremism they seem to deny, yet both the television studio and actress Priyanka Chopra have now apologised for hurting sentiments.

Chopra’s decision was unfortunate and shameful to say the least. At the outset, there was no valid basis for the furore over a piece of fiction, particularly when, for decades, both Bollywood and Hollywood have portrayed Muslims as terrorists and villains. The fact that Quantico has a plot involving a Hindu extremist is merely a reflection of the growing Hindu extremism in India.

It is just a case of art imitating life.

Secondly, Priyanka Chopra may have been able to build a perception of being a brave woman with strong values who has broken the glass ceiling but professional success is not enough unless you are brave enough to hold contrarian views in adverse situations.

priyanka-690-s_061318102634.jpg‘Padma Shri’ Priyanka Chopra could’ve done better. Photo: PTI

Time and again, some of the actions by Priyanka Chopra appeared to be hypocritical and bereft of any real ideology and simply following popular demands. In December 2017, in an interview to NDTV, she refused to take a stand on the controversy involving Deepika Padukone and her film Padmaavat. On being asked a direct question whether she condemned the death threats by Karni Sena and few BJP politicians, she raised a counter question: “Why do you media guys want to put us actors to a corner… so that you can run your ticker.” The audience clapped because she bravely snubbed the liberal media but truth is she just avoided taking a position which was likely to go against popular demand.

This was contrary to the boldness she pretended to have by taking a strong position against President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policy. It is rather hypocritical for her to speak out against the US president but not against fringe political elements in India.

Fans of Priyanka Chopra defended her double standards by arguing that the exercise of freedom of speech against politicians is not the same in India and US, and therefore she cannot afford to have strong contrary opinions in India. That is one explanation, the other is that in Hollywood, it is cool to hold critical opinion against Donald Trump. Either way, her actions are populist not brave.

This is not the first time the Hindu nationalist mob on social media has attacked Priyanka Chopra. In May 2018, the actor visited a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh and made an appeal to the world to care for the Rohingya children. The online mob was quick to attack her for supporting Rohingyas, one of the most persecuted communities in the world and the liberal media stood by her and condemned the outrage. But today, she gave up on her secular liberal principles. Either that, or maybe she never had any principle and her visit to the Rohingya camp was a mere photo-op, yet another fad among Hollywood actors.

priyanka-s_061318104257.jpgPriyanka Chopra met Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as UN Goodwill Ambassador. Photo: Agencies

The timing of her apology is significant. Police investigation into activist Gauri Lankesh’s murder has revealed that she was killed by extremists who were well connected to Hindutva outfits and, in fact, groomed by Hindutva ideology. In the recent years, with the advent of a Hindu nationalist political regime at the top, there have been innumerable incidents of violence and crimes committed by people motivated with Hindutva ideology, and the patterns reveal a textbook case of religious extremism leading to the path of full-blown terrorism.

Hindu terrorism is no longer a myth, it is a grim reality.

If Priyanka Chopra was indeed brave and if she ever read the newspaper she should have condemned the mob instead of fanning their ego, and enabling their intolerance and extremism. It is a great thing for young Indian women to be inspired by her because she broke the glass ceiling in the entertainment industry. But unless popular icons are brave enough to question patriarchal authority at home and powerful fascist regime in public, the imagery of who is a “brave” “strong” and “independent woman” remain ambiguous and confusing.

Not Priyanka Chopra or Shilpa Shetty, but Swara Bhaskar is who Indian women should be looking up to if they want to know who a brave strong and independent woman is like.

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Madras HC refuses ban on “anti-Aadhaar” Tamil film Irumbuthirai #Goodnews


Madras HC Rejects PIL Against Movie ‘Irumbuthirai’ Allegedly For Spreading Misinformation About Aadhaar And Digital India [Read Order]

Ashok KM

The Madras High Court recently dismissed a plea to stop the release of a movie titled Irumbuthirai which allegedly spread misinformation about the Central Government’s policy of Aadhaar card and Digital India.

A bench of Justice V Parthiban and Justice PD Audikesavalu dismissed a PIL filed one N Natarajan who submitted before the court that certain dialogues in the said film are creating a panic situation among the general public that the information given to the various authorities through Aadhaar will be used for any other purposes, which gives a wrong information to the public about the Aadhaar card and there is every likelihood of losing confidence on the Government of India over the policy of Aadhaar card and Digital India.

The bench observed that the petitioner has not stated what are the said comments and as to how they create panic among the general public in regard to the government welfare measures such as Aadhaar card and Digital India initiative.

Referring to a Supreme Court decision, the court observed that once the expert body has given clean chit for exhibition of the film, this court cannot sit over and override the decision of the board at the instance of the petitioner particularly on the basis of his individual perceptions with reference to the contents of the film. Dismissing the PIL, the bench said: ”Admittedly, the petitioner had seen only the trailer of the film and therefore, he cannot have any idea of the total contents and the full theme of the movie and the full context in which the so-called offending dialogues exchanged between the characters.”


The Vishal starrer cyber-crime thriller, ‘Irumbu Thirai’, hit the screens on May 11. One of the most talked about scene in the recently released Vishal’s film was the one on Aadhaar Card and Digital India. While there was not much of a mention of these in detail in the film, the makers have now released a hard hitting uncensored scene from the film, talking about Aadhaar Card and Digital India.

The one and a half minute deleted scene features a comedy scene between Robo Shankar and the popular Mullai-Gothandam duo at Samantha’s clinic.


Directed by debutant PS Mithran, ‘Irumbu Thirai’ stars Samantha Akkineni as the female lead, while actors Robo Shankar, Arjun Sarja and Delhi Ganesh play important roles. Particularly, ‘Irumbu Thirai’ was lauded for its racy screenplay and stellar performances by the lead actors. Produced by Vishal Film Factory, ‘Irumbu Thirai’ has music by Yuvan Shankar Raja.

Read the Order Here…

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When Dalit filmmakers embrace their identity and reclaim their stories

“Our world is shown as colourless and poverty-stricken. Yes, we are economically poor but not culturally so. Where is the depiction of our vibrant culture, music and food? Why is our world shown bereft of it all?” asks Kaala director Pa Ranjith.

As Kaala, Rajinikanth plays a leader of slum-dwellers, who challenges the relentless displacement of the poor in a metropolis.

For his directorial debut, the 2012 film Attakathi, Tamil filmmaker Pa Ranjith shot a track, Adi en gaana mayil. He had grown up listening and dancing to the folk song, which was sung at funerals to the beats of the parai melam, a percussion instrument made of leather, and thus considered inauspicious. The song made it to the top of the charts and playlists of parties and temple festivals across Tamil Nadu. “I grew up on such songs but this tradition had never been reflected in our cinema. So, when people took to the song, it felt like an acknowledgement of the Dalit culture that is otherwise missing from the mainstream,” says the 35-year-old filmmaker.

Since then, Ranjith has honed his politics to assert his Dalit identity through the cinema he makes. His last, Kabali (2016), for instance, had Rajinikanth play the leader of a gang of Tamilians in Malaysia. It tells the story of Tamil Dalits who were taken to Malaysia by the Britishers as indentured labour. His next, Kaala, which released this Friday, is set in Dharavi, a settlement once dominated by Tamil Dalits. As Kaala, Rajinikanth plays a leader of slum-dwellers, who challenges the relentless displacement of the poor in a metropolis. The promos suggest a generous use of Dalit symbolism. Take, for instance, Kaala’s jeep number, MH 01 BR 1956, a reference to the year BR Ambedkar led the mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism; or the blue that dominates the slums in the form of cloth, drums, tarpaulin sheets. The film’s teaser begins with the chant of “Poraduvom (We will fight)” and ends with the Ambedkarite exhortation, “Kattravai, pattravai (educate, agitate)”.

To the filmmaker, the symbolism is secondary; it’s the assertion that forms a crucial part of his cinema. “There have been films in the past that depict Dalit characters and lives. They were made by non-Dalits, who view us through a lens of pity. Our world is shown as colourless and poverty-stricken. Yes, we are economically poor but not culturally so. Where is the depiction of our vibrant culture, music and food? Why is our world shown bereft of it all?” he says.

Most films that address caste confirm Ranjith’s analysis. They depict Dalits in minor roles of poverty and helplessness. One of the Hindi film industry’s biggest commercial successes, Lagaan (2001), for example, celebrates this kind of token “inclusion”. While the rest of the village’s makeshift cricket team shuns the “untouchable” Kachra, Aamir Khan’s Bhuvan embraces the crippled man and deigns to include him in the team as a spinner.

“I understand that films such as Jabbar Patel’s Mukta (1994, about an upper-caste woman who falls in love with a Dalit activist) are well-intentioned. But why do these films have to adopt a patronising tone?” asks Marathi filmmaker Nagraj Manjule, whose films Fandry (2013) and Sairat (2016) broke new ground in the depiction of caste relations. Sairat, a love story with Dalit actors in the lead, broke several box-office records to enter the elite Rs 100-crore club usually reserved for films by the Khans.

Nagraj ManjuleNagraj Manjule’s films Fandry (2013) and Sairat (2016) broke new ground in the depiction of caste relations.With films like Newton (2017) and Mukkabaaz (2017), Hindi cinema, too, appears to be have embarked on a tentative exploration of caste. Newton signals this tacitly, with a blink-and-miss glimpse of Ambedkar’s portrait in Newton’s house or a discussion of Adivasi food preferences (Anjali Patil’s Malko telling Newton why red ants make for great chutney). Mukkabaaz is more overt, with a lower-caste protagonist who works for a Brahmin, but the film never dives too deep.

But, in the film, every character is vocal about their caste. The reason caste has been able to survive is precisely because it isn’t spoken of openly. People don’t talk about it the way characters in Mukkabaaz do,” says Somnath Waghmare, a Dalit documentary filmmaker and research scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Waghmare is working on a thesis that maps Dalit voices in Indian cinema.

When filmmakers from the so-called “lower” castes tell their stories, they not only aim to correct the near-erasure of their history and existence from popular culture; but they also wish to tell stories from the inside, which humanise the life of Dalits and depict it in all its complexity. Take, for instance, Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan, where one of the six principal characters belonged to the Dom community of Varanasi that is designated to handle and burn corpses. Played by Vicky Kaushal, Deepak’s is essentially a love story. “But one is able to sense Deepak’s aspiration, a thread that is common in the depiction of all low-caste characters in movies by Dalit filmmakers,” says Waghmare. “One can see it in Manjule’s films. Be it little Jabya of Fandry or Parshya in Sairat,” he says.

If such representations have rarely made it to the big screen, it is a reflection of the casteism inherent in the Indian film industry, and the tiny number of Dalits who work in it. Manjule recounts that in 2013, during Fandry’s promotion, a journalist pointed out that he was the first Dalit filmmaker to talk about caste in his movie. “That was the 100th year of Indian cinema and I told the journalist that if that is the case, it has taken a hundred years for a Dalit to make a film in India,” says Manjule, who believes that few Dalits are empowered enough to identify as Dalit. Fandry went on to win international acclaim, but, more importantly, it pushed the discussion about caste into the mainstream.

neeraj ghaywanNeeraj Ghaywan “came out” as a Dalit on Twitter, following an unsavoury comment by filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri.Earlier this year, following the Bhima Koregaon protests in Maharashtra, Ghaywan “came out” as a Dalit on Twitter, following an unsavoury comment by filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri. Not everyone has the courage Ghaywan displayed under the circumstances, only to face a torrent of abuse on social media for using the “Dalit card”. Many in the film industry choose to conceal their Dalit identity. “So many prominent names have reached out to me after watching my films. They call or meet me with a ‘Jai Bhim’, choosing to reveal themselves to me but not to others,” says Manjule, adding that he had not been aware that so many actors and technicians in the Marathi and Hindi film industries are Dalits.

Two years ago, the son of the late lyricist, Shailendra, who wrote some of Hindi cinema’s most memorable songs — from Piya tose naina laage re in Guide to Pyar hua iqrar hua in Shree 420 — announced at a public event that his father had belonged to the Dhursia caste, a cobbler community from Bihar. “Growing up, my parents did tell us that we were from a low caste but I never understood what that meant until my late 20s, when I started to research my father’s life,” says Dinesh Shankar Shailendra. Unable to understand why his father, a successful lyricist and poet of his time, did not receive any national or state awards, Dinesh went to a village in Arrah district, where his grandfather was born and found that he had managed to break the cycle of oppression. “I learnt that he chose to educate himself despite the discrimination, sitting five rows behind others in the classroom. He found a job as a contractor in the British army and eventually got posted to Rawalpindi, where my father was born.” While Shailendra didn’t experience caste discrimination, he was acutely aware of it, perhaps because he had seen his father suffer. “Except one incident that he wrote of in his diary: Once, while playing hockey, some upper-caste boys had sniggered, ‘Now, we will have to play with these kind of people’. That strengthened my father’s resolve to move to Bombay,” says Dinesh, who is writing a script on his father’s life.

In Bombay, Shailendra was drawn to the Communist movement, and became one of Indian People’s Theatre Association’s founders. Collaborating extensively with Raj Kapoor, who gave him his first break, Shailendra wrote lyrics that often spoke of the socialistic ideals of independent India. “But he was aware of the ways in which caste operates and oppresses. Take, for example, the song sung by a cobbler, Thahar zara o jaane wale, in Boot Polish (1954), where he says: Pandit ji mantar padhate hain, woh Ganga ji nahlaate hain/Hum pet ka mantar padhate hai, jute ka muh chamkaate hai. Pandit ko panch chavannee hai, humko toh ek ikannee hai/ Phir bhed bhav yeh kaisa hai, jab sab kaa pyara paisa hai,” says Dinesh about the song which mocks the priest’s superiority.

Many film professionals would understand why Shailendra chose to keep his identity a secret. “In today’s politically correct world, caste discrimination doesn’t exist in the conventional way. But the fear of being outed is deep-seated,” says a respected filmmaker, who did not wish to reveal his identity. “Our ‘place in the society’ has been grilled into us from a very age. There is a constant fear of being seen as lowly by one’s friends and colleagues. The fear is so real and raw that, sometimes, I wonder what my upper-caste house help will think of me if she found out that I am a Dalit,” he says, the vulnerability visible in his eyes.

shailendeaShailendra (in black) with Dilip Kumar.Manjule seconds this. “When I came in the industry, I used to be scared of who I am, of how I look, of my last name, of my choices that would give away my caste identity. The language I speak is a raw version of Marathi that the upper caste speak. It’s considered ‘impure’. It took me a while to understand that any language is kept alive by the working class. Language’s purpose is expression and if whatever dialect I speak can help me express and communicate, it cannot be dismissed,” says the director, who used his local dialect in both his films. Fandry’s producer had initially asked him to avoid it but Manjule stood his ground. Sairat’s success, ironically, made the rural argot fashionable, triggering a trend in Marathi television shows and films.

But the filmmaker, who chooses to be anonymous, also worries about being seen only as a Dalit filmmaker, or being dismissed as a product of reservation. “Reservation has helped me but the chances are high that my capabilities will be questioned (because of it). Nor do I want my work to get any sympathy just because I am a Dalit.”

Ranjith argues that the first step in liberating oneself of these complexes is to take a stand and talk about one’s Dalit identity. “The inferiority complex is a part of every Dalit’s life. Growing up, there was a toy store near my house that would stock every toy except the spinning top, which was available at the store in the upper caste settlement. I would tell myself I shouldn’t want that top because if I do, I will have to go across the store and be subject to humiliation. Over time, I realised I have no reason to feel inferior. If my poverty and my ways bother people, the problem lies with them and the society they have created,” he says.

More importantly, caste is almost impossible to disown. “It’s in people’s nature, their choices, their expression. One can tell your caste based on what they like, what music they listen to or even how they name their film. You will never hear of a Gulabjaam made by Nagraj Manjule,” says Manjule, referring to Sachin Kundalkar’s recent release, which was criticised for passing off upper-caste vegetarian dishes as Marathi cuisine.

Nishant Roy Bombarde, who has worked in the media industry for a few years, recounts the everyday casteism of the film world. “A badly dressed person is called bhangi. Anything that was disgusting is dismissed as chuda-chamar. When looking for ‘good-looking’ lead actors, people would look for Brahmin girls and boys or casually confirm if a certain surname was upper caste,” says the 35-year-old whose 2015 Marathi short film, Daaravtha, won the National Award. In the short, Bombarde tells the story of a young boy confused about his sexuality. A tiny thread in the film also touches upon caste, which he feels has been an integral part of his identity.

Waghmare’s research reveals that characters in Marathi films who share his last name are usually peons, criminals or in other petty jobs. “This comes from conditioning and adds to it as well. It manifests in interesting ways. Last year, at a screening of my documentary film on Bhima Koregaon, a woman stood up to confirm if the ‘fair-complexioned’ professor in my film was indeed a Dalit,” he recounts.

Bollywood’s power politics, on the other hand, rests in denial. Rumour is that Sairat’s remake in Hindi has done away with the caste angle. Director Abhishek Chaubey agrees that caste isn’t blatant in Bollywood. “No one will ask, ‘Tumhari jaat kya hai?’ But I look around me and all I find are Chaubeys and Bhardwajes. That’s as in-your-face as caste can get… I grew up in Ranchi, being able to afford a missionary school education that a lower caste person may not be able to. When I come to Bollywood, the chances are higher that I will be given an opportunity for the English I speak and the way I present myself,” he says. Chaubey recently finished shooting for Sonchiriya, an action film set in Chambal of the 1970s. The director says most of his protaginists are upper caste, except one, and he tells the story of caste oppression but from the oppressor’s point-of-view.

As more Dalits tell their own stories, however, they also find more challenges. “Being vocal about one’s caste identity may mean that the villains in your film will be from the upper castes, which doesn’t go down very well,” says G Murali Vardhan, a cinematographer and FTII graduate whose filmography is limited to Ranjith’s Madras, Kabali and Kaala. “It comes through in how people forget your work or how they miss inviting you to functions, or the sheer lack of work offers despite having proved your calibre.”

Manjule agrees but adds that one of the crucial ways to escape such hurdles is by making sure the film isn’t lacking in craft. “If you overlook the caste angle in Sairat and Fandry, the films are still entertaining. They manage to move the audience. This makes it easier for me to tackle production roadblocks and reach a wider audience,” he says.

There is also, however, a simmering anger against fellow Dalit-Bahujans, who not only chose to conceal their caste but also adopted Brahmanical symbols. For instance, a young filmmaker who made a successful film using a Brahmin protagonist. Or Marathi actor Bhau Kadam, who was at the receiving end of fellow Buddhist-Dalits’ ire in 2017 after he installed a Ganesha idol during a festival. Bombarde feels that the anger isn’t unfounded but he also empathises with them. “It’s an inner battle for acceptance,” he says.

Each one fights that battle in their own, contradictory ways. “He may never have spoken about his Dalit identity but it took an Ilayaraja to transform film music, mixing folk with holy ragas and serve it to the upper castes in a way that they lapped it up,” says Vardhan. “You can disagree with his politics but cannot take away from him what he did for music.”

Vardhan’s colleague T Ramalingam, the art director on Kaala, says that the fight is about claiming ownership of the story of their lives. “You may find the slum I grew up in filthy but it was home to me, I will see beauty in it.” He cites the example of the 2015 National Award-winning Tamil film Kaaka Muttai, pointing out that it has the same setting as Ranjith’s Madras. “But it lacks the colour and vibrancy that we grew up seeing. In our houses, there was a separate spot to keep pots where sometimes rats would sneak in. While an outsider would view them with revulsion, as pests, we used to play with them.” Which story is less valid? Which narrative will win? The answer, says Manjule, is in assertion.

“Ranjith has been doing what I did it with Sairat — enlarging the canvas to fit into the mainstream. The idea is to take our world to a larger audience, so they can see we are as human as they are.”

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Grandma Approves: New film rating at the censor board? #Humor

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Why Saeed Mirza says 2019 will be a battle of minds #SundayReading

In his collection of essays, Memory in the Age of Amnesia, Mirza has described fascism as a state of mind.


“The problem with fascism is it doesn’t come only dressed in black shirts or khaki shorts. It is a state of mind. That’s where the battle of 2019 will be. It is a state of mind. The challenge will be to get together those kinds of parties which genuinely stand for the Constitution and on which you can build a force that can take on the BJP. And remember you have to be careful of not just overt fascists but a lot of covert fascists as well in other parties,” says Saeed Akhtar Mirza, 74, filmmaker of powerful tales such as Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai (1980) and Salim Kangde Par Mat Ro (1989).

In a new book called Memory in the Age of Amnesia (Westland), a collection of essays, he emphasises on the broken nature of the political system.

“Even when you win 31 per cent of the popular vote, you wonder where the 69 per cent went. The only way to build on the 31 per cent is to play on the idea of the other, play the victim, the majority that is under attack and therefore becomes a beleaguered minority. The games come into play — the demonisation of the other, enforced patriotism, creating enemies of the state, starting wars, rustling up jingoism. It’s the same damn system across the world, a bankruptcy of ideas.”

memory_060718121645.jpgIn this book, Saeed Akhtar Mirza talks about the broken nature of the political system

Which is why he feels memory is important. Not just to remember the lack of accountability and transparency in the system, right from the Nellie massacre, to the Bhagalpur blindings to the 1984 riots to 2002. But also to regain poetry as we march like lemmings towards our doom and fall off the cliff one at a time.

He is an idealist and still believes that if one retains compassion, something will emerge to save us, otherwise the future is only one of wars, vigilantism and xenophobia as more people fight for fewer resources.

It’s a struggle for everyone except the incredibly wealthy, he feels, as the anxiety over jobs spreads. It destroys the myth that education is good for everyone, because you realise it doesn’t get you anywhere. “But for things to change, we have to ask fresh questions to bring back that humanity. We don’t need Thomas Picketty to tell us the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The liftman in my building knows it,” he says.

The frustration over shortage of jobs, homes, clean water, basic education, accessible healthcare is boiling over and has to be channelised somehwere so all kinds of animosity is being whipped up.

The Nehruvian pact, which lasted for 15 years of the republic, has failed, and the sense of purpose and poetry with which our Constitution was written has been lost, he says.

“The decline in politics and in civility cuts across all parties. Nakab utarchuka hai (the mask has come off).”

He believes his generation failed India because they were too international.

saeed-mirza_060718121759.jpgThe decline in politics and in civility cuts across all parties, Mirza said.

“We fought too many battles on too many fronts. We believed the ideas that are floating around the world would find some roots in India. We read Nehru and Lohia. We should have read Ambedkar when we were young and understood the anger of the 20 per cent outside the system which was simmering with rage,” he says.

His holy trinity of go-to-founding fathers? BR Ambedkar, Maulana Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru, with a touch of poetry from the great humanist Rabindranath Tagore.

He is also in the mood for more reflection and self-criticism. He believes that the role of the intelligentsia is overemphasised. There are some who don’t want to get their hands dirty and there are others who were nurtured by the right wing and you wondered why. Well, now we know. There is a price to be paid, in integrity, in dignity, in how you view — or perhaps cannot view — yourself.

rahul690_06041802150_060718124137.jpg“You have to be careful of not just overt fascists but a lot of covert fascists as well in other parties”

And yet others, he points out, got co-opted. “They turned a blind eye to the historical role of media organisations in the Vietnam war, in the removal of Salvador Allende, in the demonisation of Muamar Gadaffi, in the role of the US in the Iraq war. America is a nation that continuously goes to war to feed the military machine. They never question that.”

The book is a collection of many of these musings. He goes from Vietnam where he meets ordinary people who remember their dead, because their country exists because of them. He examines how Syria was systematically destroyed and ISIS allowed to grow; he questions the “unspeakable horrors of the Emergency years which have still not been fully recorded; he tells the story of his first Mumbai home, Fonseca Mansion, and its multicultural ethos of live and let live”.

He chronicles living through the era of uncertainty in a “messed-up world” and wonders perhaps that “I am messed up too”. There is a story (true) of five donkeys who are arrested, one that Mirza says he loved reading in the newspaper, preferring it to the “news” about Virat Kohli’s latest tattoo and which dinner Shah Rukh Khan attended.

But my abiding memories from a wonderful book are these: Mirza stopping the car to spend some time near unmarked graves sheltered under a tree on the side of a road in Gulbarga, because they looked lonely, and halting the shoot of a temple in Ellora even though it cost him a day because some artisans had come all the way from Rajasthan to pray at the shrine their ancestors had built with their skill and craft.

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Rajinikanth’s ‘Kaala’ producers move Karnataka HC

Actor Rajinikanth (R) with producer Dhanush during a promotional event of their file Kaala.   –  The Hindu


‘Kaala’ producer K Dhanush and his wife Aishwarya have filed a petition in the Karnataka High Court seeking directions to the state government and Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC) for smooth release of the film. ‘Kaala’ is scheduled to be released worldwide on June 7 but KFCC had said the film would neither be distributed nor screened in the state.

In the plea, Dhanush, who is Rajinikanth’s son-in-law, submitted that it is the fundamental right of the petitioners under the Constitution to exhibit the film. “CBFC has issued a certification under Section 5B of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, for the release of ‘Kaala’ after following due process and adhering to all guidelines. After receiving such a certificate, it is the fundamental right of the petitioner under Article 19(1) of the Constitution to exhibit the film,” the petitioners submitted.

The petitioners also have sought security at theatres and for movie-goers, directors, producers and cast associated with ‘Kaala’ in Karnataka. They have made the government, home department, state police chief, Bengaluru city police commissioner, Central Board of Film Certification and KFCC as respondents in their plea.

The petitioners stated that KFCC took a decision to neither distribute nor screen ‘Kaala’ in Karnataka following Rajinikanth’s alleged views on the Cauvery dispute, demanding release of water to Tamil Nadu as per Supreme Court direction.

The petitioners also said KFCC President Sa Ra Govindu on May 30 had issued a press statement saying the film will neither be distributed nor screened anywhere in Karnataka. They also said the several pro-Kannada organisations had made representations to Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy requesting a ban on ‘Kaala.’ The petition is likely to come up for hearing today.

Meanwhile, controversial actor Prakash Raj has questioned the ban on Kaala in Karnataka. “What’s film #kaala got to do with Kaveri issue..? why is film fraternity targeted always..?Will Jds/congress government let fringe elements take law into their hands… like bjp did with #Padmavat.. or ..will you step in to assure common man.. his right for choice. #justasking..,” tweeted the multi-lingual actor.

In a statement, Raj said, “Who are these people to decide what most Kannadigas want or don’t want? What about the distributors, investors and theatre owners and the thousands of those whose lives depend on them? And what about the lakhs and lakhs of cinema lovers because of whom, all these people earn a living?”

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Open Letter to Amitabh Bachchan on his association with Horlicks #MissionPoshan


Dear Sh. Amitabh Bachchan,

We came to know about your association with recent campaign on undernutrition in India and truly appreciate your commitment for the cause.

However, we are shocked to see that you are joining hands with Horlicks and Network 18 to launch “Mission Poshan” to support India’s Rashtriya Poshan Abhiyaan.

We like to submit as under:-
Horlicks is a high sugar product, as 100 gram of a popularly advertised pack of Horlicks Delight, contains 78 gram of carbohydrates of which 32 grams is sucrose sugar. This is harmful for children as it may contribute to childhood obesity and non communicable disease in later life. We hope you are aware that WHO recommends a reduced daily intake of free sugars throughout the life course to less than 10% of total energy intake. Furthermore, in the interest of good health WHO suggests intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake.

In 2016, the World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted a Resolution 69.9 that recommends ending inappropriate promotion of foods for children from ages 6−36 months based on WHO and FAO dietary guidelines. Going by this recommendation promotion of Horlicks falls in category of “inappropriate” as they use false health claims in TV commercials. It is neither good food nor nutrition, it is just a high sugar product, what now a days is called empty calories.

We believe that this campaign is misleading and undermines optimal nutrition.Big food companies are known to adopt marketing tactics that build brands by entering through the back door. Horlicks, in this case is championing the cause of nutrition.


You may be aware that undernutrition mostly creeps into the resource poor households. We fear that this campaign will influence families and children from these families to buy Horlicks assuming it is a good nutritious product as you are behind it. Horlicks is expensive, may displace real family foods. Thus, your association with Horlicks is unlikely to achieve the objective of curbing undernutrition in India.

In the year 2014 you had renounced your association with Pepsi based on health implications on children. Association with ‘ Horlicks’  is equally harmful to children


We also believe such an association will negatively impact your image. of socially concerned artiste.therefore we request you to call off the association with Horlicks immediately in ; public interest’.




Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest – India (NAPi)


A national think tank on nutrition –consisting of independent experts in epidemiology, human nutrition, community nutrition and pediatrics, medical education, administration and management; having decades of experience in respective fields; has come together to advocate on nutrition policy in public interest.

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Harvey Weinstein Surrenders on Sex Assault Charges #Vaw

File photo of Harvey Weinstein arriving at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards.

File photo of Harvey Weinstein arriving at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards.(Photo: AP)

Film producer Harvey Weinstein on Friday surrendered to authorities at a New York City police station on sex crime charges, months after he was toppled from Hollywood’s most powerful ranks by scores of women accusing him of misconduct.

More than 70 women have accused the co-founder of the Miramax studio and The Weinstein Co with sexual misconduct including rape, allegations that gave rise to the #MeToo movement in which hundreds of women have publicly accused powerful men in business, government and entertainment.

Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

Weinstein will be charged over an allegation by at least one accuser, Lucia Evans, a former aspiring actress who told the New Yorker that Weinstein forced her to give him oral sex in 2004, the New York Daily News reported.

Entertainment industry heavyweights have distanced themselves from Weinstein, once one of Hollywood’s most powerful men, since the accusations became public. The board of theWeinstein Co fired him, the company itself filed for bankruptcy in March and he was expelled in 2017 from the Academy of Motion Pictures.

Actor Ashley Judd last month sued Weinstein, saying that he cost her a part in 1998 for the film “The Lord of the Rings” after she rejected his sexual advances, charges that Weinstein has denied.

Other prominent actors who have publicly accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct include Uma Thurman and Salma Hayek.

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Amol Palekar remembers Hemu Adhikari and their fight against the Emergency #RIP

The veteran actor and filmmaker remembers his friend and colleague and their days in the parallel theatre movement.

Veteran film and theatre personality Hemu Adhikari, who died yesterday in Mumbai, may largely be remembered by cinegoers for his role in Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006), where he played a pensioner who uses ‘Gandhigiri’ to force a recalcitrant government clerk to move his file, but he was first and foremost a theatre artiste.KEYUR SETA

Adhikari, who was 81 and was ailing for a while, was at his peak during the parallel theatre movement, when he collaborated with well-known film and theatre personality Amol Palekar.

In a telephonic conversation with, Palekar recalled the period when he worked with Adhikari. “Hemu was one of the pillars of the parallel theatre movement, which was at its peak in the 1970s and 1980s,” said the filmmaker. “His rational thinking coupled with passion for theatre and social change was the core of his personality.”

Palekar’s greatest collaboration with Adhikari happened when they worked together on a play to protest against the Emergency. “One of the most cherished moments of my career in theatre was when we did Badal Sircar’s Juloos,” said Palekar, who was the biggest draw of what was characterized as ‘middle-of-the-road’ cinema in the 1970s. “It was produced by Bahuroopi, which was Hemu’s group. And I was the guest director. It was during the Emergency that we thought of doing this. That was our little protest against the Emergency.”

Interestingly, the Bahuroopi team performed the play in a competition organized by the state government. “We used to get this kick by performing it in the annual state drama competition, which is organized and funded by the government. It was our personal kick that we wanted to perform it there. We were very clear in our minds,” said Palekar.

Recalling their first performance, he said, “I still remember that night of our first performance at Ravindra Natya Mandir in Prabhadevi [in central Mumbai]. It would be an understatement to say that it was jampacked. There was not an inch of space in the auditorium. People were sitting in the aisles and standing in every possible corner. Everywhere!”


Even many revolutionary leaders attended that performance. “Underground opposition leaders like Mrinal Gore and a few others had come to see the performance incognito,” said Palekar. “It was a proud moment for us that we were able to do this in theatre as our expression and fight against censorship and any kind of curtailment of freedom. That was the peak of our association and friendship that I remember proudly. I cherish the rehearsals we did for about three months.”

The team put on nearly 200 shows of the play. They also performed in alternative spaces, which was not the in thing then. “We were exploring absolutely different spaces,” said Palekar. “This was when terminology like ‘street theatre’ and ‘political theatre’ did not exist.

“I had started exploring other spaces from 1972 onwards. Juloos was a logical extension of that. I remember performing in the LIC [Life Insurance Corporation of India] canteen during lunch, at Jaslok hospital, co-operative society grounds, somebody’s garage, even on terraces.”

The experience at IIT Bombay’s Mood Indigo festival was memorable for both Palekar and Adhikari. “Mood Indigo was very young then,” the director said. “But we performed in front of about, I think, 2,000 students in the open air. Probably the most fulfilling moment, which Hemu also said later on, was when at the end of the play all the students joined the procession to protest.”

The two cherished their friendship even when they were competitors. “We would help each other though we were fierce competitors,” said Palekar. “We did theatre with the ultimate goal of doing something different and better. Therefore we considered each other not enemies but friends and co-workers. I remember Hemu coming and asking me if I needed anything. He and others would set the chairs [at my shows].”

Naturally, Palekar would return the favour: “After the production, we would sit down, criticize and appreciate. Then the next day for his performance I would do the same thing and help. This was part and parcel of our camaraderie, which was the most beautiful part of those times. Those were golden moments of parallel theatre. My friendship with Hemu grew during that period. It has a special place in my life.”


The filmmaker, who now lives in Pune, said he had met Adhikari on a recent trip to Mumbai and was distressed by his condition. “He was in very bad shape, not able to communicate. It was painful to see him like that. Those were the last stages of the deteriorating health of a man of his fighting spirit. He was still fighting, but it was painful to see. I was talking to his wife this morning and we were sharing those moments again. She had to witness all these things.”

Yet, even in that condition, Adhikari continued to be involved with theatre. “He was so steeped in theatre,” said Palekar. “He wanted somebody to translate the play Copenhagen [in Marathi]. He was looking for people who would do justice to it. This was probably at the beginning of this year. Finally, he got somebody from Kolhapur.”

Despite his failing health and bedridden state, Adhikari still wanted to do something socially relevant. “That was Hemu Adhikari,” said Palekar. “You can well imagine what he must have been like before!”

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