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When was the last time a Bollywood superstar played a Dalit on screen?

+2 votes
In an industry dominated by the upper caste elite, director Pa Ranjith said his latest film Kaala starring Tamil superstar Rajinikanth is an attempt to redefine the Dalit representation in Indian cinema.

Caste as a theme is not common in mainstream Bollywood cinema. However, the existence of films like Kaala suggests that the world’s largest film industry could stand to gain from films which talk about caste.

So why hasn’t Bollywood tried its hand at films with better Dalit representation? And when was the last time a mainstream hero openly played a Dalit character?

In the ’80s, apparently.

Caste in Bollywood through the ages
Films have always tried to depict characters and stories that people can identify with, so that audiences are drawn to watch them, said Mihir Pandya, film writer and lecturer at Delhi University.

Pandya said films made in the pre-Independence era, particularly the 1930s and 1940s, had storylines with marginalised characters because it captured the colonial Indian context. Shoma Chatterji, a film critic, cited Acchut Kannya, an Ashok Kumar-starrer film from 1936, as an example of this. Bimal Roy’s 1959 release, Sujata, was another such film where a popular actor, Nutan, played a Dalit character in a mainstream film.

“According to me, the milestone films all belong to another era,” Chattejee explained, saying that the last films with Bollywood stars playing Dalit heros were all in the ’80s.

“Aakrosh (1980) stars Om Puri and Smita Patil as a Dalit couple and is about how difficult it is to break from that identity,” she said. Other films include Satyajit Ray’s Sadgati (1981), again with Om Puri in the lead, and Gautam Ghose’s Naseeruddin Shah-starrer Paar (1984).

It’s worth mentioning, though, that Puri, Shah, Patil, and the likes, were stars of the parallel cinema movement, just at the fringes of the mainstream.

Hindi cinema, which had few Dalit characters to begin with, had even fewer post-liberalisation, said Pandya.

“Bollywood is very caste-conscious. Films don’t mention caste at all, and if they do, they mention it in a very generic way,” said Pandya. Bollywood has several films with what he refers to as “daku characters”, or bandits, which are assumed to be lower-caste.

“You can identify that characters are probably Dalit, but you can’t confirm that they are,” he added.

Professor Hariharan, a film critic and lecturer at Ashoka University, agreed. “Mainstream cinema functions on the binary of ‘upper’ and ‘lower’. Characters are either upper-class or lower-class,” he said. “Going into the nitty-gritties of the marginalised is never done.”

In Bollywood, actors of the stature of Rajinikanth have never played an openly Dalit character. The last commercially successful film that had an identifiably low-caste character was Highway, in which Randeep Hooda played a Gujjar.

Chatterji also mentioned Ajay Devgn in the 2010 film Aakrosh as a Dalit hero.

While popular Bollywood stars have acted in films about caste, like the Amitabh Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan-starrer Aarakshan, they have never exclusively been about Dalit issues and have instead been pegged to issues like affirmative action and political elections, said Hariharan.

Why aren’t Dalit heroes more mainstream?
Hariharan said that screenplays, when they are written, usually don’t allude to caste-status because defining a character’s identity in this way requires extra time and skill. Unless it is central to the storyline, filmmakers settle to just indicate where the character stands in the caste and class hierarchy.

Newton, which was one of India’s most critically acclaimed films in 2017, is one such film. Rajkummar Rao’s titular character is lower-caste, but the film was criticised for deliberately making an attempt to portray his character as a “caste-free” Dalit that doesn’t have to navigate the structural oppression that comes with his identity.

However, Hariharan said that cinema in Indian languages set in smaller towns or in more rural settings explore these dynamics more than mainstream cinema.

“Mainstream Hindi cinema has been so much in the urban sphere that caste has never overtly been an issue,” he said. “Regional cinema, on the other hand, explores these dynamics more.” Hariharan said regional cinema has to compete with Hindi cinema in urban spaces, which is why several filmmakers go into more unexplored rural or small-town spaces in search of stories.

Regional films like Sairat, directed by acclaimed Dalit director Nagraj Manjule in Marathi, Kammatipaadam in Malayalam, and Kaala are some successful ones.

Pandya added that the Dalit discourse is not as mainstream in north Indian cinema as it is in south India. “In the so-called Cow Belt, Dalit discourse became mainstream with Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, while it has been more definitive in states like Tamil Nadu,” he explained.

Amitabh Bachchan as a Dalit hero?
According to Hariharan, Bollywood as an industry was modelled on Hollywood, which does not have the caste system as an issue. Instead, stories in Hollywood are centred more on class differences. Even race as an issue has only recently entered the mainstream Hollywood narrative.

However, Pandya said mainstream Bollywood will definitely have Dalit protagonists in the future.

“Regional cinema is affecting Bollywood cinema,” he said. “So many films are being remade into Hindi films, so these kinds of storylines will definitely be there.”

Nagraj Manjule’s breakout smash Sairat, a classic love story between a low caste boy and upper caste girl, has been remade in Hindi under Karan Johar’s banner as Dhadak.

In fact, Manjule is set to direct his first Hindi film, Jhund, starring Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role. Pandya speculated that given Manjule’s track record, his new film is certain to be about caste and have a Dalit hero.

At the risk of being presumptuous, to see a national icon like Bachchan in the role of a Dalit character may turn out to be far more radical than it may seem.
Source Link: https://theprint.in/governance/kaala-when-was-last-time-bollywood-superstar-played-dalit-on-screen/68852/amp/
asked Jun 12 in General by suhas All Time best! (259,076 points)
99% Accept Rate

As far as I remember..... In Bollywood, Ajay played Dalit character in Raajneeti and Saif did it Aarakshan.

There are few more too but far lesser in number. And the characterization or the whole set up is what one would call "stereotyping".

And Rajneeti is based on Mahabharat. Sure Draupadi does mock Karna as a Dalit but that is during a complete different scenario in an harmful way. Here Ajay Devgn played dalit leader after having been brought up by a driver. He was still abondoned when he was a baby.

This was a carefully adapted film.

3 Answers

+2 votes
Best answer

Can't we not identify dalit characters by their last names or surnames even if they don't say it.. Example.. Sultan mirza never said that he is a Muslim or nobody said anything about him being a Muslim.. But due to his name we can identify his religion.

answered Jun 12 by Charlie runkle™ Director (122,993 points)
selected 2 days ago by suhas

Well surnames aren't just applicable to Dalits you know.

And there are places in this country where a person from backward community is not allowed to be named a nicer sounding name. It is always have to do with say like "kachra" from Lagaan. Just recently atrocities were reported.

Sad.. Damn those places and damn those people who don't consider a fellow human as equal .


A name is the identity of a person. But Maulik Jadav, resident of Dholka town of Ahmedabad district, learned the hard way that it could also be the reason for attacks. All of 23, Jadav was thrashed by members of an upper caste on Tuesday. They also attacked his family at their house. His fault: In a social media post, the Dalit youth had suffixed his name with 'sinh' which, upper caste members of the town claimed, was their identity.

+2 votes

What's the matter, i'm sure many bollywood actors played lesser important category on screen - The General category.

answered Jun 12 by THUNDER BIRD Mega Star (206,401 points)

Still a privileged, non-abused category which doesn't ever get to be a victim.

The above article is not just about "caste". It is about the prejudice. You can't make K3G & say the Raichands are Dalits. It's that assumption that you can't show people of caste in a certain way or even fear bigger stars playing one will not be accepted is the main point raised through the article.


The post and the casting agent display an appalling lack of awareness, and more particularly, reveal their bigotry and caste bias. At a time when more and more people are waking up to the evil of casteism, when some are able to acknowledge the social inequity and structural violence inherent in the caste system, it is frightening that some people can openly display such prejudice.

What exactly is Dalit look? What is poor look?

This is further proof that the film industry still is largely dominated by upper-caste, upper class people, and large scale discrimination happens behind the scenes, and on-screen.

Not exactly privileged, but let's leave it, I'm saying Bollywood was supposed to be knowing better yet you are saying that ground reality in Bollywood isn't much different than ground reality on ground.

By privileged I meant social privilege regarding the acceptance.

Bollywood is no special. It is the same people on the ground who are part of that industry, running it. They bring in those beliefs there. Sridevi was always caste minded. anybody from lower caste drank a glass of water, that glass was not allowed to enter the house again let alone kitchen. This is just a known fact. It was just the way she was brought up.

In the end, one must decide themselves what is right & what is wrong. Others cannot make them to take that path.

+1 vote

what does it matter... there are people like TB down here crying about general category and then there are people crying about dalit stuff....

We can move forward without such things being mentioned.

answered Jun 12 by Seinfeld Camera Operator (9,843 points)

And coming back to topic... Our superstars have shown themselves to be poor, tapori and all those things that lower castes might bring have not explicitly mentioned in the movie about the character's religion.

They are the ones we follow. I for one believe they do not want to focus on one part of their audience. When Salman plays a Pawan, Aamir plays a Phogat, they are trying to show the world to be a better place than it is. Thats what entertainment is!

See what I don't like is how there are different castes, and they are grouped in category and politicians milk them, and people gets milked, there are different set rules for every one.
I mean non general feels that they were abused so they want privileges, general people are like they don't have privileges, which they actually don't, but then they didn't faced discrimination in past.
My point is, can't we learn from past and leave castes & categories behind, I mean what is the use of them in modern world, why are we still pushing this in 21st century?

And I'm saying this because I thought people in film industry know better, but then I guess I'm wrong, so much for being intellectual on twitter and being not much different on ground.

One point is, why should caste be mentioned in a movie??

@TB discrimination is happening till date, even now & tomorrow.

And why not in a movie? It isn't dividing people. It is just being not letting one section with their culture, life pattern ignored as not worth watching/knowing. Sairat works because of it's simplicity & reality. What you get is properly choreographed zingat in Dhadak completely opposite to what the original offered. But it just showed a mirror to how the society actually is.

And honour killing is still prevelant across the country.

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