Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Caste Bias in Bollywood

The main male protagonists in Bollywood films are almost always Brahmins, warrior Rajputs, upper castes, well-known business house castes, or those from ruling/landowning classes. Never Baniyas or Shudras.

No prizes for guessing that the mainstream view is that a hero in a formula Bollywood film has to be from the upper castes. Otherwise the girls won't swoon over him and the boys won't try to emulate him. It is the same story as is common in Mills and Boon series (aka emotional porn) where a rich, alpha, dominant badboy has pedigree, genes, old money, and has won the battle of seduction without lifting a finger.

A sampling:

Salman Khan

Bodyguard: Lovely B. Singh
Dabangg: Chulbul Pandey
Ready: Prem R. Kapoor
Veer: Veer Pratap Singh
London Dreams: Manjeet 'Mannu' Khosla
Main Aurr Mrs Khanna: Samir Khanna
Chori Chori Chupke Chupke: Raj Malhotra
Kahin Pyaar Na Ho Jaaye: Prem Kapoor
Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya: Suraj Khanna
...

Amitabh Bachhan

Aarakshan: Prabhakar Anand
Kandahar: Lokanatha Sharma
Teen Patti: Professor Venkat Subramaniam
The Last Lear: Harish 'Harry' Mishra
Baabul: Balraj Kapoor
Ganga: Thakur Vijay Singh
Waqt: Ishwarchand Thakur
Deewar: Maj. Ranvir Kaul
Khakee: DCP Anant Kumar Shrivastav
...

Aamir Khan

Talaash: Surjan Singh Sekhawat
Ghajini: Sanjay 'Sanju' Singhania
Dil Chahta Hai: Akash Malhotra
Sarfarosh: Ajay Singh Rathod
Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke: Rahul Malhotra
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar: Sanjaylal Sharma
Parampara: Ranvir Prithvi Singh
Daulat Ki Jung: Rajesh Chaudhry
...

Akshay Kumar

Chalo Dilli: Lt. Col. Vikram Singh Rana
Action Replayy: Kishen Chopra
Blue: Aarav Malhotra
Kambakkht Ishq: Viraj Shergill
Bhool Bhulaiyaa: Dr. Aditya Shrivastav
Heyy Babyy: Arush Mehra
...

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mostly they are punjabi names because the film industry is dominated by them. What are the shudra punjabi names like?

Sridhar said...

It doesn't bother me, but I do think the preponderance of urdu speaking north indians and punjabis in Bollywood is a statistical fact worthy of further analysis. Being a Tamilian myself,I watch Tamil movies as well, and interestingly enough Tamil movies usually show Brahmins in poor light. Owing to the Anti-brahmin Dravidian movement Brahmins are routinely mocked and joked about as weak, evil etc. I guess all Indian movie writers or Directors sub-consciously bring their caste biases to the table. The stench of caste consciousness isn't going away any time soon all over India, sadly.

Anonymous said...

There is some confusion in the writeup because "Shudra" and SC/OBC do not always overlap.Probably what you meant was that SC/OBC surnames do not appear. Because as per a judgment of Calcutta High Court in British times, "Srivastava" were classified as "Shudras" and some of the surnames in your list are indeed "Srivastava".

Anonymous said...

Tollywood is dominated by shudra castes namely Reddy,Kamma and Kapu.... Their heroes are usually of these castes. Incidentally it is not brahmins who keep advertising their caste so much as the other castes because the non brahmin are always competing with each other to prove who has a higher place than the other. Infact the polltics of some states are defined along caste lines and brahmins are not part of that game either....Brahmins just do not compete with other castes for power,wealth or fame Nor do they advertise their caste except in matrimonial ads!!!!

Anonymous said...

Even more interesting is typically a brahmin heroine is synonymous with beauty,culture, good manners,grace,high education, unblemished character and high moral values. If the hero is a non brahmin then the story would typically be about how virtuous the hero is to deserve such a heroine. The virtues of the heroine are not part of the story because all that has already been defined by her caste declaration in the script.

Anonymous said...

Caste relations are not as straightforward as they are presented. In Gujarat Patels are Shudras, but very dominant castes. This fact is reflected in Gujarati movies and serials too. Similar to Gujarat, In AP, Reddys are Shudras but dominant landed caste. So there is no dearth of Reddy heroes in Telugu movies. Similarly in the North, Kayasthas are sometimes classified as Shudras but are a very influential caste and get a disproportionate representation in government.

The point is not that Shudras are unrepresented. The point is that some castes are not represented. Use of term "Dalit" is more appropriate than "Shudra". Even though they largely overlap but not all Shudras are Dalits nor all Dalits are shudras. Patels, Reddys and Kayasthas may be shudra as per varna order but they are certainly not Dalit (Oppressed).

Anonymous said...

1.Inspite of Punjabi domination of Bollywood the hero or heroine will never be a sikh.Wonder if in Punjabi movies they are represented.......
2.If hero is dalit well the story will be about fighting oppression. Most dalits would not like to see such movies where they are depicted like that.
3.In the past all heroes/heroines had to be christened with most commonly acceptable hindu names irrespective of whether they were indu/muslim/parsee/jew etc Yusuf Khan was Dilip Kumar now Shahrukh is just Sharukh thanks to aheeda Rahman who was the first heroine to use her real name;she simply refused to take on a hindu name. Actually the film industry can play a major role in changing caste perceptions.The Dalits are no longer the oppressed castes(at least in cities) so there is no need to think of them as such. Infact the term "dalit" itself is degarading. We should stop using it.

Anonymous said...

As you have rightly pointed out there are no baniya heroes in Bollywood. But have you ever heard a baniya complaining about such discrimination?

In fact baniya's portrayal is worse than shudras. Even though with a patronizing attitude, the portrayal of a shudra in a bollywood movie - whether achhut kanya of yore or lagaan of recent times- is invariably politically correct. OTOH a baniya if at all a part of the movie is shown as wily and crooked. So if there is a caste bias in bollywood, it is the baniya which should have the biggest grudge, not the shudra.

Anonymous said...

Top heroes used to be Punjabi/North Indian males now taken over by the North Indian Khans. However the top heroines have always been South Indian females starting with Vyjayanthi Mala to Aishwaraya Rai....
North Indian/Bengali heroines have not really occupied the topmost spot..South Indian men hardly have a presence in Hindi cinema...These biases are very interesting to analyse...

Anonymous said...

And u forgot to mention these punjabi Khatris have also been classified as Shudras...But these madarchods say they are Kshatriyas or some say they are Vaishyas..

Anonymous said...

The movies only depict the dreams and fantasies of Indian people. No matter how light o rdark complexioned they may be almost all of them wish they were fair complexioned. So you oly see fair heavily made up actors on screen no matter how dark they may be in real life. Similarly no matter what their caste is really classified as in real life, almost all of them would like to portray themselves as upper class Brahmins or Kshatriyas. So even in real life you have kammas trying to give themselves brahmin or Kshatriya like names and gotras even though they are an agricultural caste like many others of their kind, khatris doing the same thing in Punjab and am sure every state in India has such castes who like to think of themselves as brahmin or ksatriya. Many o fthese castes have even made up fantastic fictional stories of their origin to back up their claim of being descended from brahmins and kshatriyas. (Even the Aryan origin theory many Indians love to claim is also now proven to be a hoax).The movies only depict what people would like to fantasize about themselves.

Anonymous said...

Singhania is a bania (agarwal marwari) last name. Also, Kapoor, Malhotra, Chopra are Khatri last names. While Khatris claim that the word Khatri is a Punjabi corruption of the Sanskrit Kshatriya, most scholars classify them as part of the merchant or bania castes.

There is little chance of Bollywood showing banias in a bad light, they control its financing. If anything, Bollywood is notoriously silent about the exploitation committed by many big business houses.

gopi krishna said...

Ancient India had "varna" system. Varna means color and refers to human aura (and not skin color)which rishis could perceive.

Later, everything degenerated into occupation based clans and sub-clans. Caste is a spanish word and hence should not be used in the Indian cultural context, as it also means race.