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The Khans Do Not Rule Bollywood, Upper Caste Hindu Actors Do

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By Shinjini Devbarman:

When The Hindu came out with a survey regarding the lack of diversity in Bollywood movies, it opened up a debate on the layers of discrimination that are inherent in the Indian cinema industry. According to the analysis, in the 300 movies made in the last two years, only 6 characters belonged to marginalized communities.

Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

If we were to chart the entire history of Indian cinema, we would see a growth in commercial ambitions over art. Indian cinema in its early years attempted to reform and bring together a fragmented society after independence. Movies used to mostly revolve around the downtrodden, and aimed to reform a strictly hierarchical society. But one look at contemporary movies will tell you how far we have come from there.

Popular Bollywood movies most frequently tell the story of an upper caste Hindu character, according to The Hindu. In 2014, around 66 movies had Hindu lead characters while movies that had characters from other communities were at a dismal one digit ratio.


Even though Bollywood is said to be ruled by the Khans, it is ironic how most of the roles on screen actually go to the upper class and upper caste Hindu community. Most leading actors come from a privileged background and most of the characters they represent in mainstream movies belong to the same faction. Very rarely do we come across a character in a movie from a socially marginalized background.

The idea that a quintessential Bollywood hero fights social evils like corruption, helps the poor, fights the villains, romances his heroines, is an epitome of Indian masculinity and prowess – is at the same time only conferred to an upper caste/class, mostly Hindu alpha male. What this seems to exhibit is the idea that heroism can only come from a particular social background.

Traditionally, the rags-to-riches story worked for Bollywood. The hero fighting his way up in the class system corresponds well with the rise of capitalism in India. But imagining the same hero fight the caste system was perhaps too uncomfortable a reality to portray on screen.

The lack of diversity in mainstream Bollywood movies can be further elucidated by the fact that there has hardly been any movie featuring a tribal in the capacity of lead hero/heroine. Mary Kom (2014) was the only mainstream Hindi movie featuring the real life story of a tribal woman who becomes a boxing champion.

One might argue that there has been a representation of these social evils in movies but it is important to focus on the question- why is there bias in portraying a leading character from a minority community?

To say that movies are just a source of entertainment is to underestimate the power of this form of art. The art of storytelling lies in the way it translates the realities of the time in a creative fashion. Cinema is what you make of it. It can entertain, educate and engage the audience beyond the visual medium. The purpose of watching cinema is subjective and some may argue that it shouldn’t be taken at face-value. Yes, cinema is supposed to be for entertainment, but at the expense of what? Non-representation is also a form of discrimination.

Although Indian cinema has changed, there is still much work to be done. Unlike Hollywood, which has been, desperately, opening its gates to diversity and representation, Bollywood is still struggling with that representation. In recent years, debates surrounding this lack of diversity have made way for niche filmmakers to question social taboos through their movies. And it’s high time they challenged the dominant caste narrative though powerful and subversive cinema.

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  1. Tariq

    I see that you have become American in your thinking and have adopted the attitudes of the quintessential American “Social Justice Warrior” Which so many of us in the West despise. An SJW is most probably a person (usually female) from an upper middle class background who for some reason feels the need to address class issues that nobody else except her and her ilk percieve . She usually studies nonsense subjects such as “gender studies” or “journalism” and thinks of herself as a savior of what she she percieves as “marginalized” groups. I beg of you to rid yourself of this Marxist ideology and be realistic.

    1. Shinjini D

      Just the fact that you consider gender studies and journalism “non sense subjects” speaks volumes about your intellect.

  2. Nishant Srivastava

    height of Stupidity..

  3. nitish

    what non sense is this

  4. Dhirendra

    Really sick article, cinema ko toh aap “intellectual ellite gyani, take on everything, Indians are most racists people thought mein believe karnewale, aur Hume human rights or equality yeh west ki den hai aur waha color racism ya witch hunt(kind of western equivalent of sati) kabhi hua hi nahi aisa manane wale log” please hum aap se raham ki bheek mangate hai, plz cinema ko baksh do plzzzzz
    Writers next time when u write a film please try to balance that pie chart, according to national reservation policies. Hahaha hilarious
    If this continues soon we will read article on same case study on ISRO and Indian Army
    This is not youthkiavaaz, this is selected class of youthkiavaaz. By the way selected youth ki avaaz only believes that people from DU, JNU, TISS and similar institute have rights for Activism and only those people get national media space but underprivileged people from marginalised society and who cannot communicate in Elite Language(English) like Bandu Dhotre don’t have a right to be heard on national media. Same case study applies to activism sector or ngo sector in India where same pie chart is applicable only these upper caste Hindus are of different ideology and belong to above ellite institutes.
    By the way I belong to both the sectors.

  5. Alakh Sundaram

    One of the most egregious and stupid article I have come across. This shows the sick mind of the author. I call people like her a pseudo intellectual. These people rather than making a positive change in society they will create animosity and seed ill-thoughts among people.

  6. Subbie D

    Nothing better expected than rehash op-ed of the Hindu from an SJW of JNU. 🙂

  7. Shahbaz

    Why brother… why this stuff… when no one bothers…..

  8. GearaltofRivia

    Well written! I have never really noticed such discrimination. This needs to be read by more people!

  9. Suresh

    This article really speaks volumes about the prevalence of the caste system in the society. And it is also quite funny to see the upper caste hindu males who also happen to be caste deniers are seemingly frustrated seeing the mask of casteism being torn off. Casteism must be countered from all angles and the prevalence of caste bias in films, companies, sports should all be dealt with. The upper caste hindu male would jump whenever he hears the word caste being spoken in any forum and especially when the inequality and injustice that comes along with caste as its shadow is spoken he would begin to lose his nerve. When the dalit-bahujan regime comes in this country that will the day when the beacon of social justice will be lit in this country and social justice will be implemented in this country and the tyranny of the upper castes will come to an end and that day is not far off.

  10. Deepanker Kaul

    While no can deny that a certain amount of bias exist (in almost every industry) but to put it as “upper caste Hindus” dominating is totally unjustified. I do agree that Hindi movies need to address wider social spectrum but that does not mean that you simply introduce characters to balance the statistics. India is a HINDU majority nation and most of the stories that you tell will have a majority of Hindu characters but that doea not mean bias. For example, HAIDER was based in 1995 Kashmir and thus all the characters were Muslims as by that time most of the Kashmiri Pundits, (but not all) had been driven from Kashmir. Now if the makers of HAIDER had squeezed in Kashmiri Pundit characters, it would have been a gross injustice to the story.
    So you don’t just go by stats while alleging “widespread” discrimination. You have to understand the context as well.

    1. Singh

      These bloody fools have a problem with upper caste Hindus, they have a problem with light skinned Hindus, they have a problem with everything they want but they aren’t! This isn’t an American white nation where blacks were brought in as slaves. It’s an ancient multi racial society and if the fair skin obsessed population wants Europoid or light skinned Northern Indian actors then the sirnames will definitely belong to the communities who have it. Stop copying American system blindly and use your brain before posting articles.

  11. zoya shaikh

    bhaag milkha bhaag was far far better than mary kom

  12. Deepank

    only a leftist JNUite can write such crap…this site is youth is awaaz n u really think we youngsters actually sit n do religion analysis? why cant u just shut up…watch good movies n chill? Since u have so much vella time why dont u write an article on why only movies starring muslim actors make more money then hindu actors? i guess people like u live in 1950 dividing everything on religion

  13. Amit

    Dear Author, I do not see the point of writing this article.
    First, the name of the article is misleading, I clicked on link thinking to get some fodder for my brain about how upper cast dominates the bollywood amd not the Khans. But no what you have done is simply made refrence of the THE HINDU’s article with little modifications. There is nothing to look forward in this article. Everything is just factual and subjective. Which have been discussed in The Hindu article already. Atleast a little bit of research by your owncould have added value to the artcle.This article serves no purpose and YKA should be prudent next time.

  14. Carolin

    …”niche filmmakers to question social taboos through their movies”…
    could you list some of these filmmakers / movies?
    it’s no so easy to come by them (at least for those who live outside India)

  15. Sugunendra

    Your shit is getting ridiculous day by day. Can you get it together. Please.

  16. NewsnMovies

    very nice post ..
    see more at:
    [Yuvraj Hans] Paani Latest Punjabi Song Review

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