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‘I am not a believer in the caste system’ says Amitabh Bachchan

August 16, 2011

Here’s a link to something you should read.

Undergraduate junior year, I took an elective course from our film studies department on bollywood movies. It was a pretty good class. And while we talked lots about class and gender, our discussions on caste were (understandably) pretty limited . While many things were questioned, what was never ever doubted was that the young Bachchan played roles of the ‘outcaste’.

He wasn’t an outcaste, either. Not even in the film ‘Lawaris’ in which he turns out to be the son of Thakur Ranvir Singh, a rajput. And he wasn’t a nobody, a person without caste, an outsider (as one critic points out) in any of his films. He was a rajput, brahmin, vaishya, baidya, kayasth, khatri, bhumihar…and only once a jat, but never a yadav (even in these ugly mandalized times when even yadav characters, albeit of a negative kind, are making their way into films ). He was a muslim in a couple of films, but you could sense that he was from a ‘good family’ even when he was a coolie. Of the kind that indulged in shayari and other genteel obsessions. Or of the kind that headed whole clans (like in Khuda Gawah).

I am not, of course, surprised about Bachchan’s caste-free (which is somehow always upper-caste) vision of the world, nor do I have some false nostalgia for Bachachan as an underdog. But what strikes me is how effortlessly caste could be pulled out from the movies that are listed (all mainstream, popular cinema).

It is sobering that until relatively recently, it had not occurred to me to try and see caste uniquely  (as opposed to a rough approximation for class). Not that I haven’t thought about it, but I just believed that I was not “socially conditioned” to consider caste. And comparatively speaking, when I consider how people explicitly and non-politically talk about caste all the time, there is some truth in it also. But it’s not the whole truth. It’s only a little better than Bachchan’s “I am not a believer in the caste system”.    The truth is , of course, I have been socially conditioned to consider caste.  Of course, Bachchan does not believe in a caste system where he rides at the top and never bothers to look down.

Here’s a link to Death of Merit, a documentary worth watching.

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