Tamil superstar Suriya’s recent release 'Jai Bhim', added the glimmer to his cult following, even though, the film has its share of controversies, since it is based on one of the many cases fought by Tamil Nadu's Justice Chandru, which was a result of caste-based violence.
While the film had stirred the proverbial pot, around the issues faced by the marginalised and the lower sections of society in the country, and particularly the state, it also refocuses the spotlight on how Bollywood and its several stars, generally stay away from working in films based such topics.
Filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan, best known as the director of highly acclaimed film 'Masaan', which also dealt with caste issues, highlights the importance of including people of different castes, not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well.
"Most of the Hindi film industry is not privy to caste and its manifestations. People grown up in the industry aren’t aware or have been rather oblivious to it. When I speak to them about caste they get genuinely surprised,” he tells us.
The filmmaker highlights the importance of 'lived experiences' in the the process of storytelling.
“There are very few writers/directors/actors who have spoken on caste in India. The handful of films that have been made throughout history, have all been made from a savarn gaze of ‘atrocities’ and lack assertion as a theme. The south film industry on the other hand is cognizant of this. The Hindi film industry must realize the importance of ‘lived experiences of marginalised identities when they make films/shows about them. Another aspect to know is that you are not doing a huge favor on the marginalised communities by making films on them. They are not obligated to be indebted to you. You are benefiting from telling their stories," he says.
He also emphasises that the Hindi film industry needs to include people from different castes, to make caste-sensitive film, an integral part of storytelling in Bollywood.
“You cannot be authentic in the portrayal of caste or any marginalised identities if you don’t involve people from the communities in the development stage, in the writers’ rooms, in research. Reading a book is not enough. Actors and creators should come with a genuine sense of ally-ship and learning from the ‘lived experiences of people. If you don’t involve people from the communities in development or execution, no matter how sincere you are in your efforts, it will remain a hollow patronizing gaze," adds Ghaywan.
Actor Prakash Raj, who played the role of Inspector General Perumalsamy in 'Jai Bhim' and has been part of Bollywood films such as 'Singham' and 'Golmaal Again', says that for Suriya to be part of such a film, comes from a place of his responsibility as a person.
"Suriya is not just an actor. We have been privileged guys, but our heart, our thought process, our ideology, is about using our privilege to the best. It has been the integrity, the personality basically. We believe in that,” he says.
“There is a social responsibility that comes from within, which has been a part of their journey. They are not mere actors. It has nothing to do with acting. Somewhere we find it as our responsibility because we are privileged, because we are gifted with certain talent and there is something in our heart, which cries out for that. It’s a conscious decision to jump at any given chance and use our gifts," adds Raj.
The actor says it's about time that people in Indian film industries raise their voices, unanimously and use the gift for the right cause.
"It is more than just a Telugu industry, Bollywood or a South Indian industry. It depends on an individual. As an artist's responsibility. I very strongly believe that the future may forget those who have sinned against them but it will not forgive who are silent. Kudos to the way his (Suriya) parents brought him, he has been active on social issues. I wish more of us who are privileged take up such issues because it is the need of the hour. We need to stand up to certain things," he says.
Filmmaker Tigmanshu Dhulia, praises Suriya and the team for making a film, but also feels that the Tamil film industry has been making films on such subjects, on a consistent basis, and this film is nothing out-of-the box.
"Specially in South India, the two parties DMK and AIDMK, and both are Dravid parties. The politics has been anti-Brahmin, anti-upper class. So, the psyche of people is like that and a film being made on it is nothing different. It's a good film and it's good that such a film is being made but it is in their political psyche," Says Dhulia.
"But yes, actors in Hindi, don't come forward in issue-based films. Films in South have always been rooted. That is why their industry is doing good. We are a bit greedy I think. But the film is that 'Jai Bhim' is not a revolutionary film. This has been happening there since 1930s,” he adds.