Watching the Chennai Test against Australia, I chanced upon a new commercial for a brand of fan. A couple enter a registrar’s office, obviously for a civil wedding, and give their names as Vikas Verma and Shanti Pandit. The registrar notes these and says, “So, after the wedding, you will be Mrs Shanti Verma.” The groom, a JNU type, quickly interjects, “No, madam. She will stay Shanti Pandit and I’ll change my name to hers.” The couple exchange a glance of understanding, and along comes the fan’s image and slogan, roughly “The winds of change”. Not bad, I thought, spuriously liberal and hypocritically feelgood as it is—as, indeed, all such advertisements are. Then, I found a deeper, and more dangerous, subtext. Please to note the surnames. Verma is a Kshatriya name; Pandit a Brahmin. The groom, by adopting the bride’s name, is actually being upwardly mobile. (Aryan law forbids a woman to marry beneath her, but we’ll let that pass.)
People who work for advertising agencies like to think of themselves as ‘creative’, even the sales executives and (euphemism) research types. In truth, they are the most reactionary and hidebound set of drones on earth. What are the most common surnames you find in mainstream advertising and commercial Hindi cinema? “Sharmaji” is, I think, the most used, though the Brahmin population of India is less than five per cent of the total. There are plenty of Dubeys and Thakurs, and Singhs and Chaudhurys, among the well-to-do. The last two are not really caste-specific, but in the context you find them in, it’s easy to make out where they belong.
I have yet to see a hero or protagonist in these genres of communication with a Paswan or Ahluwalia surname. A Yadav is usually risible. As for south Indian names in Bombay cinema, they haven’t progressed beyond Mehmood’s portrayal of an Iyer in Padosan. Confront any advertising person with this fact, and she (see, I can be politically correct too) will say they are only ‘reflecting reality’.
If you are only reflecting reality, what is your creativity worth? Creativity is the ability to create something new, something which can change things as they are. Mainstream Hindi cinema is not creative in this sense, because while it has changed in terms of technical sophistication and its depiction of urban mores, it has stubbornly refused to present a different, and more equitable, social prospect since probably Mother India and Garam Hawa. Which are not, of course, mainstream films in today’s context.
And where are the Dalits? I should think it would be easy enough to begin simply, by using the surname Kumar or Gupta, which may belong to any of a number of castes. In the 1970s we only had Ravi and Vijay, which could strike a chord in anyone. They and their ladies were fair-skinned, or at least not black. The hero who found himself making a perilous living in the slums turned out to be Nirupa Roy’s son—a savarna by birth to say the least.
To all these people “reflecting reality”, I say phooey. Take for your next hero, or at least patriarch, a member of the Dalit Chamber of Commerce who didn’t inherit his money but made it against the odds. And why is the incomparable Nana Patekar always the anti-hero? Why has Sadashiv Amrapurkar, since his unforgettable debut in Ardh Satya, been cast as a buffoon? Has there been a dark-skinned heroine in mainstream Hindi cinema besides Smita Patil?
These are vexatious questions, and worse than vexatious, like mosquitoes which annoy but can also kill. There are so many apologists for the “new” Bollywood (a word I loathe, though in its commercial motivations, and its reflection of realities, the comparison with Hollywood is well-founded). Sure, our advertising and our cinema are—in terms of sophistication—among the best in the world. That does not mean they are any good.
Going back to names: There is a verse in (I think) a commentary on Manu-Smrti, which details what names are proper to what castes: “Sharma” and “Deva” belong to Brahmins; “Varma” and “Traatru” to the warriors; “Bhuti” and “Datta” denote Vaisyas; and “Dasa” the Sudras.
We have not come a long way in 2,000 years, have we?
This refers to Vijay Nambisan’s column The Manuscripters (Mar 11), where he takes off from a popular ad for Havell’s fans and launches into a tirade of urban India’s myopia towards the realities of caste. The article proves that Outlook doesn’t give its columnists enough time to write their pieces. Poor Mr Nambisan was so engrossed in following the India-Australia match that he ended up submitting third-rate tripe based on imaginary subtexts.
Krishnamurthi Kumar, Baroda
The very fact that there still exists a concept in India called the 'inter-caste' marriage itself demonstrates that we haven't changed. Such marriages also come under the category of 'Special Marriage Act', further proof of their 'peculiarity' and deviation from norm.
Garima Singh Yadav, Faridabad
Dear Mr. Editor,
This article just proves that you should be giving more time to your columnists for submitting their articles. Poor Mr. Nambisan was so engrossed in following the India-Australia test match that he ended up submitting this tripe article based on imaginery subtexts, just to meet the deadline.
Today, caste is not profession, and perhaps a social identity. So, if a person can feel this way, what should it mean? People generally feel insecure, and not about caste. People who are beaten in engineering colleges, are not at all from the Dalit community. It is pretty sad, that we make our being Indian, to emphasise a situation, not to just make a dispassionate statement. We must be careful. If we go telling every Indian, how Indian we are, that person might say, I would rather you be Indian, than me.
14 D Ramki sir
This virus is not only in Bollywood but there inall
profession including politics. Caste and Bequeathing
what the dad had.Today I read in TOI that RG had taken
a wise decision not to marry and have children. Had this
late wisdom would have visited to his great grandfather nor to his granny
what would have been the history of this country? THINK
Talking about Bollywood, the reason why a bollywood does not cast its hero/heroine as someone who made it big on his/her own effort instead of inherited privileges, is because bollywood itself is made out of people who grew out of their parent's shoulders.
Take the top heroes of bollywood - Except Shah Rukh Khan, everyone is there in bollywood only because his dad/mom was there in bollywood.
Ditto for many heroines with some exceptions.
And we have the nonsense of bollywood couples - like Javed and Shabana - who preach virtues of liberalism but use their connections as being part of same family(through marriage) in various ways not easy to fathom. That is also a sort of feudalism. And yes, Vidya balan marying S.Roy Kapoor is also a manifestation of feudalism.
And south India is not alone. Kamal Hassan was seen in many movies preaching against casteism, andpreaching for periyarism and rejection of caste based identities. And his daughters are all getting into same industry. The simple fact is , the man did not persuade his daughters to shine in some other industry , and his daughters will not go anywhere else to earn their bread.
Entertainment Industry in India is deeply feudal and is the 21st century Manu world. It is one area that needs some sort of affirmative action. I challenge Vijay Nambisan to talk about this , instead of blaming one caste for all evils.
Vijay Nambisan >> There is a verse in (I think) a commentary on Manu-Smrti, which details what names are proper to what castes: “Sharma” and “Deva” belong to Brahmins; “Varma” and “Traatru” to the warriors; “Bhuti” and “Datta” denote Vaisyas; and “Dasa” the Sudras.
Mister Vijay Nambisan,
Shall I tell you something that you dont know or pretend not to know? A majority - I repeat a majority of India's brahmins (The cursed evil guys that are supposed to be behind all evils in this country, including failed monsoons), do not carry the surnames like Sharma and Deva. Why?
A majority of brahmins live outside Delhi, Punjab and UP and they have so many other surnames as well. Joshi, Rao , Shastry etc. In Tamilnadu (and some other states), brahmins have stopped keeping caste based surnames. Yet the caste is sitll blamed and supposed to bear the Inter Generational Transfer of Guilt Project and supposed to feel guilty for whatever defined by one Kshatriya called Manu centuries back.
If you feel that caste surnames are the issue, why dont you get to watch movies made in TamilNadu - what they call as Kollywood? The caste which you dislike and consider as evil incarnate is rarely present in present day movies and yet, we find many subtle ways other castes are glorified and how some powerful OBC land owning castes are the ones being represented as heroes. When was last time a Dalit identity and a Dalit hero was seen in Tamil Film (Dalits make over 20% of the Tamilnadu's population)? Interesting there are and more muslim characters in Tamilnadu films than dalits (eventhough muslims are less than 7% of population)
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