A media scholar at Birmingham City University has begun a first of its kind study in decades to highlight the representation of marginalised people in Indian cinema as he believes stereotyped depictions of such people on screen is fuelling further social stratification.
Vishal Chauhan, from Rajasthan, says Dalits represent around 22 per cent of India's population, yet they do not receive equal screen time compared with other societal groups.
His investigation forms part of his PhD studies and he hopes his findings can be used to inform Bollywood and Indian policymakers of the importance of normalising Dalit representation on screen and taking positive action.
"Most worrying is the stereotypical portrayal of Dalit peoples - when they do appear - as intellectual inferior and only able to survive on the goodwill of upper caste peoples. The Indian film industry has helped create an untrue perception of an entire community," he notes.
His research will centre on 15 Hindi films from the 1930s to the 2010s, and will consider such features as 'Sujata' (1959) and 'Aarakshan' (2011).
Rather than simply relying on textual analysis, Chauhan will engage with archives at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune and contemporary documents, to better understand the context within which cinemagoers reacted to these films when originally released and how people from lowers castes were represented.
The Indian academic has chosen to undertake this study in the UK because he feels that his study is not ready to be accepted as a question within India itself, the university said in a statement.
Chauhan is being supervised in the Birmingham School of Media at the University by Professor Rajinder Dudrah, a leading scholar of Indian cinema studies in the UK.
"Bollywood, I believe, has a social responsibility to ensure it portrays Dalits with integrity to help shift the public consciousness," he says.
Chauhan is one of 50 STEAM Scholars at Birmingham City University, whose research is funded as part of the university's 3-million-pound initiative to create new subject knowledge and to power cultural, societal and economic improvements in Birmingham, across the UK and around the world.
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