The curious case of caste in Bhojpuri cinema

Written by Yashee
| New Delhi |

Updated: October 11, 2020 7:38:48 pm

bhojpuri cinema, caste in bhojpuri cinema bhojpuri cinema video, pawan singh, khesari lal yadav, dinesh yadav. manoh tiwari, ravi kishan, indian expressA nonetheless from the 2018 film Sangharsh, in which Khesari Lal Yadav performs a Yadav character. (Photo: YouTube/screengrab)

As the hurly burly for the Bihar Assembly polls will get underway, a lot is being written, stated, and sung concerning the myriad caste loyalties in the state. Elections in Bihar, each Assembly and Lok Sabha, see a proliferation of Bhojpuri marketing campaign songs, in reward of explicit leaders, carrying a celebration’s message, or taking jibes at rivals.

Two of the most well-liked Bhojpuri artistes, Ravi Kishan and Manoj Tiwari, are BJP MPs. And but, little content material in Bhojpuri cinema relies on Bihar’s politics, in half as a result of of its unusual relationship with the strongest present driving this politics –– caste.

Elections are just one –– and never the most important –– indicator of the central significance caste continues to carry in Bihar, stamping, claiming each sphere of one’s life.

But caste as a topic continues to be absent from fashionable Bhojpuri cinema.

In the previous twenty years, Bhojpuri cinema has seen unprecedented reputation and prolificacy. The trade is spreading its wings in some ways –– to take one instance, a preferred film franchise started as Nirahua Rikshawala (Nirahua the rikshaw driver) in 2008 and its newest launch, in 2019, was Nirahua Chalal London (Nirahua goes to London).

But in all this, few motion pictures have had caste divisions as their most important theme. Some of probably the most distinguished occasions of the previous many years –– the bloody caste wars of the 1990s, the rise of Lalu Prasad Yadav and his politics –– haven’t made it to the display.

So does Bhojpuri cinema exist in a casteless bubble? Not fairly. Caste does form Bhojpuri cinema, prefer it does all the pieces else in Bihar. And the trade’s interactions with caste are an attention-grabbing window into how the state itself, beset by many adjustments and but stagnating, right this moment negotiates caste.

Talking to those that watch and research Bhojpuri cinema, one will get broadly two solutions on why it shies away from depicting caste divisions – the viewers doesn’t need ‘serious’ motion pictures, the makers don’t wish to present ‘thought-provoking’ content material.

Jainendra Dost, a filmmaker who runs the Bhikhari Thakur Repertory Training & Research Centre in Chhapra, says: “Bhojpuri movies largely follow the poor-boy-meets-rich-girl Bollywood formula. But the differences are sought to be made about class rather than caste. Also, where the hero does happen to have a lower-caste surname, he is still a traditional feudal ‘dabang’ –village stud, great fighter, etc.”

Pramod Kumar, a Bhojpuri lyricist from Buxar, agrees. “Once a kind of movie works, it is reproduced for the next two years. There is no space for the kind of nuance needed to tackle a subject like caste.”

And why is that so?

Pushya Mitra, a Bhojpuri author from Patna, says: “Consider the audience that watches these movies. A large section of them are labourers, or people doing menial jobs in cities far from home. At the end of a long work day, they don’t want thought-provoking stuff. They want things that can entertain, give a laugh, titillate. Caste etc. are subjects for a more elite audience, which wants food for thought from its cinema. Not for those seeking a quick escape.”

Dr Sanjay Paswan, former MP and present BJP MLC in Bihar, says caste is a “subject for Hollywood, not Jhollywood”. “Subjects like caste offer excitement, not entertainment, which people are seeking. The makers are after all offering a product. In commerce, there can be no caste. They offer what is acceptable to all.”

However, there are others who say the idea that ‘this is what the audience wants’ is in itself casteist.

Banarasi Alam of Gaya is a Dalit activist who as soon as carried out in ‘launda naach’ troupes. Today, he does puppet reveals in villages on themes of social significance. “If all the audience wanted was entertainment divorced from reality, our performances would have no takers. People still flock to watch what we do, to retellings of old folk tales about lower caste heroes. It is the makers who assume the audience is poor and illiterate and wants cheap thrills.”

Avesh Tiwari, a journalist who hails from Banaras, says the identical. “The ‘we provide what the audience wants’ argument is basically manufacturing demand. You have decided a certain kind of audience doesn’t deserve better effort.”

But once more, there’s no easy binary of higher caste filmmakers wanting down on their largely lower-caste viewers. “A large section of the audience watching Bhojpuri cinema is from the lower or middle castes. And some of the biggest stars are upper castes. But people from the middle castes are involved in production and distribution. A lot of movies are made outside Bihar-Uttar Pradesh. And now, we are holding auditions for actors, where we only look at their talent,” says Devendra Kumar, who handles PR for Bhojpuri motion pictures.

Deepu Nishad, a rickshaw driver in Arrah, says two issues have to be understood about what guides creation and consumption of cinema right here. “No filmmaker can afford to get too honest about caste in Bihar. The political assertion of the backward castes may not have brought them much development, but it has ensured this –– it is no longer safe to offend any caste in Bihar. Secondly, why assume a Yadav or a nai (barber caste) objects to his ‘feudal hero’ depiction on screen? That’s what they aspire to, they love it!”

There can be the character of the trade itself.

Tiwari says: “There are several reasons why Bhojpuri cinema lacks people to take up difficult subjects like caste. First, it is still a low-cost industry. The makers can’t really afford to pay great writers, actors, directors. Second, since most Bhojpuri speakers are comfortable in Hindi, our better talent moves to Bollywood. Third, Bihar or UP governments never gave Bhojpuri cinema the kind of state support Bangla or Marathi movies get.”

Nirala Bidesiya, a Bhojpuri author in Bihar, provides one other issue: “Except for Ravi Kishan, all the most popular stars in Bhojpuri started off as singers –– Manoj Tiwari, Pawan Singh, Dinesh Lal Yadav, Khesari Lal Yadav. They already had a very established identity before they entered cinema. The audience won’t accept a person it knows as a Tiwari (a Brahmin) playing a Ram (a Dalit surname). So you’ll see Pawan Singh playing a Rajput often, Dinesh and Khesari play Yadav characters, and so on.”

There can be a caste angle in how the trade was formed. The blue collar migration to better-paying jobs, and the political and social assertion of the backward castes in the previous many years, created a brand new class of viewers. But accompanying this was the white collar migration of the extra educated, resource-rich higher castes. Nirala says as soon as out of Bihar, this class tried exhausting to ‘de-Biharise’ itself, resulting in a neglect of Bihar’s literature and tradition. “The frivolity of the Bhojpuri film industry is not isolated. It is hard to name a great work of literature on caste issues penned in Bhojpuri, or any of Bihar’s many dialects, in the last 20 years.”

Dhananjay Kumar, a member of India’s Screenwriters Association, says: “For cinema to go beyond commercial and turn reformist, or at least socially conscious, there needs to be a general feeling of pride in the language. That is missing here, both in the immigrants and in the left-behinds.”

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Dost says caste dealt artwork in Bihar a double whammy. “The lower castes in Bihar are equipped with a long tradition of performing arts, but that was not considered mainstream by the upper castes who once decided everything. And those who were equipped with knowledge of ‘mainstream’ literature and arts are today not very interested in Bhojpuri – they have English, or at second best, Hindi.”

There are additionally those that query: why should cinema discuss caste? “Bhojpuri cinema reflects a changing society. Its Bollywoodisation is symbolic of an aspirational audience. These movies are watched by people in Fiji, Trinidad. They can’t just show Purvanchali society,” says Abhishek Shrivastav, a Banaras resident. “And of course, there is also the fact that a raw portrayal of caste can lead to cinema halls being burnt down,” he provides, as an afterthought.

And so, Bhojpuri cinema exists in its unusual world, formed by caste, but unable to look it in the attention, very similar to a bit of Bihar itself.

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