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Friday, November 30, 2007

Time for Controversy Again!

Aaja Nachle, a film which I have been looking forward to, released today. In true Bollywood style, it is already knee-deep in controversy.

The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayavati Kumari, has decided to ban the film from the state. In the title song of the film, there is a reference to Dalits (untouchables) which she found offensive. Because of this, she banned the film from the state she leads. "[It] is not only objectionable and humiliating but also unconstitutional and, therefore, the screening of the film has been banned."

The part of the song which she (and many others who were protesting in Delhi) found offensive was:
maine galati kari thi, meri nathani padi thi - 2
ke sone mein usako ranga gayi, mein rangaake atariya pe aa gai
mohalhe mein kaisi maara maar hai, bole mochi bhi khud ko sonar hai

Which translates to:

I made a mistake, I colored my nose ring gold, and came on the roof. There were fights in the area to see me, and even the low caste shoe makers would call themselves goldsmiths.

To understand Mayawati's decision, one must know about her background. She herself was an untouchable (a dalit), and often cites how successful she has become, despite her background. The party she represents is Bahujan Samaj Party, a party which is known for representing the lower caste. Her victory earlier this year made her the first untouchable woman to become the leader of a state, and her campaign was largely grassroots and attracted upper castes, lower castes, and even other religions.

The line from the song was not smart on the part of the lyricist or the filmmakers, because they are all in powerful positions, and made a regressive statement about castes in India. But, banning the film was not the way to go.

The film should not have been banned. The portrayal of (or the lack of) Dalits in Bollywood needs to be changed, altogether. Instead of banning the movie and creating controversy over one line in a Bollywood film, Mayawati should have simply used this as an example of how the very concept of the caste system needs to change and make progressive decisions as the leader of the most populous state in India. Bollywood shouldn't be her focus.

And, India is still a democracy. If Mayawati bans this film, is it possible for the BJP to call for the banning of the movies they don't approve of? (Trust me, I shouldn't even go there.)

The treatment and portrayal of Dalits and untouchables in India and even in Bollywood needs to change now-- along with the portrayal of other minorities. The line in Aaja Nachle should be discussed, recognized- but not banned.