Skip to content

Eight Anti-Caste Films That Call Out Oppression Unapologetically

From sports dramas to queer romace, these films explore a range of stories that are firmly grounded in an anti-caste narrative.

Author: Mrudula

  1. Jayanti (2021):
    Available on Amazon Prime Video
    Language: Marathi
    Director: Shailesh Narwade

This social drama examines how young people who face caste oppression are indoctrinated into Hindu extremist ideology.  The film takes us through the protagonist’s redemption arc. Santya (played by Ruturaj Wankhede),  represents the “andh-bhakt” (blind follower) whose self-discovery is guided by the Phule-Ambedkarite ideology and helps him unlearn false beliefs.

“Jayanti demonstrates that assertion is an imperative action against caste inequalities driven by money, muscle and mafia and OBCs, SCs, and STs have to inculcate power for their own protection and safety,” says a Roundtable India review

2. Jhund (2022):
   Available on Zee5
   Language: Marathi
   Director: Nagraj Manjule

This film is based on the real-life story of Vijay Barse, the founder of the Nagpur NGO “Slum Soccer”. When he is about to retire as a sports teacher, Barse (played by Amitabh Bachchan) forms a football team with a group of underprivileged children who face multiple oppressions along the lines of caste, religion, or gender. The teacher’s faith in these children’s abilities fosters their confidence, helping them overcome their addictions and other self-sabotaging behaviours.

[Jhund] upends the Bollywood sports biopic template and uses the game of football and an altered narrative form to craft an incisive and deeply felt commentary on the reality of systemic oppression.”

3. Sarpatta Parambarai (2021):
   Available on Amazon Prime Video
Language: Tamil
Director: Pa Ranjith

This sports drama set in the 1970s and 80s tells the story of a boxer Kabilan (played by Arya). Kabilan, who works as a wage labourer at the Chennai harbour, dreams of fighting in the ring. When he finally gets to, he must overcome the numerous casteist obstacles.

Karthik Karuppusamy’s review sums up the crux of the film:

“North Madras had a very rich heritage of boxing traditions initially inherited from the British, later carried forward by dedicated indigenous boxing clans. Ranjith, through his meticulous scripting of that boxing culture, has ingeniously brought the social history of those marginalised communities into the limelight.”

4. Karnan (2021):
Available on Amazon Prime Video
Language: Tamil
Director: Mari Selvaraj

This story gives its protagonist Karnan (played by Dhanush) mythical proportions. There is no bus stop in Karnan’s village; the nearest is in the locality where hostile upper caste oppressors live. The struggle for a bus stop becomes a difficult and dangerous one as it’s also a fight against the institutional oppression of Dalit people. The message of solidarity and resistance in the film carries a strong political and emotional appeal.

"This film needs to be experienced emotionally and visually. It is an approximation of generations of sufferings of people, who have been subjected to unspeakable atrocities owing to where they belong in the caste hierarchy," writes Manoj Kumar R

5. Pariyerum Perumal (2018)
Available on Amazon Prime Video
Language: Tamil
Director: Mari Selvaraj

Pariyerum Perumal (played by Kathir) is a young Dalit law student who aspires to be like Dr B.R. Ambedkar. Jothi (played by Anandi) falls in love with Paraiyerum, but her upper caste family makes him the target of their fury. The self-discovery of the young Dalit man unfolds in this film that tells the story of caste-based violence and murder in the name of "honour killing." The film received a flood of praise.

Filmmaker and critic Rajesh Rajamani wrote, “Films that are rooted in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu have often glorified or normalised the caste pride of the intermediate caste groups. Some of them have even gone to the extent of portraying honour-killing as a cultural way of life. It is in such a scenario, Mari Selvaraj [the director] has made a movie that attempts to stir the conscience of intermediate and upper caste groups and appeal for equality and justice.”

6. Ajeeb Daastaans: Geeli Pucchi (2021)
Available on Netflix
Language: Hindi
Director: Neeraj Ghaywan

Geeli Pucchi tells the story of two queer women from the opposite ends of the caste hierarchy. The film is not only a searing critique of the discriminatory practices in the workplace but also a nuanced critique of the hypocrisy of women with caste privilege. Priya (played by Adity Rao Hydari), who is Brahmin, is less qualified than Bharti (played by Konkana Sen Sharma), who is Dalit. Yet Priya gets hired to the more superior post at the company, which Bharti deserves. When Bharti reveals her caste to Priya in a moment of intimacy, the romance between the two women ends abruptly.

“The film did not victimise the Dalit character and make her look helpless,” writes Megha Malakar. “ [R]ather by the middle of the film, she was driving the story…. This story is not just about caste, or gender or sexuality. Rather it is a story about how these multiple identities play out and become a deciding factor affecting all areas of our life.      

7. Kaala (2018)
   Available on Netflix
   Language: Tamil
Director: Pa Ranjith

Kaala highlights the caste politics behind attempts by the state-corporate nexus to gentrify Mumbai’s slums*. The film is a compelling account of life, love, and resistance rooted in the ideologies of Marx, Periyar, and Ambedkar. Kaala (played by Rajinikanth) is a local gangster who tries to bring together people from several oppressed groups to create resistance against  Hari Dhada (played by Nana Patekar), a politician who represents corporate interests trying to take away the land they are living on. However, Kaala’s own son, Lenin (played by Manikandan), challenges his radical methods, as does NGO worker Zareena (played by Huma Qureshi). Several other dissenting voices around him make Kaala's task challenging.

“Kaala is no ‘one man army,’” writes filmmaker and critic Rajesh Rajamani. “By giving agency to multiple characters in the movie, Ranjith documents the conflicting solutions that come up in a community and how a people’s leader eventually emerges.”

8. Fandry (2013)
Available on Zee5
Language: Marathi
Director: Nagraj Manjule

Fandry is the story of an adolescent boy Jabya (played by Somnath Awghade) and his romantic pursuit of an upper caste girl, Shalu (played by Rajeshwari Kharat), in a caste-infested world. The film explores the themes of self-awareness, self-preservation, and the price Dalit individuals have to pay to get assimilated into Savarna society. Director Manjule uses wit, irony and cynicism to reframe and ridicule casteist practices of the Savarna Hindu society in keeping with  the Phule-Ambedkarite tradition.

"[A]s Fandry lays out the humiliation and hardship that is Jabya's lot because of his caste, it makes sense that Jabya has placed his faith upon an impossible, unreal remedy. Reality offers him no hope. His neat handwriting, his charming smile, his dedication to homework, his ability to climb trees, his physical strength cultivated by manual labour — none of these qualities are of any value in real life." —writes Deepanjana Pal for the FirstPost.

*Disclaimer—"Slums are often seen as a debilitating and even subversive presence within society. In reality, though, it is public policies that are often at fault, not the people who live in these neighbourhoods."---Alan Mayne, Slums: The History of a Global Injustice. Reaktion Books

Mrudula is a lawyer and writer. She is currently exploring the cultural aspect of social justice. She tweets from her handle @lawandemotions.

Comments

Latest

Why You Should Ditch Perfectionism in 2023

Why You Should Ditch Perfectionism in 2023

Perfectionism strips away the emotional resilience needed to adapt to the fluctuating demands of life. Eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicidal thoughts are some of the mental health illnesses associated with perfectionism.