I caught up with this Bollywood movie last week. It is a movie about a city educated police officer, who comes to a village of India and learns the brutal nature of caste and race discrimination. It is a coming of age story for a police offer but the movie aims to have a conversation among the public on how we take the lives of Dalit granted. It is meant to make the audience connect and understand the things beyond the news item on their Twitter or Facebook feed.
India is a paradox. We claim to have a rich culture and heritage of 2000 years. We have various languages and diverse ethnic groups and traditions. Sadly, we have people burnt alive, killed and mutilated in the name of religion and caste. Every day you hear some news about honour killings. The movie has its heart in the right place but I had problems with the execution.
It finally showcases as a Brahmin hero, an upper caste, trying to understand the problem and finding a solution for it. Of course, he cannot solve the problem of caste. But in this movie, he solves a crime that makes him question the current beliefs and tries to find out the ways to tackle it.
Let me go into my problems in detail. To underline this, I need to take a reference from a favourite Hollywood director Ryan Coogler and his superhit movie Black Panther. Black Panther is an excellent lens to look into the problems and discriminations faced by the Black people. An extremely crucial and overlooked narrative instrument of the Black Panther is, the heroes and villains are both Black people. There are some white guys, one good and one bad, but in general, it looks into the lives and problems of Black through the Black characters.
There is no single scene or frame to show or get pity for the Black people. But instead as viewers, we are hooked into the narrative and understand the conflict. Even though they have great wealth like vibranium, the hero, T'Challa is xenophobic about the world. It is the villain, Killmonger, who wants to break away from the xenophobic tradition and go to any extreme. In the end, T'Challa realises his mistake and opens up to the science and technology outreach.
People coming out of the Black Panther movie can have rich emotions. Having seen a great action movie. But if you are indulging in peeling the layers, you can find out that it talks to you in a completely different plane. In my opinion, any good artwork that is trying to initiate a conversation among the masses should aim for a huge reach. No wonder movie is the best medium for an extravagant reach.
To sum up, movies are an amazing medium. It attacks the psyche of an audience by presenting one thing. And if the moviemaker is smart, she can inject things beyond the surface that everyone sees. It is the case with any art as well. On the surface, it shows one thing, but if you go deep into it, something else is revealed.
In the case of Article 15, the goal of the movie is to have a conversation with people about the heinous nature of caste. It does not succeed. Critics will praise and it might win awards. But people may not engage with it. It borders the "disaster porn" genre. It simply shows the deplorable conditions of girls being tortured, killed and hung. It shows a Dalit person getting into the sewers and cleaning in all its gore and glory. It goes beyond and shows a bold-intelligent Dalit person, who is fighting for his tribe against their oppressors. But in the end, like in real life, he gets shot down and killed.
Now all the above incidents are true to the life. It just depicts what happens in India. But my point is: what impact does it has on the audience? You just feel pity about them. You probably share about the movie in social media and discuss it with friends and move on. I don't think this movie can change the society (no movie can) and have talked about it in the public forum.
This is my core problem. If the goal is to have a conversation, it has to beyond evoking sympathy. The tropes of Black Panther or the techniques used in Tamil movies like Kaala or Kabali is needed. To appeal to the mass, unapologetically, controversially with head held high, instead of bordering being a disaster porn. Article 15 is a decent effort but not enough.