Today when whole of the country is paying tribute to the leader who repositioned the Dalits, the backwards and downtrodden on to the main stage in Indian politics aka Kanshi Ram, it would be interesting to have a snapshot of the way this issue has been handled by the Hindi film industry. Viewed from this perspective the Indian entry to the Oscars that have been marred in controversy i.e. EKLAVYA fits the bill. Surprisingly enough this aspect, which Vidhu Vinod Chopra dealt with in a very subtle manner, was never highlighted in any of the reviews though it was after a long time that this aspect was brought into light in a Hindi commercial film. The character of Sanjay Dutt in the film is an effective invocation about empowerment that education could provide to a Dalit and for this sheer fact it could claim its nomination as an Oscar entry from the country in a forceful manner.
The films of these kinds, which have been made with the empowerment of the downtrodden more so those belonging to the scheduled and backward castes, have been too few. This is quite in contrast to the way Hollywood deals on this issue as Hollywood every year comes out with one film or the other which portrays in detail the struggle of a downtrodden individual and the latest in this series is THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS starring Will Smith. Probably this could be owing to the fact that in Hollywood the association of the downtrodden is connoted with colour i.e. the blacks are generally taken as those who represent the category living on the margin but the same pattern of distinction cannot be adopted for our country. It could also be owing to the reason that the sensitivity about dealing with these issues is still in its infancy.
One of the biggest blockbusters, which addressed this issue in a very profound manner, was GHULAMI of J P Dutta, which gave to the Hindi cinema the director of the caliber of Dutta. It was an out and out film dealing in succinct detail about the struggle a downtrodden has to undergo for his basic needs like water and for his existence. Films of the art variety however have been dealing with this issue in a very forceful manner for quite a long time. Films like NISHANT, PAAR etc., are definite milestone on the path of addressing the issues associated with the existentialist issues of the downtrodden. In the era of Black & White films SUJATA was a landmark film, which had also brought this issue into relief in a big way. In the commercial realm another film, which was released but could not make its mark was Sanjeev Kumar starrer ARJUN PANDIT that charted the growth of a Dalit teacher through the day-to-day struggles to assert his identity.
The commercial cinema has to reorient itself and address this category which in the times to come would emerge as the category that could set the agenda for all the things to come. There incorporation in one form or the other is the need of the hour, as it would also give a realistic connotation to the films. May be, it is the starting hiccups that could be the reason that its references are scanty, but once it gains momentum it would chart out its own course, as it is said in physics that the coefficient of starting friction is more than the coefficient of sliding friction and this genre is going through the pangs of starting friction.