The recent Zoya Akhtar release, Dil Dhadakne Do, which had cinema-goers flocking to the big screens, makes us question whether Bollywood is only making flicks which portray India's niche audience, predominantly the upper class.
The picturesque offshore film portrayed the lives of super rich Punjabi Indians and their first world problems. Critics felt the film was detached from India's third world reality because it is “difficult to give a damn about the people in the film" and deemed the movie 'shallow', reported Quartz India.
However, the director, was of a different opinion. "The Indian audience doesn’t want to watch poor people," she said in an interview, dismissing all notions that her films are targeted towards the elite.
"What about Slumdog [Millionaire]? Didn’t you watch that even though it was about a world we were not a part of? At the end of the day it is about experiences, emotions that work for all of us," Zoya said in an interview with Scroll.
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The Hindu reported an analysis of lead characters in almost 300 films released in 2013 and 2014 which revealed that only six lead characters belonged to the lower classes. This was in contrast to Tamil films, which saw a high rise in backward caste in the same time frame.
In 2014, only three Bollywood films saw a shift in lead roles; Mary Kom, a biopic whose lead character was a member of the Kom tribal community; Highway, about a distraught criminal from the Gujjar community; and Manjunath, a real-life account of an Indian Oil employee who was murdered for speaking out against a corrupt oil dealer.
The year before that in 2013, three film releases featured backward castes. The films were; Bandook, the story of a lower caste man’s rise to political power, Kangana Ranaut’s Revolver Rani, and Deepika and Ranveer's Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela.
But it's not just about the lack of lower class films in B-Town, the most common characters featured in these movies are Hindus. According to The Hindu report, Christians, Muslims or Sikhs were hardly kept in mind for roles when writing the script.
In 2014, only two films had Christians as lead characters, three had Sikhs and nine had Muslims (including Haider). On the other hand, as much as 66 lead characters were upper caste Hindus, while the remaining Hindus were of unstated caste without caste reference.
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In India, according to the religion census of 2011, Hindus comprise 78 per cent of the total population, followed by Muslims at 14.2 per cent. Sikhs and Christians are about 2 per cent of the population.
While there is a lack in representation of caste, class and religion, gender also takes a back seat in Bollywood films.
Even after decades, male stars get the screen time and lengthy monologues, women are 'value added' -- cast for item numbers, and usually scantily clad to attract viewership.
In a gender test of blockbusters released last year, nine out of 10 films failed. The test known as the Bechdel test, which rates films based on the criteria of containing at least two female characters who talk to each other about something besides a man, proved that Bollywood is seriously lacking in films which portray gender equality.
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However, recent years have seen a slight change with some filmmakers investing in strong lead female characters. The most current example being Kangana Ranaut whose film Tanu Weds Manu Returns was the first fastest film to gross INR100 crore at the box office, her film Queen was also a blockbuster.
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