Screens of Othering: Caste, Indian Cinema, Audiences, and Affect
Falling below the lowest rung of the social ladder circumscribed by the iron grip of the caste system in India, the Dalits are violently oppressed, muted, and discriminated against. Throughout the history of 110 years of cinema in India, we, Dalits, have hardly had any opportunities to retrieve our Dalit lived experiences on screen, be it as directors or actors. Dalits in Indian cinema are frequently represented as objects of disgust or pity, subjected to an othering, fetishizing, orientalist, or patronising gaze. How these representations play out with audiences, and, specifically, how they feed into and inflect the everyday experiences of caste and casteism is something that my doctoral research looks to investigate, with regard to the effects of representations on political realities in the realm of race and racism.
My proposed research investigates the ways in which the lack of verisimilitude of representation of the terrifying realities of Dalit ontology, lack of engagement with Dalit struggle, and the dearth of Dalit lived experience in mainstream Indian Hindi cinema, and its recent burgeoning in Tamil and Marathi cinemas intersect with casteist and anti-caste imaginaries and politics amongst Dalit and non-Dalit audiences of such films in India and among the diaspora. Whether screen representations of Dalits in mainstream cinema do their work by producing affects of anger, disgust, disappointment, entertainment, pride, pleasure, or guilt through negotiations or interpellations, and how the intersections of caste, class and gender amongst audiences inflect meanings taken back are some of my key concerns.
My project thus aims to make a contribution to the theorisations of caste representations, and the spectatorial subjectivity of audiences in terms of their specifically situated and embodied phenomenological viewing experiences. This is an original and interdisciplinary attempt to resurrect muted Dalit subaltern voices in the realm of global media, on the dialectic between hegemonic and subaltern cultural production to revive the historically dying voices of my community that are getting lost everyday amidst rising Hindutva fascism, and the hammers of exclusion and manual scavenging.
Saumyadeep holds a B.A in Sociology from the University of Calcutta, India, and an M.A in Sociology from the Presidency University, India. Following his first postgraduate degree in Sociology, he went on to pursue his second postgraduate degree in Media and Communications from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), on account of his keen academic and research interest in the dissemination of social ontologies and socio-political realities through the lens of media, and its movement through the political economy of media. Saumyadeep is currently pursuing PhD in Media and Communications at the LSE, while conducting his doctoral research on caste, cinema, Dalits, audiences and affect.
Professor Shakunatala Banaji and Dr Wendy Willems.