5 Indian Films to Watch to Learn About Indian Racism

This is just a starting point, there are so many films to watch and so many things to learn, I look forward to more suggestions in the comments.

Kamatipaadam

This is probably the best film I can suggest. It tells the story of a man who grew up in a Dalit area, a natural paradise that had been the home for generations of this community. Over 4 hours, and 3 decades, we see how developers pay off part of the community to threaten and drive out the rest to allow them to take over the land. We see how when the leaders have a change of heart and start to fight back with their people, they are killed by the developers who used to work with them. We also see our hero fall in love with the Dalit girl next door and vice versa, and how slowly they are driven apart because this is not a relationship either side will accept. Most of all, we see the visible difference between our hero and his friends. They are darker, their faces are broader, their hair is not just curly but kinky. These are the faces we don’t normally see in our Indian films. And by the way, the actors who play the Dalit community easily steal the screen from the paler skinned co-stars. Phenomenal talents.

Amazon.in: Buy Kammatipaadam - DVD DVD, Blu-ray Online at Best ...
Last line “this city was not built of brick and stone, it was built of thick Black blood”

Tubelight

This is really not a good movie. But full credit to Salman Khan for at least attempting to address anti-Chinese prejudice. It’s a period drama set during the time of the Sino-Indian war in which a young widow, her father, and her son move to an Indian village and are met with violent racism. This is one of those inside/outside racism movies. We see the story of racism onscreen, and we also see how the racist actions are forgiven by the filmmakers, we should “understand” why people are afraid and lash out at folks that are different than them, which reveals another layer of racism on their part.

Tubelight Box Office Collection – Salman Khan defies GOOD SCRIPT ...

Sujata

Kamattipaddam was about racism against the lower caste communities in terms of how a whole community is persecuted. Sujata takes one member of that community and removes her. A lower caste baby is raised in an uppercaste home. But they avoid even touching her because of the contagion of her blood. The result is a young woman with so much internalized shame, she is afraid to even fall in love for fear that it will somehow damage the man she loves. This is a very subtle intimate version of racism.

FC Flashback: Why You Should Watch Bimal Roy's Sujata
Don’t worry, happy ending, the man she loves is Sunil Dutt and he is awesome and does not care what race/caste she comes from.

Sudani From Nigeria

Yet another Malayalam movie! I am sure there are films from other languages that I just don’t know about, but it does feel like the Malayalam cinema sees these stores more than other cinemas. Maybe because Kerala has always been so racially mixed? Anyway, this one deals with prejudice against African immigrants in modern India, our hero is a sports promoter who has brought in some young men from Africa to play soccer in his tiny local league, putting them up in small rooms and giving them money they can send home to their families. He starts out not exactly disrespecting them, but not sympathizing fully with their situation and why they chose to travel to a new country.

Sudani from Nigeria (2018)

Iyobinte Pushtakam

This movie is just all kinds of things in one! It’s a period piece, set just after WWII and just before independence. And it really digs into the historical basis for Indian racism. The village community where it takes place had pre-existing prejudice between the lower caste darker skinned community and the lighter skinned higher caste community. The British arrived and inflamed it even further. The British left, and the half-white child left behind was ostracized and shamed by the community while at the same time treated as an object of sexual desire.

Iyobinte Pusthakam' Trailer: Fahadh and Lal Set to Entice Audience ...
Very big complicated film, racism is just part of the “isms” it deals with

And of course the bonus film, Mississipi Masala, Mira Nair’s film from the 90s about interracial love.

How Mississippi Masala Can Teach Us To Be Better To Each Other ...

11 thoughts on “5 Indian Films to Watch to Learn About Indian Racism

  1. Any movie of Pa Ranjit and Nagraj Manjule. Few recent movies that I can immediately think in Tamil:
    1. Mari Selvaraj’s Pariyerum Perumal is a must watch. It is from the POV of a Dailt person, which is uncommon in the film industry.
    2. Manusangada about the difficulties a Dalit person faces in burying his dead father.
    Telugu:
    1. Palasa 1978. Released just before lockdown.

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    • Thank you!

      I can’t believe I forgot about Pa Ranjit. Kabali is fascinating, digging into Chinese versus Tamilian versus Malaysian racial tensions. I had no idea about any of that going into the film, and I learned so much.

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      • Yes but only from the point of criminal gangs. In reality each races in Malaysia has its friction with each other and often the culprit behind it are politicians (who else?).

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  2. I applaud the intention of your post.. but you have been quite off the mark. It is not easy to speak about racism/castism in Indian films in broad strokes.

    Racism in india is inseparable from casetism. Dalits are generally darker in skin tones and are mostly invisible in Indian films, regardless of the language. Black people are treated mostly for comic relief. Even when the script calls for a black lead, white actors are simply black faced. A most atrocious example of this from Malayalam is Bhavana in Nammal. See, it was her debut movie, she was no star, but makers still thought they’d rather black face her than cast a darker girl.

    You picked Kammattipadam cast as looking different not just in color but also in features. Even the dalit identity is not uniform across the country. Some caste groups especially the adivasis and lowest caste dalits from south really have different genetic make up. And again Malayalam film industry uses them as crime gangs. Kammattipadam and Iyobinte Pusthakam are two of the best films that portray caste dynamics in Malayalam films. The problem bis that list is very very small.

    But the best films about caste comes from Tamil. They are also more welcoming of dark skinned unconventional heros like Dhanush. Well they too still want fair heroines.. but whatever. Films of Pa Ranjith and Vetrimaran have some of the best non brahmincal savarna storyline and cast.

    And the best movie of recent times would be pariyerum perumal. If you haven’t seen it, do watch.

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    • Is the Dalit community in the Tamil area as dramatically racially different as it is in Kerala? That is what jumped out at me, as an outsider, that the community has visible racial markers setting them apart in addition to the social isolation.

      I also understand that in some areas the idea of lower castes having darker skins is not necessarily a reality? It’s a prejudice and a belief, but it may be more of a perception than a reality. You can have someone of a lower caste who is lighter skinned and someone of a higher caste who is darker? Thus the lightening creams.

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      • I think I have slightly misled you. I will try to explain but I am no expert and these are just broad statements.
        Racially in India you can be predominantly Aryan, Dravidian, Mongoloid or Adivasis. Here Aryan has predominantly caucasian/Mediterranean features, Dravidian I believe is a mix/evolution of the earlier existing proto austroloid and negrito traces. Aryans, Dravidians and Mongoloid races and mixed and mixed over time with multiple immigration waves. Adivasis have generally stayed out of the society and has retained major characteristics of their race, it could be negrito, proto austroloid or Mongoloid trace.
        So the high class and low class people across the country have different features. A brahmin from north does not look like a brahmin from south feature wise. Same for lower caste people. Adivasis everywhere look different from each other but invariably end up in lower class. So there is a greater diversity in the lower caste people features in every region

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        • My understanding is that the majority of the population has had so much mixing that you can’t have any hard and fast racial rule for most communities? You might be able to say “most people of ___ look like ___”, but you can’t say “all people of ____ look like ____”. Right? The stereotype is that South Indians are shorter and darker, but you could easily have a South Indian person who ends up being tall and light skinned, and a North Indian who is short and dark. But it sounds like the Adivasi communities and maybe some others were so isolated that they have retained distinctive racial characteristics 100%?

          This conversation inspired me to go hunting online and I found a good summary of a recent DNA project. The basic DNA is shared North and south and comes from the Indus Valley. The South Indians are a mixture of Indus Valley and South Asian hunter-gatherers, the North Indians are a mixture of Indus Valley and slightly later Steppe people. And then those two groups further mixed with each other. And all of this is from over 2 thousand years ago. But the most important contribution is from the Indus Valley population which is shared through out South Asia (except for the original hunter gatherers, who would be the Adivasis now). Oh, and the only population with remaining distinctive Steppe DNA is northern Brahmins. Basically fits with the Aryan myths we all learned, except explaining that genetically those immigration patterns have little meaning at this point. https://qz.com/india/1243436/aryan-migration-scientists-use-dna-to-explain-origins-of-ancient-indians/

          On Sat, Jun 6, 2020 at 10:42 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

          >

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  3. This is really upsetting: a black former Hyderabad cricket player calls out his teammates for nicknaming him with a slur for dark people. The word is trending on Twitter. This subject really is blowing up around the world.

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