Bollywood Caricaturing: Making Rajputs 'Homo Sacer'

(inputs and ideas by Yugeshwar Singh Kaushal, PhD (ABD))

We explored in the previous articles (here1, here2, here3) how communal narratives insofar as falsehoods and bazaar gossips are openly peddled against the Rajput people by “liberal” journalists and “eminent” academicians in “mainstream” media and institutions. These Narratives and statements if so blindly and brazenly peddled against any other community, would be publicly deemed communal and casteist.
But this isn’t the case with the Rajputs, who any public personality can freely punch, alienate and concurrently appropriate without any compunction. Hence, the Rajput people are Homo sacer of the modern Republic. In this socio-political process, Bollywood (dominated by Khatris, Brahmins, Jats & Ashrafs) played critical role in establishing and still plays in persevering the status of Rajputs as the Homo Sacer.

Bollywood’s Quintessential Filmy Rajputs (QFR)


Om Puri played the Bollywoods’ evil Rajputs for decades; Shahid Kapoor played the meek idealistic Rajput in Padmavat (2018). Both happened to be Punjabi Khatris, the caste that has dominated the Industry ever since before Partition.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag(2013), directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and written by Prasoon Jodhi, introduces a villain, although fictitious, with the name Sher Singh Rana (a typical rajput name) who sneers and bullies the ‘newcomer’ Milkha Singh, a Sikh. However the fact that Milkha Singh self-identifies and is himself a Rathore (rajput) is obfuscated [1][2].

Hence, when the rajput is commendable, he is no longer a rajput but is identified by other identity traits of region, class, religion and profession. This is in-line with what was discussed under 8th point of our article on Prof Harbans Mukhia - not just the modern Rajput but even the pre-modern Rajput is denied Independent identity as a Rajput when deemed commendable.

However, Bollywood’s quintessential filmy Rajput lacks tribal clan-kinship affiliation (the basis of one’s Rajput identity), instead he is representative of a social-class of Kings presiding over subjects (unrelated to him), a Big Landlord surrounded by petty peasants, and in his modern persona - a congenitally arrogant, pampered brat and a characteristic bully. Thus the quintessential filmy rajput has very static timeless characteristics and in those avatars he is explicitly a Rajput. (See [3])

The only exception to this Bully, is an extremely idealistic, boring and timid hero who only brims up with platitudes sans pragmatism and is always tragically defeated by all. Be it Bhansali’s Rawal Ratansimha in Padmavat (2020) or JP Dutta’s Bhairav Singh in Border(1997) exemplify this exceptional category. A Caveat: The real life BSF soldier Bhairon Singh Rathore still lives an unacknowledged life at his village in Shergarh,Jodhpur. Perhaps, Bollywood’s “good Rajput” who is exceptional to QFR is always a dead Rajput. This bears similitude to the portrayal of patriotic Muslim vs Terrorist Muslim.

One may argue that Movies are just entertainment, except that it is also the most convenient tool to influence public opinion and perception. Even “academicians” cite them on “mainstream” media to push narratives (like below) on people, their issues and demands.

Prof Tanuja Kothiyal Tiwari, a History Professor at Ambedkar University-Delhi cites Anuraag Kashyap’s Gulaal(2009) to invoke “privy purses” as Rajput demand, when in reality this is a travesty; Rajput commoners, who actually constitute the community, were never even recipients of it; Despite an obvious conflation of Rajput ethnonym with the social-class of princes of different ethnic/caste affiliations, the narrative is corroborated with a movie as its basis.

Ghulami (1985): Where it all began

While “mainstream” media and “eminent” academicians took up normalizing falsehoods against the Rajputs in recent times, caricaturing rajputs as ‘homo sacre’ goes back to Bollywood of the 80s.
By1950s, the trio - Brahmin, Khatri and Jats under the aegis of Congress established themselves as the new rulers of North India.
On the other hand, Rajput Sovereigns had not just surrendered their autonomous States and their political Sovereignty but also leadership of Rajput commoners — becoming businessmen and even restricting their contacts with common-rajputs to occasional ceremonial appearances. Thus it meant - loss of land, loss of employment and lack of leadership for Rajput commoners across the country. Hence, they weren’t seen as threats, even if they were sometimes verbally attacked to highlight merits of the new leadership.

However 1980s, saw resurgence of Secular and Socialist Rajput politicians in Indian political space. This included VP Singh, a Gaharwar/Gahadavala from Prayagraj; Chandrashekhar,Solanki from Ballia, Arjun Singh, a Baghel from Sidhi, Bhim Singh Jamwal of JKNPP or Bhairon Singh Shekhawat from Rajasthan. Though none were “Rajput leaders”, this wasn’t appreciated by the incumbent rulers’. [4]

In Ghulami (1985), directed by JP Dutta, the “son-of-soil” Jat protagonist Ranjit (Dharmendra Deol) fights evil Rajputs — bullies and rapists (there is a rape scene). The evil Thakur’s daughter (Smita Patil) sympathizes with the brave Jats. All the Rajput characters of the movie (except the Jat protagonist’s lover) are evil.

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After this, for the next 15 years, Anti-Thakur was a genre in itself, where the evil Zamindar was explicitly a Rajput, even though Zamindars in North India belonged to a wider ethnic spectrum especially Jat, Brahmin, Bhumihar, Pathan and Khatri groups. Thus in an industry dominated by Brahmins, Jats, Pathans and Khatris , the evil Zamindar was explicitly a Rajput, even if Zamindari itself was not explicitly Rajput.

Rajputs as The Anti-Public

There have been many movies like Mirch Masala (1987), Karan Arjun (1995) etc featuring the quintessential Rajput in the past 35 years. However, until 2000 it was restricted to the evil Rajput Zamindar, mostly played by Amrish Puri (a Khatri) and Naseeruddin Shah(himself a Pathan Zamindar).
By the mid 2000s, the Zamindar vanished yet the quintessential Rajput survived.

1. Shaurya (2008)

1. Shaurya

Shaurya (2008), screenplay by Samar Khan, Aparna Malhotra and Jaydeep Sarkar, is an Indian adaptation of Tom Cruise’s A Few Good Men about the Human Rights violations by certain Indian Army personnel in Kashmir. The goodmen are Major Siddhant Kumar Chaudhary (Rahul Bose) and Major Akashdeep Kapoor (Javed Jaffrey) ; and the villains are both Rajputs : Brig Rudra Pratap Singh (Kay Kay Menon) and Major Rathore (Pankaj Tripathi).
The antagonist officers belong to the Rajputana Rifles – the makers could have avoided naming any regiment, but they did. The makers could have invoked any generic regiment like Rashtriya Rifles, but they didn’t.
Further, the convicted Brigadier repeatedly invokes “Veer Bhogya Vasundhara”, the motto of the regiment.

Quintessential Bollywood Rajput, isn’t just restricted to the Zamindar, the middle-class but even extends to Army Regiments.

2. Gulaal (2009)

gulaal

This film by Anurag Kashyap, stereotypes the Rajput public as a bunch of deranged barbaric people, who clamour for “privy purses”, return to medieval barbarity and are willing to bloodletting and fraud in order to achieve their parochial chimera. For this end, he invents a “fictitious” Rajput seccessionist movement which ultimately fails due to adultery, treachery and internal rivalries.

When was the last time Rajputs even participated in a mass-identity-centric political movement prior to Gulaal? There was Sikh terrorism and the Khalistani sentiments are still expressed by “liberal” artists like HardKaur; the Marathi chauvinists (Shiv Sena) who run the Maharashtra Gov invoke Maratha Pride while Ahom Pride has been a fodder for ULFA terrorism. But when were these illustrious communities caricatured for their “real” political activism and very real seccessionisms.
Through the character of Dukky Banna (Kay Kay Menon), Kashyap wished to stereotype, stigmatize and destroy** any form of Rajput sociopolitical activism** in the modern democratic system by creating a public taboo against it. Hence, while sociopolitical activism by Jats, Marathas, Sikhs, Gorkhas, Muslims, Dalits and even Brahmins are acceptable for their genuine issues, the movie subtly sends a public message against the Rajput socio-political participation in the Indian Democracy.

3. Badshaho (2017)

Badshaho (2017) by Milan Luthra extends the cinematic caricaturing reserved for Rajput men even to Rajput women.
The movie, set against the backdrop of 1975 Indira Gandhi emergency, portrays a Royal hieress, Gitanjali (Ileana D’Druz) - projected as explicitly a Rajput who is even forcefully fed a few “Rajputana dialogoues” - trying to save her family wealth. However this female character is nothing less than a bitch - who betrays her subjects and goes about sleeping with different men who she misuses.

Except for the fact that Gayatridevi of Jaipur, on whose character Gitanjali is based, was not even a Rajput lady. She was a Koch Rajbongshi princess from Cooch-Behar married to a Rajput royalty. Also, 1975 Emergency was about Royals irrespective of clan-kinship castes rather than about the people of Rajput ethnonym. But who cares, only selling narratives matters.

4. Dhadak (2018)

4. Dhadak_2018_film

Karan Johar’s adaptation of Marathi movie Sairat, this is a typical “subaltern caste” boy- “dominant caste” girl theme, where the latter is always a Rajput, which goes back to the 1980s. And since here the female lead (played by Jahni Kapoor) is a Rajput, it is natural to have assigned typical rajput clans to all the villains.
However six decades and the Khandani Khatris like Johar and Kapoor have always evaded filming Dalit-oppression by Khatris. Maybe they should work on Dr Payal Tadvi’s tragedy, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Khatri names of the accuseds are dropped - just as their elders skipped showing the Khatri Zamindars in the 1990s.
An average Khatri, who is predominantly an urban upper-middle-class, is surely far more privileged than an average Rajput, who is still predominantly a rural farmer.

5. Article 15 (2019)

Article 15 was appreciated by a lot of urbaized “woke” “Brahmin-Savarnas” (lets’ not count Rajputs as part of this group) for having allegedly done justice to the discourse on Caste.

We Rajputs strongly disagree, through Article 15 Anubhav Sinha only reinforced how stereotypes served “mainstream” not just distort narratives but also facts. As per the article on TimesOfIndia and the DNA article, the movie is based on 2014 Badaun gangrape and murders.

Let us revisit the names of the accuseds: Chhatrapal Yadav and Sarvesh Yadav (police constables), Pappu Yadav, Awadhesh Yadav and Urvesh Yadav [5] - they all belonged to Ahir caste to which Samajwadi Party leadership belongs.
However who is the villain of Sinha’s Article 15? The Evergreen evil Thakur who is like Potatoes in Vegetables.

6. Gold (2018)

This movie is not an anti-rajput film unlike the above five, however it summarizes the Bollywood’s overall treatment of rajput people, which also extends into media and academia these days.
As discussed Bhaag Milkha Bhaag(2013), introduces a fictitious quintessential rajput (Sher Singh Rana) as a villain but obscures the rajput identity of the real-life figure and the protaganist - Milkha Singh, a Rathore. There is slight repeatition to this here.
The Indian Hockey team of 1936 Olympics and 1948 Olympics was dominated by Ashrafs, Sikh Jatts and Hindu Rajputs. As a result, the movie which has its characters based on the real players also portrays the Rajput ones. This includes Samrat (Kunal Kapoor),based on Dhyanchand Bais; & Thakur Raghubir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh), based on Kunwar Digvijay Singh -an Ahban Chavda by clan.

KDBabu
KD Singh Babu and Dhyanchand Bais

While Dhyanchand’s roots were obscured (not that it was essential to project them), the quintessential filmy rajput (QFR) was imposed onto KD Singh (played by Amt Sadh), who is portayed as a selfish bully trying to sabotage the talented Himmat Singh (based on Balbir Singh Sr), a Sikh. Anyone even faintly aware of hockey would agree that KD Babu, as he ws fondly called, was far different from the arrogant, self-serving, proud and indisciplined character played by Amit Sadh. Read Babu’s kin on Gold: He was royally gifted, not selfish as shown".
Were the filmmakers trying too hard to fit KB Babu into the QFR ?

Yet Rajputs Aren’t Dehumanized Enough !!

The quintessential filmy rajput (QFR) with his timeless characteristics of arrogance, haughtiness and bullyness was the creation of 4 groups, namely - Brahmins, Khatris, Jats and Ashrafs in the mid-1980s. However, his perseverance over the decades has been morally sustained with the argument of ‘imaginary’ privileged of “glorification”, or in more blunt words "they are not villified enough, dehumanized enough" This is similar to the sophistry employed by Harbans Mukhia in the 7th part of the previous article.

For instance: It is very difficult to accept that Guptaji from JNU hasn’t seen the above movies dehumanizing the rajput people, yet she complains that the Industry peddles “Good Rajputs, Evil Khilji”. This translates to “not dehumanized enough”.

Would Guptajis, Sharmajis, Tiwarijis , Kauljis and Mukhiajis even lament about “Good Sikhs, Evil Aurangzeb” , “Good Jews, Evil Hitler” or “Good Baghdadis, Evil Ghenghis” ? Obviously, NOT, because you are comparing a people with a particular Warlord.

Besides, if they genuinely feel that the image of Khilji is misused to attack Indian Muslims; then why haven’t Guptajis, Sharmajis, Thaparjis, Kauljis and Mukhiajis in their 70 years of untrammeled hegemony at JNU, AMU , DU and Jamia, been able to divorce the Turkic Khalaj warlord from the Indian Muslim milieu? Do they realize that the vicinity of Delhi has settlements of Muslim Rajputs and Muslim Meos who often defied these same Turkic despots that they deify.

Maybe they do, but they prefer to be content to use the above excuse for bashing the Rajput public.

All are Equal but Others are more Equal than Rajputs

This Orwellian phrase best describes the special (negative) treatment meted to Rajput people.

The Brahmin names and Brahmin characters like Sharmaji, Mishraji, Chaturvedi, Joshsi, Pandey, Tiwari , Dubey, Pathak etc are the most common & universally employed names in Hindi cinema. They would be Village Sarpanch in TVF’s Panchayati Raj to a Police Topcop in Sinha’s Article 15, from a teacher to a soldier.In fact in most movies, most or even all characters would be Brahmins, unless a stereotype needs to be attached. The Brahmin Characters represent the Common Man, especially the Middle-class. What he speaks, thinks and does, defines India of the moment. Except the typical Janeudhari orthodox priest, he is above stereotypes.

Khatris are always “casteless” , well-educated urban upper and upper-middle-class with a good family background bereft of all fanaticism and bigotry, symptomatic of how Bollywood’s Khatri khandans view themselves. The Kapoors, Malhotras, Puris, Bedis are visible more in Hindi Movies than in real-life.

The caste-atrocities or honor-killings do not identify the Jats, rather they are identified with their achievers - sportspersons, soldiers, civil servants etc, who are explicitly portrayed as Jats . Hence the criminals in NH10 wouldn’t define the Jat, but rather it is the Jat Heroines in Dangal (2016), the Jat wrestler in Sultan(2016) ,the brave Dhartiputr from Dharmendra Deol’s roles or Hathiram Chaudhury in Paatal Lok(2020), where the protaganists’ Jat-identities are highlighted. Unlike this, biopics of Milkha Singh, MS Dhoni or Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat would obscure their clan-kinship identity with regional or religious ones. Thus,while the Rajput identity of the “real-life” figure like Dhyanchand Bais will always be obscured, a “fictitious” Dukky Banna would be imposed on the Rajput public. On one hand, Badshaho would be made to target Rajput women, on the other hand no biopic on Alka Tomar would highlight her rajput-roots in Meerut.

The Sikhs are portrayed as noisy but vibrant and convivial people on one hand, and on the other they are the most exceptionally strong, extremely brave and highly charitable people. Even apart from this, they are the good people. This has a lot to do with Sikh sociopolitical activism, the PR-works of groups like Khalsa Foundations, the Punjabi Film Industry and the influence on Bollywood Industry. Unlike the Rajput who is quickly identified by the “mainstream” with the Karni Senas, the Sikh isn’t identified with the Khalistanis.

More importantly, this is a direct result of Middle-class Sikh’s active and pragmatic participation in the community ----- a thing completely absent among middle-class Rajputs of this country.
Today’s middle-class Rajput not just lacks resources unlike the above, but he has also given up the will to fight , under decades of Institutional Targeting. Until this changes, we cannot expect progress.

FOOTNOTES


  1. https://www.sify.com/sports/exclusive-interview-milkha-singh---the-making-of-a-legend-imagegallery-others-nhmmDTdfeaasi.html ↩︎

  2. https://www.dawn.com/in-depth/partition/story/milkha-singh/ ↩︎

  3. Historically, the later Mughal-era (circa 18th century) saw rise of Jat Zamindars and Royals in Haryana-West UP-Braj; rise of Brahmin dynasties (like Ayodhya’s Mishra rajas) , Bhumihar royals & zamindars (Benaras) and Sikh rulers in Cis-Sutlej region. Also historically during this period, the Rajput commoner, who was not a ruler but a clan-retainer or state-soldier underwent continuous plebianization ↩︎

  4. In fact, there has been No Genuine Rajput leadership after the independence, hence creating a lacunae only filled by uncouth organizations like the Karni Senas or Mahasabhas. ↩︎

  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Badaun_gang_rape_allegations ↩︎