Director Sujay Dahake was right to call out casteism in Marathi TV serials

The backlash he received simply exposes the level of denial in the industry.

WrittenBy:Ravikiran Shinde
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Every new idea and initiative meets with resistance. We have to find the courage take risks, even to fail, if the goal is worthwhile” - Kofi Annan

Late last year, filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan issued a call for diversity in the Hindi film industry by posting an advertisement specifically recruiting assistant directors and writers from DBA (Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi) backgrounds. Nearly six months later, Marathi director Sujay Dahake reiterated the same point when he questioned the lack of diversity in Marathi TV serials.

This should be a welcome development in a journey towards a more inclusive entertainment industry. Sadly, Dahake faced severe backlash for calling out casteism in the Marathi industry last week.

Dahake is no ordinary man. At the age of 23, he won the National Award for direction and screenplay for his 2011 debut film, Shala. Now with three movies under his belt, including the Marathi movie Kesari, he appeared on Loksatta Live — owned by the Indian Express group — for an interview.

During the course of the conversation, he gave Loksatta’s journalists some homework: “Try finding a non-Brahmin girl in a lead role in TV serials. Try it.”

Dahake waited, as his interviewers struggled for answers. He then listed a handful of popular TV serials — like Tujhyat Jeev Rangala, Raja Rani, Mazya Navryachi Bayko — and all the actresses in these shows are Brahmins. “Can’t they find Sonawane, Jadhav, etc. [Bahujan names] as lead roles?” he asked.

Loksatta’s interview-panel discussion had two others sitting alongside Dahake: actress Chhaya Kadam (who appeared in Sairat and Andhadun) and Vijay Paradkar (who had a cameo in Tazaab). Both echoed the director’s views. Kadam pointed out that there are many talented small-town stage actresses from underprivileged backgrounds who often ask her why they don't get work in TV serials — despite giving the best auditions.

Dahake turned to his main point. It’s not just the casting of actors, he said. “Casteism is real and a part of the Marathi industry, and we have to face it. There is a white-collar class that is controlling the Marathi industry. I hear murmurs like, ‘How come this young guy won a National Award, and why is his name not Kulkarni [a Brahmin name]’?”

It’s a bold statement from a famous director, and should have started debates and introspection from members of the Marathi film industry. Instead, Dahake received harsh criticism and taunts for “bringing caste into the industry”. Not just that, he also received threats of violence from established Brahmin actors.

Saurabh Gokhale, a TV actor who is expected to play Nathuram Godse in a stage production, threatened Dahake in a Facebook post.

He wrote: “Self-proclaimed intelligent director Mr Dahake, you are not even worthy of a reaction. But if you try to mix casteism and caste politics in a cultural field, you will get publicly slapped.”


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Actress Tejashri Pradhan, who recently appeared in her first Bollywood movie, Babloo Bachelor, criticised Dahake, saying “I’m not Brahmin. I am Kayastha and I still get work. Shall we call it talent?”

Shashank Ketkar, who appeared alongside Pradhan in a popular Marathi serial, Honar Sun Me Hya Gharchi, responded to Dahake by listing the Brahmin actors in Shala, and listing eight Marathi serials whose lead actresses are non-Brahmin.

He also cited the success of filmmaker Nagraj Manjule, who is from the backward community, and told Dahake to “concentrate on his work and not resort to such stunts”.

It should be pointed out that Nagraj Manjule is not a TV director. Also, listing eight out of hundreds of serials isn’t a strong argument — it reeks of denial.

Surprisingly, no one from the film industry condemned the Gokhale’s threat to Dahake. Most progressive writers, directors, and journalists from the Brahmin community chose to stay silent.

Some went a step further. Maharashtra Times published a story subtly condoning Gokhale, headlined “Dahake gets schooled by Gokhale”. Sakal, one of the largest-selling Marathi dailies, reported only on how Dahake was trolled. Loksatta didn’t follow up on the story either; it merely published statements that opposed Dahake’s views.

Some support did trickle in. BBC’s Amruta Kadam wrote a piece on how her former landlord had expressed “pride” on how lead actresses in Marathi serials were Brahmin. Kadam said only after Dahake’s statement did she realise the Brahmin dominance in serials on Zee TV — a channel that was the real leader in making family drama serials reach the masses in Maharashtra.

Sonali Shinde, a journalist with Saam TV, concurred. She wrote: “Without going into the merits of Dahake’s argument, I have seen that for a long time, Marathi serials are based on Savarna family stories. We never see stories on SC/ST families.”

She’s right. Newer TV channels like Colour TV Marathi and Sony Marathi have attempted to diversify their stories — if not the actors — but no substantial change has happened yet. Marathi serials on Ambedkar and Phule have been successful, like Mahamanavachi Gauravgatha on Star Pravah and Savitrijyoti on Sony Marathi. This is an indication that there is an audience for diverse content, outside of the usual Brahmin household dramas that dominate the TV world in Maharashtra.

Living in denial and hiding behind one Dalit director, Nagraj Manjule — who carefully chooses his lead actors from underprivileged backgrounds — will not help the Marathi industry in the long run. It needs to introspect and diversify, not just in the stories of its serials but in its cast and crew.

Sujay Dahake has been quiet since his interview, and hasn’t responded to the reactions to his statements. His Twitter feed is silent, though his new movie Kesari recently released. Silencing those advocating diversity is dangerous. Dahake’s point needs to be debated and discussed.

Also see
article imageWill Bollywood pay heed to Masaan director Neeraj Ghaywan’s call for diversity?
article imageThe Savarna saviour complex isn’t the main problem with Article 15

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