Jai Bhim, a Tamil language film, has been rated the top film by users on IMDb, beating classics like The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. It’s the latest in a line of hard-hitting Indian movies narrating tales of repression against Dalits who are at the bottom of a rigid Hindu caste hierarchy, writes film journalist Aseem Chhabra.
The film Jai Bhim begins with police officers separating a group of suspects based on their caste. People from the dominant castes are asked to leave, while others who are Dalits (earlier untouchables) or belong to tribal communities are asked to stay back. Later, police file false charges against them in the second group.
In a stark and disturbing scene, intimidated men stand in the corner, apparently aware of their fate. It is a reminder that such activities are very regular. The lives of the marginalized, particularly Dalits are extremely precarious, especially in small towns and rural India.
Dalits comprise almost 20% of India’s population, and despite laws to protect them they still face discrimination and violence.
Jai Bhim’s title translates to “Long Live Bhim”, a slogan popularized by the followers of BR Ambedkar, a Dalit scholar, and leader. He was the main architect of India’s constitution and as well as the first law minister of the country.
Directed by TJ Gnanavel, and backed by Tamil star Suriya, the film portrays the true story of a crusading lawyer, played by Suriya. His character fights for a petition filed by a pregnant woman whose husband was placed in police custody and later declared missing.
Jai Bhim happens to be a part of a new movement in Tamil cinema where several young filmmakers are narrating stories of oppression against Dalits.
Presently, Dalit narratives have also found space in independent or indie films in other Indian languages, including Anhey Gorhey Da Daan (Punjabi), portraying the lives of Dalit Sikhs; Masaan (Hindi), a romance between a young man from a family of crematorium workers and an upper-caste girl; and Fandry and Sairat (both in Marathi). The last two films were directed by Nagraj Manjule, who himself is a Dalit.