ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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OTT Platforms and the New Dalit Characters in Indian Cinema

The recent Dalit representation in Indian cinema has arrived with nuanced attributes, distinct from the earlier cinematic portrayal that mostly depicted them as victims of caste atrocities and violence. The new representation in the recent Hindi, Tamil, and Marathi films and on various over-the-top platforms has progressively identified Dalits as the part of a greater middle-class culture or as urban aspirants who wish to live a normal, dignified life in the metros. On the flip side, the new Dalit characters are presented as the people who are indifferent to the ideals of social justice and survive in the cities mostly as vagabond individuals.

The COVID-19 pandemic period (202021) has severely harmed the entertainment industry as the film exhibition business was almost dysfunctional during this time. As a result, many mainstream films were released on the over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms, making it a new medium to watch cinema. The arrival and proliferation of web-based streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +Hotstar, Sony Liv, etc have radically transformed the entertainment business in India. It provides exciting international content to the audiences, introduces films that are critically acclaimed, and also offers original content filled with subtle anti-establishment voices. With the growing popularity of various OTT platforms, the conventional control of the multiplex industry alongside the influence of big families and popular stars on the entertainment industry in India has receded as this medium has provided independent film-makers and new artists a vital space to showcase their talent and creativity. The web content is outside the purview of government censorship1 and it often presents programmes that have unconventional and controversial topics. Often the content on these platforms is reviewed as deep realistic (Paatal Lok 2020), bold and sensational (Sacred Games 2018), and sensitive towards social issues (Panchayat 2020).

Interestingly, stories with social sensitivity and political controversies have also gained respectable space here, including the visible placement of caste issues in the cinematic narratives of OTT platforms. Subhash Kapoors web series Maharani (2021) on Sony LIV is one of the latest additions in this space. The series is a fictional version about the complex and thrilling conflicts between political parties in Bihar. It showcases the brutal caste-based social hierarchies and their conventional violent struggles. Importantly, it portrays Rani Bharti (Huma Qureshi) as the maverick DalitBahujan woman leader who overcomes the social and political obstacles to rule the state with prudent honesty and integrity. Such a prominent recognition of lower-caste identities and display of their social and political vision is emerging as a nascent genre in the Indian entertainment business.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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