Article 15

Article 15 is an attempt to glorify the ‘harmonious’ varna vyavastha, film maintains deafening silence when it comes to questioning the caste structure itself.


Article 15, a movie directed by Anubhav Sinha, faced angry protesters after the release of its trailer. Hindutva supporters felt that their old age traditions and culture are being questioned and successively ridiculed. Article 15 earned appreciable amount of publicity as sensible people were tricked with prowess of trailer and the enthusiasm of viewers was cashed into box-office.

However, the movie which was expected to be radically dissecting the norms of casteism, by contrast, proved rather inchoate. Having reported on social inequality and rights, mirabile dictu, the intricacies of the casteism are not hidden to me; this is a pan-India phenomenon. After watching the Article 15, I came across extremely unsettling reviews where rarely any of the reviewers ‘blowing in the wind’[the movie starts with Dylan’s iconic song] of emotions had observed the consistent percolation of casteism throughout the film—the  why I felt the need to write this.

It will be unfair to weigh the movie as a documentation Budaun mishap which certainly movie-makers never boasted about, so the critique must be limited to the projection it actually offers.

We consider not offering a glass of water to a Dalit boy as a discrimination emanating from casteim but also searching for a bride or a groom of the same caste is, in truth, casteism. In fact, casteism is simply more than a form of discrimination which the movie fails to highlight. Casteism is the segregation of society–based on birth rights– with an attitude of endogamous stagnancy and purity. Any social affairs falling in this line is casteism. While the minute external reactions are termed casteism, none knows what an upper caste family talks inside their homes about the scheduled castes ‘robbing’ the deserving seats of their wards.

Although ‘Leila’ speculates the chaos of purity in Indian subcontinent with a dystopian outlook, it presents a better picture in the backdrop of Indian sociological framework than ‘Article 15’.  Many times Article 15 leaves viewers at a juncture where there is no escape; it tries to avoid getting in any controversy or trouble thus failing to reflect society tangibly.

The movie fields the protagonist (played by Ayushmann Khurrana) as an upper caste young police officer who has no knowledge of Indian caste hierarchy, evident from a scene where he asks questions on the same to his juniors, and plays a stupid who never studied the works of M N Srinivas and Yogendra Singh on Indian sociology which are must-read for a civil service aspirant. This proves that the writer has not done a good amount of research; the movie further falls into gorge when the dialogues extract puns out of parachute acting in the same scene and others.

Anubhav Sinha has tried to draw some parallels to sound realistic, like creating Nishad’s character out of Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, talking politics with symbols and sketching manual scavenging as an error but the film does not seek an answer to any complex verticals.

In one scene, the protagonist presented as a harbinger of difference tries to end the strike of sewage workers just for his police headquarters while the strike for the rest of city continues. It leads to a blunder where a person was shown in the movie entering the drain without any protective gear, that too under police campus. Questions arise: ”Why the top cop failed to ensure the safety of safai karamcharis?” “How could the cop, preaching about just one article of the constitution, remain unaware of other critically important acts like ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013’ prohibiting the employment of manual scavengers and the hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks?”

Film apparently moves forward with an incessant resolve for few victims of caste based atrocity, albeit with injustices against some others. This means, the failure of film rests on a serious lack of thought.

Anubhav Sinha has recently counteracted the question of putting the protagonist in the shoes of a Brahmin; he said in an attempt of justification that the film questions the caste privilege by presenting protagonist as the privileged. Between introspection and realisation of the lead character, film midway loses its shine. Film has a clear cut Brahminical agenda of fostering an internal friendly bondage among castes as the questions against caste structure and pure line, the roots of present day casteism, never appear. The top cop proudly refers himself as a Brahmin while he steps into the dirty pond. The character nowhere denunciates the caste he was born in. The lyrics “Let’s make a difference. Shall we begin?” of the movie rap is ironical compared to the caste solidifying screenplay.

India still awaits apology from Britain for the 1919 Jalianwala massacre but what about the caste based violence which is continuing since time immemorial? Ok. Forget long past. How many Bhumihar Brahmins have expressed grief for 1997 Laxmanpur Bathe massacre? How many regret for the act of upper caste Kallars in the Ramnad district (now Ramanathapuram) in chilling winter of 1930 slapping prohibitory codes, which also included prohibition that women should not be allowed to cover the upper portion of the bodies by clothes,  on Harijan castes? Those who disregarded the codes were violently suppressed, their huts were fired, property destroyed. Are the movie-makers aware of Census of India Report for 1921 which documents how Ahirs faced the wrath of the dominant higher castes after they decided to call themselves Kshatriya and donned the sacred thread? Or, do they know about the Brahminical ideology behind the sacred thread to stop non-Brahmins and non-Kshatriyas from accessing the knowledge?

Movie-makers might not know these episodes but the catharsis never flowed out from oppressed Dalits. The movie lost its substance in hurry, storytelling needed patience and time to understand and settle the subjects and characters. For instance, film nicely quoted Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s speech which he gave in the Rajya Sabha on 19 March 1955 “to burn the constitution if it is found to be misused” but fails silent on Ambedkar’s stand on ending the caste system itself.

Film further degrades its luster when Ayushmann compares the obsession of a CBI officer with Hindi to patriotism. While it is good to learn a foreign language, how can the choice of a language determine the nationalist inclination of someone? Is that a badge? In the present scenario where Three Language Formula of National Education Policy is rocking the nation, the movie presents a sense of linguistic chauvinism by undermining India’s diversity.

Ayushmann keeps asking everyone’s caste in the workplace and beyond. The troop can be seen sitting on a road side, eating chapattis made by an old woman who runs a small dhaba. Again, Ayushmann repeats the same question,”Kaun jaat ho? (What is your caste?)” As the poor woman reveals her caste, which is faded by the cacophony of a truck, the laughter results in.

The fact that revolution such commercial films aspire to bring culminates with a gory vicissitude of emptiness.

Ujjawal Krishnam is an editor at and Wikiprojects, contributes to Getty Images, and writes on Indian polity and jurisprudence.


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