In Hyderabad – the centre of the Telugu language film industry known as Tollywood – a controversy has been dominating the news recently with a local Brahmin community suing the producer of Denikaina Ready, a film that supposedly takes a more jocular view of the Brahmins and pokes fun at the differences between the castes. The local Brahmin community representatives have now escalated the dispute into a full-blown battle in the courts, also asking the film to be banned. The main claim centers around the Brahmins’ claim that the film allegedly “hurts their religious sentiments”. Interestingly, this dispute, if anything, shows the caste differences are alive and brewing under the surface, locally at least.
What has polarized the dispute is that a local Brahmin dominated political party recently joined the melee with a request that the 16-member Censor Board of India ban the film because it pokes fun at Brahmins and their sacred rituals. The film’s producer, Mohan Babu, has categorically refused to tender an apology, which has fueled the anger and resulted in the escalation of the controversy into a legal matter. Apparently, their grievance has to do with the way the character played by the actress Surekha Vani was etched and few other parts where Brahmins were shown in a jocular way.
Manchu Vishnu, the actor in the leading role, is also sticking to his guns and defending the film and its producer – probably as the film is grossing millions and helping to boost his stardom. However, his quote in Hyderabad Times gives an interesting background: “I don’t understand this hue and cry created over a comedy. Let’s take the film 1940 Lo Oka Gramam, in which a woman married to an old Brahmin begets a child from an illicit relationship with man from a different caste…isn’t that more sacrilegious? Yet, that film won a national film award!”
The Indian Human Rights Commission has, apparently, informed the Brahmin organization that they do not have legally the right to request the Censor Board to ban the film as that institution comes under the jurisdiction of the central Indian government. Nevertheless, this controversy is revealing to me as a foreigner living in India about the delicacy of the caste system. And I can’t help having a lingering question in my mind – probably in the minds of many Indians as well – would this controversy have even surfaced had the film made any fun of the lower castes?