Richa Chadha, the Hindi actor, on Tuesday shared the first look poster of her upcoming film Madam Chief Minister and received backlash for the same on Twitter. Several users on the social media platform called out Chadha and the film’s director, Subhash Kapoor, for being “casteist” and “stereotypical”.
The poster, which shows Chadha in tattered clothes holding a broom, has been criticised for several reasons.
Social media backlash against the poster
While many pointed out the lack of Dalit representation and casting upper caste actors to represent Dalits, users also opposed to the image of her holding a broom.
The producer to the photographer be like “How’s the audience gonna know this film is about a dalit? Well hand her a broom would ya? Yes. That’s it. NOW she’s looking a Dalit.”
By his logic Nehru’s bipoic poster should be wearing janeu and mala in his hand wearing saffron cloth.
— Prashanth (@ParshyaB) January 4, 2021
Over the years, Bollywood in the guise of breaking caste barriers and making progressive cinema has furthered caste prejudices and solidified symbols associated with discrimination.
What does a Dalit leader going on to become CM have to do with holding broom?#MadamChiefMinister https://t.co/43ela4S78A
— Deepish M (@theKARUNA_virus) January 4, 2021
The poster has also been called out for its tagline- “Untouchable, Unstoppable”. However, the tagline was missing in the second poster, which Chadha released on Wednesday.
Jyotsna Siddharth, who runs a digital platform called “Project Anti-Caste, Love”, wrote: “What does Untouchable Unstoppable means? Why was this tagline used at all? Untouchable is not the word to be used, as the commmunity itself doesn’t represent themselves like that. How long the industry directors & producers continue to create such shameful taglines & misrepresent.”
I loved Kaala, and watched it in Tamil the day it released.
In solidarity with those pointing out the stereotyping in Madam Chief Minister’s poster. I also hope there’s space for apologies, unlearning, and conversations here, and avoidance of personal attacks and pile-ons. https://t.co/fTbWbzSsnY
— Radhika Radhakrishnan (@so_radhikal) January 5, 2021
Dalit oppression roots go back to the origins of the caste system in India. Manusmriti, a sacred Hindu text from the second century BCE, holds all the philosophies of this caste system and “untouchables” or the Dalits. Treated as an outcast, Dalits were forbidden to participate in religious and social gatherings. They were confined to petty jobs such as sweeping, animal slaughtering, etc.
According to Mission India, brooms were tied behind Dalits “to sweep away their unclean footprints”. Commenting on the poster, a Twitter wrote, “To people who don’t find this problematic: Dalits used to have a broom attached to their backsides so they wouldn’t pollute the land they were walking on.”
“Here, the broom is not a symbol. It is manipulated as a simile when it is coupled with the idea ‘Dalit’. The broom in the hands of Kejriwal doesn’t create such simile, likewise, brooms with Harry Potter or any other western witches are not such. Then, the problem is not with the broom, but with the idea of bringing broom and Dalit in a single frame,” Prof. Dr. T. Dharmaraj, writer of the book Why I am not even a Dalit?, told Silverscreen India.
“I don’t think that a Dalit should be played by a Dalit. I would also say that it is ridiculous to claim such. Because, an untouchable experience is not so unique, far away from the imaginations of non-Dalit. Hence, the problem is of giving an opportunity to a Dalit actor at least in a film on Dalit than of acquiring the ‘Dalitness’,” he added.
Prakash Kashwan, a professor at the University of Connecticut wrote, “The broom! You may want to have this poster changed. You should have known how this reinforces the dehumanizing image of an “untouchable” Chief Minister. And, no, the Prime Minister’s jhaadu photo-ops do not count!”
There is levels and layers and layers of the UC eye/ worldview that went into this film and the poster just shows it, let alone the UC casting, the obvious brown face, the bruised face, as if disheveledness is inherent to non-Savarnas, havent we moved past this already https://t.co/kjhPf0J3R1
— Elektra Wintour (@ElektraWintuor) January 4, 2021
Chadha’s response to the backlash
Things took a sour turn when Chadha replied to a few comments and defended the film, asking people to watch the trailer and the film before judging it.
“Am so sorry to have failed your woke agni-pariksha. Sorry to disappoint you, that me of all people can disagree with you on certain aspects of cancel-culture. Again, watch the film or at least the trailer? For we do become what we hate quite easily sometimes…,” she wrote in reply to a Twitter user.
Richa you need to take a step back and reflect on the valid criticism the movie poster is receiving. Really listen to what Dalit people are saying instead of getting defensive.
— Sanitary Panels (@sanitarypanels) January 5, 2021
You really expect me to turn down rewarding, meaningful work? That’s just absurd… You’d rather this kind of story not be told at all? Sir, you may live in a perfect Boston world, we live in Bombay, where progress > perfection. Humein casteist keh diya, ab kya baaki. 👋🏾 gbye https://t.co/TQDbgXvEsY
— TheRichaChadha (@RichaChadha) January 5, 2021
So cute😂It’s not mud,it’s blood. See what I mean, you’re assuming stuff.This isn’t some pre-meditated photoshoot, but a still from a scene.Or just cancel me, you can watch nubile starkid play this part with brownface and Bandra-accented Hindi and outrage properly next time https://t.co/dJZnu9kdeB
— TheRichaChadha (@RichaChadha) January 5, 2021
Richa Chadda is the prime example of UC feminists who conveniently use terms like “cancel culture” to dismiss any valid criticism about taking up spaces not meant for them, insensitive representation of marginalized communities and performative wokeness. Do better.
— Rutuja (ऋतुजा) 🇮🇳 (@Havaldarshinde) January 6, 2021
Trailer release and response
The trailer of Madam Chief Minister was released on Wednesday, and while the first poster received much backlash, the trailer was well-received on all social media platforms.
Jignesh Mevani, Gujarat MLA, wrote on Twitter that while the poster was “problematic”, Chadha has always been an “ally” in the “movement against caste system”.
What a stellar trailer, @RichaChadha!
While the stereotypical representation in poster is problematic, but a very few artists like you have always been allies in our movement against caste system, often at a personal & professional cost.
My best wishes! https://t.co/6mcUKbzc38
— Jignesh Mevani (@jigneshmevani80) January 6, 2021
Thank you Jignesh ! I assure you, the film will not let you down 💙🙏🏽 I am and will always be an ally, irrespective of bouquets or brickbats.
Jai Bhim ! https://t.co/rfFdPzWWPz
— TheRichaChadha (@RichaChadha) January 6, 2021
Written and directed by Subhash Kapoor, who has previously helmed films like Phas Gaye Re Obama, Jolly LLB, and Jolly LLB 2.
Bhushan Kumar has produced the film, which also stars Saurabh Shukla, Manav Kaul, Akshay Oberoi, and Shubhrajyoti.