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“Guthlee”: A film from Gandhian lens to depict Dalit struggles

In “Guthlee Laddu,” directorial decisions have left viewers disheartened rather than enlightened. The movie, ostensibly aiming to shed light on the harsh realities faced by Dalit manual scavenger families, instead falls victim to a problematic narrative that not only perpetuates stereotypes but also fails to challenge deeply entrenched societal biases.

One glaring issue is the choice of the film’s title itself, “Guthlee,” a term connoting ‘leftover fruit seed’ which inherently devalues the very essence of the protagonist’s identity. This naming convention, echoing past instances like ‘Kachra’ from ‘Lagaan,’ continues a troubling trend in Indian cinema, where Dalit characters are often burdened with names symbolising disposability and garbage.

“Guthlee” purports to adopt a Gandhian lens to depict Dalit struggles. However, its selective portrayal merely skims the surface of the deep-rooted issues plaguing our society. The film conveniently sidesteps addressing the oppressive Brahminic religion and the caste/varna system, choosing instead to showcase Dalits in a pitiable light without challenging the fundamental structures of discrimination.

Sanjay Mishra, portraying an upper-caste teacher named Hari VajpayeeDhanya Seth is playing Guthlee. The film opens with quotations from Gandhi and Sardar Patel, seemingly advocating for equality. Yet, the glaring omission of our true liberator, Baba Saheb Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, from the narrative speaks volumes about the film’s lack of authenticity and connection.

The so-called attempt to mock the caste system by using the term ‘Harijan’ is a pathetic excuse for satire. Do they even understand the weight these words carry for us? ‘Harijan’ was not a term of endearment; it was another form of segregation, a label designed to keep us in our place. 

In a dialogue from the movie, Hari says, “Harijan bure nahi hote, Hari jan to hari ke jan hote hai” (Harijans aren’t bad, they are the essence of the divine). This statement starkly echoes the sentiments expressed by former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, in response to the contentious “Harijan” theory. Mayawati astutely questioned, “If we are considered Harijans, does that mean all upper castes are children of the devil?” These powerful words encapsulate the fierce resilience of Dalit voices against the demeaning labels.

And let’s talk about the Brahmin savior complex on display here. It’s as if Dalits are incapable of liberating ourselves; we need a benevolent Brahmin to lead the way. This tired, condescending narrative relegates us to perpetual victims, denying our resilience, intelligence, and capability to fight our own battles.

What enrages me most is the way they portray poverty. Guthlee, the protagonist, is made to wear tattered clothes throughout the film, as if poverty defines us entirely. The child playing the role of Laddu always has a runny nose, that too in the same direction and in the same way.

To add insult to injury, the film attempts to depict untouchability in a way that mocks our pain. Scenes where characters recoil upon realising someone’s caste are not satire; they are painful reminders of the humiliation we face daily. The laughter of the audience at such scenes is a testament to the insensitivity that pervades society.

In conclusion, “Guthlee” misses a golden opportunity to challenge the status quo and challenge caste biases. Instead, it perpetuates harmful narratives and fails to provide the nuanced and empowering representation that Dalit communities deserve. The film, rather than sparking conversations and inspiring change, sadly falls short, leaving audiences disappointed and questioning the industry’s commitment to authentic and respectful storytelling.

Written by – Babita Gautam & Translated by – Sahil Valmiki

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