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Indian Racism
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April 27, 2008, 04:14 PM
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The Washington Post runs a cheerful, upbeat article on the pervasive discrimination in the huge Indian film industry:

Bollywood No Longer A Dream Too Far for India`s Lower Castes

Today, a trickle of actors, dancers and screenwriters from India`s lower and middle castes are trying to break into a formerly impenetrable star system, full of actors from Bollywood royalty and other insiders hailing from high-caste families. New drama schools are training Indians from all castes. And Bollywood is starting to tackle more serious plots that could potentially star low-caste actors.

"Will you get more attention if you have the right surname and are part of an entrenched star family? Of course," said Anupama Chopra, a film critic and author of several best-selling books on Bollywood. "But there is increasing space now for a booming Bollywood film industry, and there`s a feeling that if you are talented enough, well, maybe you will get noticed, no matter what your family ties are."

Across India, Dalits [a.k.a., Untouchables] and members of other low castes [actually, Dalits don`t even have a caste — being low caste would be a massive promotion for them] are struggling to gain access to quality education and better-paying jobs. The economy is booming, and Indians of low caste — often identifiable by their surnames, birthplaces or parents` status — want to share in the wealth, or at least the opportunity.

Some aspiring actors from low castes say their confidence is growing. There is more social mobility than ever before, they say, and Bollywood is experiencing its share of change.

"It`s something new in the air for young people in some parts of India," said Trisha Karmakar, 24, a member of a lower caste who moved to Mumbai from the poor, densely populated state of Uttar Pradesh. "It`s a feeling that at least there`s a small chance for lower castes and not just for the star kids who have their godfathers and always get the callbacks."

Karmakar, speaking one recent day in a neighborhood of acting and dance schools, beauty parlors and pawnshops, said she has yet to land a role. But she said she is close to breaking into TV soap operas.

Well, don`t call us, we`ll call you.

As far as I can tell from reading the article, The Washington Post couldn`t actually find an Untouchable, of whom there are 160 million in India, who has acted in a Bollywood movie. The closest they could come was the following:

"One of Bollywood`s most beloved stars, Shahrukh Khan, is a middle-class Muslim with no film industry connections. He is often cited as an example of how charisma and sex appeal can trump connections and religious background in a country where Muslims are a minority."

Which doesn`t seem very close at all.

But the fact that 160 million Untouchables are virtually shut out of India`s most famous export industry is not the point, according to the Post. We shouldn`t be thinking that the Bollywood tolerance glass is half empty (or, to be picky, 99.9% empty). The point is that the glass is full ... of Hope. And Change. Change and Hope!