Published: 28th October 2020
Less than five per cent of protagonists in Indian web series from backward castes, finds this Mumbai writer
Balram Vishwakarma has analysed 50 web series released between 2014 and 2020 to make this analysis. The results, he says, were shocking
A few days ago, Balram Vishwakarma took five hours of his time to analyse 50 Indian web series that he had watched in a span of six years, from 2014 to 2020. Over the years, he had come across articles and studies that analysed the representation of women and black people in literature. However, he hadn't come across any that analysed the representation of backward communities, especially in Indian web series.
Even though he had watched them all in the past, the nuances that he had overlooked at that time, stunned this 26-year-old. While 58.47 per cent of the protagonists belonged to upper castes, only 4.2. per cent were from backward castes and 11.02 per cent from minority communities. He was unable to identify the castes of the rest of the protagonists because of caste-neutral surnames or the absence of one. To put things into perspective, of the 118 characters that he analysed, only five belonged to a backward caste. "The makers almost always had a compulsion to create a Brahmin, Thakur or a Baniya hero. It was a convenient choice," he says. The spreadsheet where he has analysed the data has now gone viral.
A screengrab of the analysis
A survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation states that people who belong to the backward castes - SC, ST and OBC, constitute about 70 per cent of the population. "This was quite shocking for me. Since I know the proportion of representation, I was expecting at least 20 per cent of the characters to belong to lower castes," says this writer cum meme-maker, who runs a popular Facebook page Andheri West Shit Posting.
The analysis shows that the trend wasn't any different even in critically acclaimed shows like The Family Man, Permanent Roommates, Made in Heaven and Mirzapur. The shows that stood apart include TVF's Cubicle, Hoststar's City of Dreams and Netflix's Ghoul. "The name of the protagonist in Cubicle is Piyush Prajapati. Prajapati is a surname that people belonging to a lower caste in certain North Indian states use. However, not creating an upper-caste hero did not change the course of the plot. Not a lot of makers have realised it yet," says Balram. Similarly, the protagonist of the City of Dreams is a woman who belongs to a backward caste, while the second lead is a Muslim man.
The swarm of upper caste heroes, Balram believes is because the majority of the writers of the shows are upper-caste men. He explains his 'theory'. "My parents belong to a backward caste and were born in Bihar. Later, they moved to a slum in Mumbai. I heard surnames like Paswan and Gaikwad while growing up. So, when I write content, it will have characters similar to the kind of people I have interacted with. This applies to upper caste writers too," he says. "Not a lot of people from backward castes take up unconventional professions like screenwriting. It is not considered as a vocation that pays well and most of them will have a family to feed with the money that they make. They may not have the privilege of asking their families for some extra cash," he says.
Balram's analysis, unsurprisingly drew a lot of flak. "A lot of them told me to get a life. Others asked me if I want reservations in video content. Others called me a lot of casteist slurs. This isn't anything new to me though," he says. However, he also takes pride in two writers taking note of his analysis and agreeing to make proper representation in their content in the future. "Nikhil Taneja (who produced series like Man's World and Bang Baaja Baarat) commented on my Instagram post saying that he will take a note of this in the future. Another person to reach out to me was Dice Media's Karthik Krishnan who also worked on Ghoul," he says.