The year 2023 will be remembered in the history of Indian cinema for many blockbusters. Films like Pathan, Gadar, Jawan and Animal crossed the Rs 1000-crore milestone, setting new benchmarks for commercial success. The industry grew in range too, with spectacular action dramas, song and dance entertainers, and emotional narratives vying for attention. But it will be remembered for one other thing. It was the year when both B.R. Ambedkar and the issue of caste were able to make an entry into the mass cultural landscape.
Even though Babasaheb Ambedkar is one of the founding figures of the nation, he has been systematically neglected by Indian cinema over the years. Similarly, political and social narratives associated with Dalit communities have been conspicuous by their absence. Even when the Hollywood director, Richard Attenborough, made his magnum opus Gandhi, he left Ambedkar out of the film. For the longest time, historical films on the anti-colonial struggle, nation-building or nationalism offered rich tributes to iconic figures such as Gandhi, Nehru, Bhagat Singh, and Subhash Chandra Bose, but kept out Ambedkar’s heroic anti-caste struggles, social reform movements, and the precarious socio-economic conditions the Dalits perpetually inhabited.