‘People are not used to a Dalit woman claiming her work’
Author Yashica Dutt talks to Pranati A S about her run-in with the makers of ‘Made in Heaven’, and how they don’t understand nuances of Dalit narratives
Pranati A S
Yashica Dutt Credit: Special Arrangement
The recently released web series, ‘Made in Heaven- 2’ landed itself in a controversy for not giving credit to Yashica Dutt, the author of ‘Coming Out as Dalit: A Memoir’ that seemed to have served as an inspiration to the fifth episode of the series titled ‘The heart skipped a beat’ that features a female Dalit author as its protagonist. The author talks to Showtime about her struggle for the recognition she deserves.
To start off, can you brief us about what has been going on over the past few weeks?
In early August, a friend alerted me that an episode in ‘Made in Heaven’ is similar to my story. She insisted I watch it. I did and within the first five minutes, Pallavi Menke (Radhika Apte), a Dalit woman is sitting on stage at Columbia University talking about a book she wrote on ‘coming out as Dalit’. She then talks about how her grandmother used to manually clean toilets.
That specifically makes it a Later, the director of the episode, Neeraj Ghaywan, also a Dalit person, admitted on Instagram that the interview portion was based on my life and my story. I was glad to receive the acknowledgement. But I realised that if the likeness is so strong that it has been noticed by many viewers, then there should have been a formal acknowledgement. And Neeraj’s post would have limited visibility.
So I took to social media to ask to be formally acknowledged. But it resulted in backlash. Their response was acrimonious and negated Neeraj’s post.
They said coming out as Dalit has nothing to do with me. They said the words were already used by an academic in 2007 and that’s why they would not give me credit. It was to put me in my place. The subtext was ‘how dare a Dalit woman ask for credit?’ It triggered a Bollywood PR campaign from their end. They got Anurag Kashyap to go on separate interviews and called me names. It is unbecoming of a person of his stature, a leading figure of indie-Bollywood. He called me an opportunist and a fascist enabler comparing me to Kangana Ranaut.
They seem to have utilised the entire press in the country to target one Dalit woman. People are saying you cannot own the narrative as many from the community face similar issues.
What is your response to that?
I think that is a very terrible thing to say. I’m not owning the narrative of being Dalit. I’m owning only my life story.
Will you be taking legal action against the makers?
This is no more about them denying me credit. Now they have gone further to discredit my work. They have gone out to say that coming out as Dalit, as a discourse has nothing to do with me. I’m looking into the legal resources available for me. I’m considering all the options available and at the same time I do not want them to get away with this.
Alankrita Shrivastava, the screenwriter of the show has signed the statement. But, in July last year, she requested a meeting with me in New York. Now people are saying “Oh the episode was already shot in 2021.” That’s irrelevant, my book came out in 2019. The interview that they’ve stolen from is the one with Faye D’Souza which came out in October 2020.
When Alankrita met you, were you not curious about why she was interested in your story,
considering she is a filmmaker and screenwriter?
I was very curious. In December 2021, Neeraj Ghaywan along with Konkana Sen Sharma had talked about my book on multiple occasions. It inspired them while making the episode titled ‘Geeli Puchi’ in ‘Ajeeb Dastaans’ (Netflix series) where the protagonist, played by Konkana, is a Dalit queer woman. A few months after this, Alankrita requested a meeting with me. I assumed it was something in the context of a project, but when I asked her what this was about, she said “I was just visiting and wanted to meet you”. She didn’t give me a clear answer. I waited for her to get back to me but she never did.
So Alankrita never got in touch with you even after the issue broke out?
No, she never did. If you notice, in my first statement I don’t mention her because I was frankly not aware of her involvement in the show. Only when I saw her signature on their statement, I put two and two together.
Dalit and Adivasi narratives are being adapted into films these days. What is your opinion about the discourse?
Having Dalit narratives on screen in an authentic way is very important, because when you see someone like yourself on screen, it inspires you to think beyond what’s in front of you. But it has to be done in such a way that it doesn’t undercut the people who are actually doing the work.
In ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ (Oscar-winning documentary film), the mahout couple talked about how they weren’t even allowed to hold the trophy and how they were mistreated. In my case, the character is based on me, the story isn’t mine. I’m still able to demand for what’s mine. But that couple can’t do that because they come from a different geographical location. Even in ‘Writing with Fire’, a documentary based on ‘Khabar Lahariya’, an all-Dalit female-run rural newsroom, there was misrepresentation.
What is the cost of representation?
Are we going to credit the people whose stories are being made or are we going to sideline them?
Now Dalit stories are juicy for filmmakers. Why now and not 15 years before? Because Dalit people have now put their lives online.
Are the filmmakers genuinely empathetic or are they after juicy narratives?
Dalit filmmakers are portraying this with a lot of sensitivity. But the same can’t be said of those who are not from the background. A few years ago there was a movie that was based on Mayawati (played by Richa Chadha), it was a very insensitive portrayal. I’m not sure how many people in the team were Dalit writers, the director definitely wasn’t. I’m not saying only a Dalit person can make a Dalit story but I feel one should be extra careful and sensitive.
How can filmmakers be more sensitive while addressing issues on minorities?
I think it should start by hiring people from the communities. Whether they are researchers, directors, writers, actors… I want to come back to ‘Made in Heaven’; there was an interview where Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti said that they took a one-day crash course with Neeraj Ghaywan to learn about caste.
That’s not enough. First of all, how do you not know about caste?
It’s all around you. People can have blind spots, it’s fine but saying something like this is laughable. Invest more time to learn about the communities. Filmmakers should have the right intention and not make them just to look progressive.
Courtesy : DH
Note: This news piece was originally published in deccanherald.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Right