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Identity shapes Indian politics: Radhika Bordia on Chamar Pop

As a part of the NDTV series, India Matters, journalist Radhika Bordia presented Chamar Pop: Dalit Politics of Doab at WIFF 2017.

Radhika Bordia speaking at WIFF 2017

Ramna Walia

In the last year or so, there is a burgeoning interest in Chamar Pop, a subcultural phenomenon, that has given us extremely popular songs, particularly in Punjabi with singers like Ginni Mahi and SS Azad who use their music to talk about discrimination faced by Dalit community.

As a part of the NDTV series, India Matters, journalist Radhika Bordia and her team presented Chamar Pop: Dalit Politics of Doab.

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The 20 minute short pre-election special was produced on a short shooting schedule as a feature for broadcast on NDTV and was screened last evening at the ongoing Woodpecker Film Festival.

The film paints a complex structure of dalit politics in Doaba, Punjab, particularly in the context of growing sectarianism within the dalit community.

A history of dalit politics is interspersed with interviews from a breadth of people — from singers to community leaders, to Dalit activists — compounding the story of dalit empowerment in Chamar pop music.

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The film acknowledges the role of Chamar pop in providing confidence and assertion to the dalit community, the film. However, is also delves into the way this assertion often is compared to Jatt Sikhs, causing the loss of nuances of the politics of dalit identity and instead getting caught up with the idiom of jatt song.

The film explores music as a way to explore identity and shows how this form gets caught up in division within the dalit community.

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Radhika Bordia, at post-screening session, spoke about using the story “behind the headlines”, and capturing the increasing sectarian politics in a pre-election season.

Speaking with Cinestaan.com, Bordia said, “We make the series with a purpose but usually we make a show and that’s it. We travelled, came back, the shoot was just a day and a half before it goes on air. It is heartening to find it here in this format.”

She added that, “organizations like NDTV have always privileged complex stories and in India, the intricate issue of identity shapes the Indian politics”.

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Chamar Pop, with its accessible style is a narration of a “news story” on complex cultural identity in pre-election Punjab that ends up unearthing a critical nexus between popular culture, politics, and social structures of communities.

A seemingly odd choice for a film festival, the special proved to be a worthy addition to the festival’s investment in a catalogue of issues, especially with regards to communities and identity.

Chamar Pop was screened at the Woodpecker International Film Festival on 10 November, 5.20pm, Siri Fort Auditorium-III.

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Woodpecker International Film Festival