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Kaala review: An unexceptional portrayal of racism in the country

/ 16~2020min


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Sukhpreet Kahlon

Tarun Jain’s short film Kaala explores racial stereotypes in a deeply prejudiced society such as ours.

In a country where being fair and lovely is upheld as an ideal and advertisers do not shy away from openly peddling this aspiration to men and women, there have been several reported incidents of racism. In recent years, African students have been harassed in separate incidents, especially in the northern part of the country. Inspired by attacks on African nationals in Delhi in 2017 and 2017, Tarun Jain’s short film Kaala explores racial stereotypes in a deeply prejudiced society like ours.

The film depicts the ways in which a Black man, Bryan, is stereotyped and harassed in incidents that unfold one night. Walking down the street, he is called everything from a ‘negro’ to a ‘blackie’. He is minding his own business when he comes across a girl who just assumes that he is a drug peddler. A harmless exchange of words between them escalates and in a show of machismo, a group of boys start to intimidate and attack him.

The filmmaker captures the piercing gaze of the onlookers as Bryan is looked down upon and stared at in an openly hostile manner as he just walks down the road. Every act of his is tainted by his skin colour. The sheer humiliation of being treated less than a human is foregrounded when, even as he does a good deed, the stereotypes follow him and pin him down. Jain highlights the irony of all this unfolding in a city that commemorates Nelson Mandela by naming a road after him.

Shot realistically, Kaala tries to capture the atmosphere and attitudes in the streets of Delhi as the narrative unfolds. The performances of the actors are inconsistent and there are places where the pace of the film lags. However, Kaala has its moments and ably captures the fear and trepidation of Bryan as he is literally hunted like an animal.

An independent filmmaker, Jain has previously made the short films Aakhir (2012) and Amma Meri. Kaala is his third short and has travelled to several film festivals and won the Best Narrative Short Drama Award at the Cinequest Film & VR Festival in San Jose, USA, which made it qualify directly for the Academy Awards 2021. 

Kaala was screened as part of the South Asian Film Festival of Montreal, which is being held virtually from 19 - 29 November.

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