By Divya Sachar
Caste on the Menu Card, a short documentary made by five students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences as part of their curriculum, has become famous for being barred from screening at a film festival by the I&B Ministry. The film has been uploaded on YouTube and can be watched here.
Caste on the Menu Card is primarily about exclusionary politics and the relationship between caste and meat consumption. The argument is that vegetarianism belongs primarily to upper caste Hindus, while lower castes consume beef, pork and other meats, and that the State is foisting its casteist agenda on minorities. The film includes interviews with historians and academics, and even a “cow therapist”, and also touches upon debates in universities about the availability of non vegetarian food items in university canteens.
Caste on the Menu Card is very clear about its point of view, and makes its point in a fashion that is direct, bordering on the brusque. A student exercise, the film is not very sophisticated in the way it presents its argument. Pulling out quotes, from Chomsky to Vivekananda, doesn’t make for a very convincing exercise, in filmic terms. There’s nothing wrong with a polemical film but much could have been done with the visuals and the editing and the same argument could have been buttressed with a more sophisticated and subtle narrative strategy. The argument taken up is a complex one and more needed to be explored and perhaps 20 minutes do not do justice to it. In the end the cumulative impact of the film seems more like an attack on vegetarianism rather than casteism, with one student saying he receives a culture shock whenever he eats paneer. The film also includes the clumsy seeming rap song (“Beef, pork, chicken / All I really want is some beef, pork, chicken.”) Why chicken? Is that too unavailable?
But then again, perhaps it’s a sign of the times that in a general atmosphere of shrill right wing political rhetoric, the dissenting answer too has to be loud and shrill. U
nfortunately the film lacks sophistication and ends up feeling like an amateur filmmaking exercise. Random cutaway shots of fruits being sold in the market seem clumsy. Students dancing and prasad being distributed at a Ganeshotsav don’t look like very sinister enemies, visually speaking. Perhaps the young filmmakers could take a leaf out of, say, Anand Patwardhan’s book, in terms of making convincing political arguments with a sharp understanding of film language.
In the end, Caste on the Menu Card has a political point to make, but lacks narrative sophistication. But go ahead and do watch the film anyway, because just as a nanny state ought not to be telling you what not to eat, a nanny state ought not to be telling you what not to watch either.
Directors: Ananyaa Gaur, Anurup Khillare, Atul Anand, Reetika Revathy Subramanian and Vaseem Chaudhary
This review was first published on the website takhty.in