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Images of Adivasis (Indian tribal communities) being displaced by the building of industries and dams have been regularly flashing across our television screens for the last twenty years or so, yet, media scholars have shown very little interest in this constituency either as producers or as audiences. This chapter argues that, contrary to the mass media’s favourite stereotype of the forest-inhabiting ‘native’, India’s tribal communities exist in a complex constellation of modernities, both urban and rural, and that many of these communities have at least a nominal contact with media cultures. One such group, the Chharas of Ahmedabad, popularly branded as a criminal tribe, has made extensive use of street theatre and film in its activism for social and political rights. Based on the case of the Chharas and on the work and biography of director Dakxin Bajrange in particular, this chapter explores issues around the politics of film production in India – how the means to production, subjectivity and speaking position, and agendas of advocacy influence the form and content of independent cinema. Further, this thread of inquiry is framed against the backdrop of Hindi and Tamil commercial cinema’s dominance of the Indian ‘social imaginary’, raising questions about the extent to which independent cinema can effect change, and the particular challenges this resistance on the part of audiences to viewing documentary films poses to historically disenfranchised groups in finding a cinematic language for self-representation.
Sawhney, R. (2010) 'Through the Lens of A "Branded Criminal": the Politics of Marginal Cinema in India' in South Asian Media Cultures: Audiences, Reception, Contexts (Ed. Banaji). London: Anthem Press, pp. 201-20.