Stuart Hall’s Representation Theory
There can never be an appropriate representation of a social group. This has many reasons, such as prejudices, years of oppression and discrimination, dominance, social control and many more.
Colours are not assigned a fixed meaning, and their definitions shift rapidly. According to Stuart Hall’s representation theory, there is often not a realistic reflection of events, people, places, or history in a media text.
He contends that there is no need for producers and audiences to correspond. The assumptions, ideologies, and knowledge frameworks that both groups use to understand the world and interpret what they see on TV do not have to be the same.
Misunderstanding is caused by a discontinuity in how different people in different places make sense of the world, rather than a failure of clarity or comprehension. When you represent, you’re in charge of how others see you and how they see your group or area.
Instead of projection, Hall sees representation as an act of reconstruction. In a high-tech society, nearly every single image is produced for a specific reason, with yet another or a larger purpose in mind. There is the image’s externality or figurative meaning, but there is also a profound, mythical undertone.
Underneath the image is a whole universe of faith, insights, principles, attitudes, and interrelations that must be decrypted and passed over to folklore, a job left to cultural entrepreneurs and folklore.
The act of representation as a hegemonic recreation serves the specific interests of those who dominate the media. Representation is a way of analytically understanding a culture that is generally concentrated on single images.
Bahubali: The Beginning & Bahubali: The Conclusion
In this article, I will analyse Bahubali: The Beginning and Bahubali: The Conclusion implementing Stuart Hall’s representation theory to explore the various subtle markers of denotations and connotational elements of shots referring to the representation of lower castes, caste difference, and caste dominance in the Bahubali franchise.
Bahubali: The Beginning is a 2015 period drama co-written and directed by Rajamouli. The film was filmed in both Telugu and Tamil. It features Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Anushka Shetty, Tamannaah, Ramya Krishna, Sathyaraj, and Nassar.
The film follows Sivudu (AKA Mahendra Bahubali), an adventurous young man who helps his lover, Avantika rescue Devasena, the former queen of Mahishmati who is now a prisoner under the tyrannical rule of king Bhallaladeva.
The film was made on a budget of ₹180 crores ($28 million), making it the most expensive Indian film at its time of release. The film was released worldwide on 10th July 2015 along with the dubbed versions in Hindi and Malayalam.
It received universal acclaim for Rajamouli’s direction, story, visuals, cinematography, action sequences, and music, it became a record-breaking box office success of ₹650 crores ($101 million) and became the 5th highest-grossing film in India and the 13th highest-grossing Indian film worldwide.
Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is a 2017 Indian epic, the second cinematic part in the Baahubali franchise, it is the sequel to Baahubali: The Beginning. The film was made on a budget of ₹250 crores ($37 million). It was released on 28 April 2017 in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, and Malayalam.
Grossing ₹1,810 crores worldwide ($267 million), collected over crores in ten days. The film is set in medieval India and follows the sibling rivalry between Amarendra Baahubali and Bhallaladeva; the latter conspires against the former and has him killed by Kattappa. Years later, Amarendra’s son returns to avenge his death.
The plot is essentially about the royal Kshatriya family of Mahishmati and the overthrowing of the tyrannical rule of Bhallaldeva by the son of Bahubali. Subtle markers are showcased for each caste establishment throughout the movies, which works brilliantly in hiding and normalising the oppression that lowers caste groups are subjected to throughout the movies.
Mahendra Bahubali or Sivudu, the son of Amarendra Bahubali, was brought up by the tribals situated under the hill, separated and cut off from the civilisation above. This shows the highly problematic normalisation of segregation due to casteism.
This can be further reiterated by the stereotypical and implicit portrayal of the tribals through their shabby clothing and the draping of saris, backward dialect of speech, housing, lack of wealth, and overall backwardness is attributed to their financial insecurity when compared to the royals.
When Sivudu manages to climb the hill (with the help of the body of a female Kshatriya warrior), the audience is exposed to the stark difference between the two worlds.
The rebels with their weapons fighting for their queen, the bloodshed due to the tyrannical rule of Bhallaldeva, the economic inequality, the luxury the upper caste and the royalty lives in, and the hero-worship of the royalty, are the first few implicit environments Sivudu is exposed to.
Take the case of Kattappa for example, the commander-in-chief of Mahishmati’s army and his brethren of bonded labourers, in a ground-breaking scene, talks about his dedication towards the king and his caste lineage that has been working for the royalty for ages, explaining that the labourers are shackled to the royal family for all eternity.
This shows the normalisation of slavery in the ancient caste system, and Kattappa is portrayed as a “loyal dog” of royalty (which is later used as a slur in the movie). Since ancient times, upper caste groups have been led to believe that the lower castes are firmly beneath them and they need to obey their will.
Essentially, the lower caste groups have zero autonomy and function upon the sole authority of the royalty or the upper caste. This has relevance, even in the contemporary sense of Indian society, due to the ongoing oppression of the lower caste. Lower caste people are still tortured and dehumanised by the upper caste and treated like “uncultured animals”.
In a scene, the young prince, Bahubali, is seen walking up to the soldiers and Kattappa eating lunch, interacting with them, and wanting to eat with them. The soldiers are shocked and scared about the consequences of the royal prince wanting to eat with them.
Casteism is normalised to the extent that even a kid belonging to a royal family is presumed not to enter into the places, acquaint or dine with the soldiers. Kattapa represents himself as lower caste which denotes that the entire group of soldiers would also belong to the community.
Kattapa’s hesitance and emotions explain that the royal community or high social order people or high class are superior to the lower caste and the royal class will not fraternise with the lower-class people. The concept of untouchability or untouchables is subtly identical under the linguistic components analysed pragmatically.
During the war between Mahishmati and Kalakeya, Bahubali tried to motivate his soldiers by saying, “En thaayaiyum, thai naataiyum, entha pagadaiku piranthavanum thoda mudiyathu, endru ethirkalai kizhithu, senkuruthi kudithu Arivika pogiraen!!!”.
Bahubali, the protagonist said, “No one born from or as Pagadai can touch my mother and mother country and I am going to announce this by tearing and drinking their blood the enemies,”.
The word “Pagadai” denotes caste, it refers to a caste in Tamil Nadu which is deemed a scheduled caste as per the Indian Constitution and is considered to be one of the most marginalized social groups or castes in Tamil Nadu. Analysing the context, it explains that anyone born from the “Pagadai” – could never touch. The subtle attempt to portray, represent, or characterise the Scheduled Caste, lower caste or Dalit is elusively identical.
Bahubali Through The Lens of Stuart Hall
Cinema is one of the most integral parts of communication and representation. Films steadily perforate and flesh out the knowledge, perception and awareness of people, where it travels much deeper emotionally and psychologically into the minds of the audience.
People have been so conditioned to the caste system that the general public cannot even identify the casteist allegories in the movies. This steady conditioning leads to incidents of large-scale violence in various regions.
Due to these social constructs, even though India is a democratic country, it cannot inculcate democratic values through the conditioning induced by mediums of communication like films.
In the Bahubali franchise, the connotations of subaltern castes or Dalits and upper castes or dominant groups are portrayed subtly, directly and dominantly through dialogues or discourse or conversation.
A theatre screening of the film Baahubali in Madurai was attacked with petrol bombs because a line used in the film was perceived as an insulting reference by a sub-caste of the Dalit community for featuring an anti-Dalit line (Pagadaikku Pirandhavan) considered derogatory against the community in the climax. Subsequently, the writer Madan Karky apologised for any hurt caused.
Films are so impactful that they might kindle violence in the society or community or culture if a portrayal is subjected to being perceived as discriminatory against any group within society.
It is insensitive to use derogatory remarks against lower caste groups and normalise casteist remarks through the medium of films. Through these media, caste-based discrimination becomes generalised and can affect society terribly.
It is understood that there are indistinguishable linguistic components (dialogue, narrations), where caste identifications of the lower caste are so surreptitiously attempted at portraying the caste discrimination and dominance between the Royal and high classes, and lower caste or subaltern, which is predominantly identified with the conventional use of words in most of the linguistic elements.
Through the analysis of the Bahubali franchise, Stuart Hall’s Representation Theory can now be understood more clearly.
Films are the primary example of improper representation of social groups, case in point, caste. According to Hall, caste is problematic and its representation especially in period dramas can be flawed due to our lack of knowledge.
Discrimination and dominance are primary undertakers of caste. Representation is imperfect due to the prejudices of the creator and the lack of understanding and knowledge of the same.
A creator might try their very best to understand a social group, but due to their inherent lack of not being able to put themselves into the shoes of that particular social group, the inherent lack starts to show.
This trickles down into the representation and affects society as a whole, which, in turn, completely misguides society and creates a whole new representation of that social group that had not existed before. This analysis proves that representation is inherently flawed and never be done right.
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