Richa Chadha has been in the eye of the maelstrom since the poster release of her film Madam Chief Minister, releasing in cinemas on January 22. She plays the role of a Dalit Chief Minister, a Mayawati- like figure. In the first poster, she is seen holding a broom, with the caption “Untouchable, Unstoppable.” This caused furore on social media, for usage of the loaded word “untouchable”, as well as the broom as a ready-reckoner iconography of the Dalit. It pandered to stereotypes. Since then the poster has changed, with the caption removed. Though no official apologies have come, Chadha has posted an apology on her Instagram, calling this gaffe a “regrettable and a completely unintentional oversight… Our heart is in the right place.” The old posters are still put up, on the handle of the T Series the film producer, as well as Chadha’s timeline.
Presenting to you, the first look of #MadamChiefMinister, a gut shaking political drama starring Richa Chaddha, Manav Kaul and Saurabh Shukla! Out in cinemas on 22nd January! Stay tuned!@RichaChadha @saurabhshukla_s #ManavKaul #BhushanKumar #KrishanKumar @subkapoor pic.twitter.com/CUdCjZqDwY
— T-Series (@TSeries) January 4, 2021
In this interview with Rohini Ramnathan, she discusses the blind spots, and the correctives that have taken place since.
“Definitely in an apperceptive background, there is also privilege. Let’s talk about privilege. Privilege is when you are blind to it. Honestly, the character I am playing does all the housework in the first ten minutes of the film, so she’s also doing the jhadu. When the poster was being designed I, even for one second, did not see the jhadu as the [symbolic] jhadu, because someone said to me, “Oh this looks like the Chak De! India poster, where the girls are holding the hockey stick.” I had never thought of it, because for me it was just a prop.
Our director, Subhash Kapoor comes from such a leftist ideology, I even spoke to him about the criticism the poster faced. He also mentioned how he regretted this. When people like Jignesh Mevani and Prakash Kanojia, people we respect and people who work with this issue spoke about it, we realized there is some problem here. Then we spoke, and thought of how to address it. That is when I put the apology on my Instagram, because it was completely unintentional. I am never one to be afraid to apologize if I made a mistake.
When the first comments about the broom poured in, I thought it was about the Aam Aadmi Party people thinking the film was about them, since the jhadu is often associated with them. [The Jhadu-Dalit connection] was never even in my head. I spoke to the staff in my house, from the Dalit community, our drivers, the people who work for us, I showed them the poster and the trailer, and to tell me where the issue is.
I was personally pained by this. When you consider yourself liberal or progressive, and when fellow liberals and progressives doubt your intentions, you can do two things. You can get defensive about it. Or you can take a step back and introspect. Twitter’s woke people don’t matter to me. But my house driver does matter to me. He told me, ‘Madam to impose someone’s work on them as their identity, this might be an issue.’ I asked him if I should remove it, and he said yes. The very next day we launched a new poster where both the word “Untouchable” and the jhadu were removed. Though there was no official apology, so I put it out on Instagram.
I do want to point out though, the poster is never made by the actors, though their face is in it. This was why I accepted the responsibility. But Twitter’s conversation went into a bad space, calling me an upper caste leech, profiting from the caste system, as if I was Manu, who invented the caste system for my personal benefit. Trolls, whether from the Left or the Right … a troll is a troll. “