An Indian online food delivery platform has withdrawn its advertisement on recycling waste after backlash over how it portrayed a Dalit character.
Dalits (formerly untouchables) are a historically disadvantaged group in the country.
Zomato’s advert for World Environment Day showed the character as items made of recycled waste.
The company took down the video, saying it had “unintentionally” hurt certain communities.
The ad featured actor Aditya Lakhia, who famously played a character called Kachra in the 2001 Bollywood film Lagaan (Land Tax).
Starring Aamir Khan, the film tells the story of peasants who challenge their British rulers to a game of cricket in order to escape a punitive tax. The film won an Oscar nomination, and was included in a list of the 25 best sports movies by Time magazine.
In the film, the character of Kachra – meaning garbage in Hindi – is shown to be disabled and shunned by fellow villagers until he is picked up to play for the team. He ends up playing a pivotal role in leading his team to a surprising victory.
Zomato’s advert, aimed at showcasing the company’s voluntary waste recycling, depicted the character as playing items made from recycle waste, such as a lamp, table, paper and watering can.
Bollywood filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan criticised Zomato for putting out a “repulsive” commercial.
“Kachra from Lagaan was one of the most dehumanised voiceless depictions of Dalits ever in cinema,” he said in a tweet.
Writing in The Indian Express, Radha Khan, a development professional, said “using a character who is a Dalit and showing him to be made from actual waste is extremely problematic and insensitive”.
“To depict a person as being recycled trash “rescued” from the dung heap to be used as utility “objects” dehumanises him. It shows how corporate boardrooms and ad agencies have no diversity in their staff and are clearly completely dominated by upper castes who have little or no understanding of how to perceive and depict those who are from marginalised and socially-ostracised groups.” Ms Khan said.
Calls to boycott the company trended on social media on Friday.
Communications strategist Karthik Srinivasan told news agency PTI that Zomato attempted a play on the word “kachra” without thinking enough about how it would look to make the character perform “seemingly dehumanising and menial tasks”.
“There’s a context to Kachra’s character in ‘Lagaan’, and within the larger spectrum of commercial entertainment in India, on how castes are portrayed, and how Dalits, in particular, are portrayed or stereotyped,” he said.
Zomato has taken down the advert from all its social media pages.
Source : BBC