The Politics Of Movie Titles

politics of movie titles

image by Meena Kadri

Invariably movies from Bollywood get into trouble in India. It could be because someone does not like the title, or the theme. Sometimes it could be the story and at other times it is the fact that the city has not been called by its correct name.

Take the case of Kiran Rao’s maiden film “Dhobi Ghat” that ran into trouble in Kolkata and Delhi on the day of its release. Many a washer men felt that the title was derogatory to the community and carried posters to that effect. In Delhi, the community leaders went one step ahead and approached the Delhi high Court seeking a change of the film’s title.

In my opinion the community leaders were being highly “unambitious” when they protested against the title of the movie. After all, the word Dhobi Ghat has not been invented by Kiran Rao. It is a word that exists in the hindi language and also in the dictionary. The protest should have been against the language and the demand should have been that it be removed from the dictionary and the colloquial language.

When the Shah Rukh Khan movie titled “Billoo Barber” was being released, at that time too there were protests from the barber community saying that the title demeaned them. I fail to understand how that could be. As per Wikipedia, a barber (from the Latin barba, “beard”) is someone, most often male, whose occupation is to cut any type of hair, and to shave or trim the beards of men. The place of work of a barber is generally called a barbershop, or simply the “barber’s”.

The movie was about a man called Billoo who was a barber by profession and hence the title of the movie – Billoo Barber. If the word barber is taken off the language then how would one refer to them? Also how will they market themselves?

The other question is: what is demeaning – the word or the profession? I do not think that the profession is demeaning. It is a work that has a demand; people want the service and pay for it. And the word merely labels one as carrying out that profession – willingly, and of own volition. So the word too cannot be demeaning.

A similar protest had been made by many who took umbrage to the title of Danny Boyle’s hit movie – Slumdog Millionaire. The objection was to the fact that a slum boy was called a slumdog. In their favour it could be said that the word slumdog does not exist in the English language and the credit for inventing it should go to the people involved with the movie.

The protest perhaps originates from the fact that the word “dog” is being used here and calling someone as that is abusive. Fair enough. But, by that logic a word such as “underdog” should also be removed from the English lexicon.

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