Manipur actor Lukram Smil, who played the protagonist in the digital film “Penalty”, says racism is so deeply embedded in the minds of people even in India that for the longest time actors from Northeast faced limited opportunities and remained victims of the syndrome.
On a positive side, in the wake of #blacklivesmatter, Lukram adds that casting directors call them “actors with Asian features” now, as oppose to “Chinki” or “Chinese looking” like earlier.
Lukram told IANS: “I think social media activism has at least started the conversation. Until a year back, I would say that people like us from the Northeast would get casting calls where we were said, ‘we’re auditioning you because we need a ‘Chinese looking’, ‘Nepalese looking’ character’. It feels really bad. Our struggle and rejection would start at regular auditions even before we gave auditions, because of the way we look. I mean what are they trying to say by calling us ‘Chinese looking’? Do we not look Indian? Forget about writing diverse characters for us, the racism is embedded in the mind of people in our society to the extent that they do not even count our ‘look’ as ‘Indian’ look! Only who have faced this will understand how humiliating it feels.”
“Having said that, there is a change that we have noticed in recent casting calls. Now we are called actors with ‘Asian features’, ‘Northeastern’ etc. I think this is still a better term than calling us ‘Nepali’, ‘Chinese’ and, worse, ‘Chinki’,” added the actor.
“Penalty”, directed by Shubham Singh, features Kay Kay Menon, Shashank Arora, Manjot Singh and Bijou Thaangjam, and is streaming on the OTT platform Netflix after a theatrical release last year.
“We really had a hard time to get show time while releasing the film in theatres. Now I am getting a response to the film from everywhere. I am glad that people are watching the film,” Lukram said.
Did he always want to be an actor? “No, I am very shy by nature and when I stepped out of Imphal and went to Lucknow for my higher studies I started encountering racism. My confidence went down the drain. But I must thank Bijou, who told me not to confine myself and rather discover by coming to the city of dreams, Mumbai,” he shared.
After his struggle due to appearance and racism, is Lukram still hopeful to make a career in Bollywood? Citing the example of the recent film “Axone” he said: “With such a film, we are gaining a positive light, the right conversation around racism that is substantial. The constant discrimination that many sections face and the stereotypes we are a victim of should stop, and film can do that.”
“In ‘Penalty’, Football is a common element brings people from every region together. I think like sports, films can also do that. If our Bollywood films are set in cosmopolitan places, then why aren’t the characters from all communities? Why do Punjabis have to be funny and all Northeastern have to be musicians? I am not complaining, but I am saying, we youngsters are questioning more, so that the change comes,” Lukram signed off.