EMU professor Gaurav Pathania (right) with "Origin" director Ava DuVernay on the set of the film in Savannah, Georgia.

‘Origin’ movie, out in theaters this month, features EMU professor

When acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th) was searching for someone to portray Indian scholar and social reformer Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in her latest movie, Origin, she wanted someone who could do justice to the role. She wanted someone who could inhabit the part, someone equipped with an arsenal of knowledge about the late anti-caste icon and someone who followed the larger-than-life figure as a disciple. 

That someone turned out to be Dr. Gaurav J. Pathania, assistant professor of sociology and peacebuilding at EMU, an anti-caste activist and lifelong Ambedkarite. Pathania, who worked to help Seattle become the first U.S. city to ban caste-based discrimination last year, makes his acting debut when Origin releases in theaters on Jan. 19. 

The drama, written and directed by DuVernay and starring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, follows journalist Isabel Wilkerson on her journey in writing her 2020 New York Times bestseller Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. As Wilkerson, portrayed by Aunjanue-Ellis (King Richard), endures personal losses and dives into her writing, she travels abroad and digs deep into historical examples of caste systems. 

From a review in The New York Times: “One is set in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, another in Depression-era Mississippi and a third in India over different time periods. This last interlude focuses on Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (Gaurav J. Pathania), who helped draft India’s Constitution and championed the rights of Dalits, people once deemed ‘untouchables.’”

A New York City advertisement for “Origin,” in theaters Jan. 19, features EMU professor Gaurav Pathania as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

Ambedkar “is the most important figure in politics in India,” Pathania said during an interview in his Roselawn office last month. A Shepard Fairey-inspired blue-and-red print of Ambedkar, akin to the Obama “Hope” poster, hung on the wall behind his desk. “He’s like the MLK of India, so no political party can do their politics without putting his face on their banners. If you ever go to India, there are thousands of statues of him.”

Ambedkar was born a Dalit, the lowest stratum of India’s caste system, but was able to earn degrees from the University of Mumbai, Columbia University and the London School of Economics — something unheard of for someone in his caste. He would serve as India’s first law minister after its independence from Britain in 1947 as well as chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee. He is widely regarded as one of the most educated and revered Indians throughout history.

“Every day of his life was spent bringing some social change and structural change,” Pathania said.

The EMU professor graces the silver screen in Ambedkar’s trademark three-piece suit and tie, his hair slicked back and his eyes behind a pair of thick-rimmed round glasses. If he appears stouter on the screen, it’s because he donned a fat suit for the role. Researchers for the movie spent two years learning all they could about the historic figure. That included studying which books he carried and what types of pens he used.

“There are movies made about Ambedkar in India, in other languages, but this is the first Hollywood movie that offers an introductory portrayal of Ambedkar,” said Pathania, who is originally from India. 

Gaurav Pathania (left), assistant professor of sociology and peacebuilding at EMU, portrays iconic Indian scholar and social reformer Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the film “Origin.”

Before the cameras started rolling, DuVernay offered some tips to the acting newbie. Pathania recalled: “She told me, ‘You’ve studied this man for your whole life. So, just think about him when you’re on set. You don’t need any training; you have him in your heart.’”

Although his role in Origin has no speaking parts and totals a handful of minutes, the experience offered him a glimpse into the world of filmmaking. 

Pathania traveled to Savannah, Georgia, on three separate occasions to film his parts. One of his scenes, set in 1920s-era India, captures him stepping off the boat onto a pier, surrounded by members of the Dalit caste played by local extras. 

“The river was about 50 feet deep, so we had lifeguards standing around, and so I learned about all those things,” he said. “Cameras were in every direction; there was even someone standing in the water holding a camera.

“One simple scene might take almost eight hours, the whole day. When it appears on the screen, it appears for a few seconds, but it took all day to film.” 

EMU professor Gaurav Pathania (left) with filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

Before arriving at EMU, Pathania taught at Georgetown University, Catholic University of America and George Washington University. He is an anti-caste poet, writer and community builder, and mentors emerging scholars through the Ambedkar International Center Authors’ Lab.   

To land the role, Pathania answered an open casting call submitted to the online Ambedkarite community in October 2022. He said he went through a lengthy audition process and was selected from a couple-dozen others. 

“I asked Ava, ‘How did you choose me?’” said Pathania. “And, she said, ‘We weren’t just looking for the facial resemblance, but also looking for the scholarly resemblance, because you are a professor and you are an Ambedkarite who has been teaching for a long time and your scholarship is around caste.’”

Pathania has watched the movie several times and said DuVernay has been receptive to the changes he’s suggested. He described Origin as “the most global kind of movie.”

“If you see the cast, there is an English-speaking cast, a German-speaking cast, Hindi, and then now, with the addition of the song I Am by Stan Walker, a member of the New Zealand Maori tribe, I see it as a movie that actually reaches out to the entire world,” he said. 

Origin has a runtime of two hours and 15 minutes. It is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving racism, violence, some disturbing images, language and smoking.

Join the Discussion on “‘Origin’ movie, out in theaters this month, features EMU professor

  1. Congratulations, Gaurav, on portraying Dr. Ambedkar in this movie! I’m looking forward to seeing the movie sometime soon.

    1. Discussions about social justice, gender/caste discrimination, and the global emancipation of marginalised groups always follow meetings with Pathania Ji at the tea stall in the university (JNU, India) or rallies. I had the good fortune to have his wonderful instruction to learn about the American university system and culture at large in 2018, when we first met in Washington, DC. Now let’s look at Dr. Pathania, who is playing our beloved Baba Saheb in the film “Origin,” directed by Ava DuVernay. Thank you to Ava DuVernay for raising awareness of caste issues on a worldwide scale and congratulations to Dr Pathania Ji.

    2. It’s a film for Dr. Gaurav Pathania (a true Ambedakarite ) with his mind blowing screen presence (Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the father of Indian Constitution) . The film has received an overwhelmingly positive response from all Ambedkarites of the world. Everybody should watch it to experience the reality of society. Best to you Gaurav Sir….

  2. Dr. Gaurav J Pathania as a Dr. Ambedkar in origin is amazing. Without deliver any dialogue, he said everything, what the director Ava want.
    I Wish all the best to Dr. Gaurav for future.

  3. Dr.Gaurav.J Pathania, Professor at EMU (USA),
    May your Role in the Globally popular movie ‘Origin’ reach to the Hearts 💕 of people as a Reincarnation of our Messiah, Baba Sahab, Dr.BR Ambedkar !

  4. Another highly acclaimed film by Ava DuVernay, brimming with tragic surprises and visual poetry. As an enthusiastic watcher, I’m also excited by Gaurav J Pathania’s portrayal of Baba Saheb.

  5. Heartiest Congratulations, Prof. Gaurav Pathania and EMU community. For us in India, especially Gaurav’s home state, Haryana, his role as Dr Ambedkar means so much. Special Congrats to Ava for interweaving a thread of global movements and thinkers of social reforms in the movie. It’s really bold on her part to host Gaurav’s first performance to the glocal audience. Looking forward to watch the movie: lived realities of oppression and emancipation.

  6. Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations! To Mr. Gaurav J Pathania for playing the best role in the movie ORIGIN. I also congratulate to Ms Eva DuVernay for her best thoughts while directing such a grate film in Hollywood and selecting Mr Gaurav J Pathania for the greatest Personality of the world Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar. Mr. Gaurav has played the best role of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar because he was born with the best ideology of BABA SAHIB from his father. I think it will best the best moment for his father today if he alive. We are awaiting for the day when we get chance to see this movie . I wish the best for Mr. Gaurav Pathania as well as for Eva DuVernay. Suresh Kumar Boudh, Advocate from Chandigarh.

  7. ‘HONHAR VIRMAN KE HOT HE CHIKNE PAT’ Gaurav is very calm and intelligent in his childhood. He always follow his father who was the best follower of BABA SAHEB. I remain most of the time in the house of Mr. Jogi Ram Pathania for preparation of my exams and Gaurav always like to sit with me and watch. Gaurav always remain with his father in the functions organised in District Kaithal on BABA SAHEB as his father was the Satage Secretary of these functions. Gaurav always appraise the speeches, poems and writing his father on BABA SAHEB. His father was the first gratute from scheduled caste community in our village. He was fearless brave man and all these things got by Gaurav in hereditary. Gaurav is proud of family, community and village. Whole the village love him. I wish success of the film ‘ORIGIN’ in which Gaurav played the roll of BABA SAHEB. Awaiting for the day when we see the film Origin. Congratulations to Gaurav and to Eva DuVernay the great director.

  8. Dr. Gourav J. Pathania , Only a person who could justify this role. Warm wishes and stay blessed dear.

  9. Congratulations, Prof. Gaurav Pathania of your debut film! The way you have portrayed Dr. Ambedkar role in Movie Origin, it’s commendable. You are our role model.

  10. Heartiest Congratulations, Prof. Gaurav Pathania and EMU and Haryana people for such a wonderful work done by You. Your efforts are priceless

  11. Prof. Gaurav Pathania and EMU and Haryana people congratulations for such a wonderful work done by You. Your efforts are priceless

  12. Dr. Gaurav Pathania in the role of Dr. Ambedkar is an amazing thought as Dr. Pathania has lived through some of the experiences of the Icon, he is portraying, is an excellent and exciting proposition. Brining together different leaders of social movements is an exceptional thought of Ava in the difficult times we live in. It would inspire many in the times to come. Kudos to Gaurav and Ava.

  13. Congratulations dear Gaurav. We are all feeling proud of you. You did a historical work by this film. We wish the film will success a lot. Be happy.

  14. Dear Gourav society proud of you on your performing act in the movie of “Origin” as Baba Saheb Dr.BR ambedkar and we are specialy proud of you because you belong to my home distt. you did the historical work by this movie.we wish the film success a lot.

  15. Gaurav son, many congratulations to you for playing the historical character of Ambedkar. Everyone should watch this film. I am very much waiting for when will it be released in India? I must see. Your Aunty Sharmistha Banerjee from Delhi

  16. Guarav,
    Thank you for taking time to step away from academia for a moment to make the film. By doing so, you will educate the many thousands who will view it, many of whom will be exposed, for the first time, to the reality of caste, the shackle of millions who lack the inalienable rights of some and that should be enjoyed by every human being. Thank you for your contribution to a conversation that weaves connections between peoples who have experienced dehumanizing oppression. Through such connections, there is hope. Wishing you great success in all of your future endeavors.

  17. Congratulations, Prof. Gaurav Pathania, on your compelling portrayal of Dr. Ambedkar in this cinematic production. Gaurav Pathania’s embodiment of Dr. Ambedkar is noteworthy, given his academic and social involvement that parallel those of the iconic figure, making it a commendable and intriguing choice. The initiative by Ava DuVernay to bring together diverse leaders from social movements is particularly commendable. Such endeavors have the potential to serve as a source of inspiration for many in the foreseeable future. Extending accolades to both Prof. Gaurav Pathania and Ava DuVernay, I eagerly anticipate the imminent release of the film and wish its immense success.

  18. “Justice Matters” should not only be a matter of research and political slogan but it must reflect in the creative industry. The “Origin” is the most important product of creative industry. It will have a lasting impact in generating a movement for emancipating the shackled mind and herald an alternative culture of rights , justice, equality, inclusivity based on “reason” and “morality” …. Congrats and Felicitations Team Ava DuVernay for choosing the Theme for producing “Origin” . I look forward to be screened on silver screen in India …..

  19. Great Dr Gorav, your academic as well as social media platform will give a lot to the deprived sections of the society. A few peoples are there who work for the society and you are one of them. Congratulations and all the best.

  20. Dear Gaurav, Many congratulations
    This is amazing news and I feel this is an organic combination that the person who is persistently writing and engaging with the issues of discrimination, and injustices has got the chance to play the role of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. You are always keen on noticing, and studying various social activities in present times and correlating with historical events. I am confident that your academic training and personal approach towards social issues will make you the best actor. Waiting to watch the movie.
    Many Congratulations once again.

  21. Gaurav son, many congratulations to you for playing the historical character of Ambedkar. Everyone should watch this film. This is amazing news I am very much waiting for when will it be released in India? I must see. Your Aunty Sharmistha Banerjee from Delhi

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