The Hindu Magazine on Sunday had an article called Cinema: In search of a new face, which I found very interesting. The writer Zia Us Salam explored the question of how “serious Hindi cinema, entrenched in real India, has died”. He is, of course, talking about parallel cinema of the 1970s and 80s, a movement that spawned movies like Manthan, Nishaant, Bhumika, and Mirch Masala, among others. It is true that this India, increasingly referred to as the ‘other India’, has very little representation in the artistic and cultural expressions of the current generation–and this is most visible in cinema.
Popular, commercial Bollywood movies have always catered to an urban or upper-class sensibility. Karan Johar, Rakeysh Mehra and Vidhu Vinod Chopra may serve up different aspects of this reality (or unreality) but their characters speak a similar language. Recently, even film makers who previously handled themes of poverty like Ketan Mehta (Mirch Masala) and Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay) have increasingly adopted a more global sensibility, either choosing more upper-class issues(Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake) or turning to the safe realm of historical biopics (Sardar, The Rising).
There are multiple problems in accurately representing the reality of an India where a majority of the people are still poor. Movies are a huge form of escapism in India; people seldom want to watch what they are trying so hard to avoid in real life. International viewers are interested only as long as it’s beautifully packaged with elements of exoticism, mystique, myth and folklore (Deepa Mehta did this very cleverly in Water, which is why her movie is an artistic success despite the fact that she passed off the quiet shores of Sri Lanka as Benares and two non-actors as her leads).
The Hindu article ends on this note:
Jabbar Patel, who recently revived “Ambedkar”, has the answer, “We have to find our identity afresh. The look of our films has to change. Poverty is there still in our country but it has to be explained in a different context.” Anybody ready to take the plunge?
Conflict with the British seems to make better box-office than conflict between rich and poor. Perhaps this will change as the wealth gap in India becomes more extreme and less acceptable.
I’m not sure about that. In fact, I think the opposite may just be true. As the gap becomes more extreme, the society we live in may become more schizophrenic with the realities of one having no bearing on the dreams of another. Increasingly hectic lifestyles leave people will less mental room to think about other people, not more. On a weekend, they would rather watch something they can relate to easily. The multiplex audiences are growing in importance and while they may be able to understand diaspora angst, forbidden love or even domestic violence in an urban family, Dalit or Devadasi problems are a universe away–and not one as enjoyable as Hogwarts.
The way forward, I would think, is to focus on presenting good stories with superior production values but setting it in a world other than bourgeoisie heaven. Combining the slickness of Yash Raj films with the realism of Ray or Benegal–but is that really possible?
What do you think?