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Is Cinema a Reflection of Society

I sent the essay for an essay writing competition organised by Competition Success Review. I couldn’t win it but got my photograph and name printed in the category of “Consolation Prize Entries”. They sent me a lot of ball pens , a book titled “How to Succeed in the IAS interview” and a certificate. Hope the essay helps.

Cinema  is  the  beautiful  combination  of  art,  literature  and  science. It  is  rightly  called  the  art  form  of  the  20th  century.  Art  and  literature  are  reflections  of  life  and  they  present  the  moments   of  life  vividly.  On  the  other  hand,  science  studies  man  and  his  world.  So  cinema,  a combination  of  these  three,  invariably  presents  man  and  his  life  in  society. In  Natyashastra, Bharatamuni  declares  that  art  is  the  search  for  truth.  The  aim  of  life  is  not  different  and  hence  cinema , society  and  life  are  closely  related. Our  life  and  its  principles  are  influenced  by  time  and  the  changes  occurring  in  the  society .  Cinema,  like  other  modes  of  media , is inspired  and  influenced  by  the  society  and  it  portrays  it  colourfully.  A  glance  at the  Indian  films  produced  recently  confirms  to  this  fact . The  changing  trends  in  films  reflect  the  changes taking  place  in  our  society.

Bollywood  aptly  reflects  the  transformation  of   the  Indian  psyche  from  a  post-colonial  pastiche  of  politeness  of  the  1950s  to  the  confident  global  Indian  of  present  century. Shammi  Kapoor  initiated  this  transformation  during  the  50s  and  Amitabh  signalled  through  his  on-screen  activities  that  Indians  have  been  changing  in  their  thought  and  behaviour.  The  new Indian  could  also  be  seen  in  ‘Dil  Chahta  Hai ’.  Suddenly  it  was  cool  to  be  cool.  For  decades, Bollywood reflected  the  angst  and  agony  of  struggling  India . What  started  as  a  catharsis  of  the  castrated  has  now  ended  in  the  metamorphosis  of  the  mutilated . Along  with  the  heroes, villains  have  also  changed  faces  on  the  screen.  From  the  cruel  zamindars  to  antagonist  rich fathers   of  the  heroines,  from  deadly  smugglers  to  anti  Indian  Dr. Dangs  and  Mogambos ,  from  corrupt  politicians  to  new  age  monsters  like  terrorists,  Bollywood  has  portrayed  all  those  characters  which  Indian  society  has  endorsed  as  villainous  and  anti-social.  The  new  age  heroine  is  also  revengeful  and  strong  like  Anjam’s   Madhuri  while  heroines  of  early  days  were  epitome  of  beauty  and  elegancy  like  Vijayanti  Mala  in  Sangam.  From  colourful  ‘Mela’  dances  and  ‘Nautankis’  to  sizzling  item  numbers  and  discotheques,  from  Holi  Celebrations  to  Valentine’s  Day  Proposals  all  these  represent  slow  westernization  of  our  society.

Fifties  were  the  years  when  India  tried  hard  to  leave  a  mark , when  song  like  ‘Mera  Joota  Hai  Japani’  would  be  sung  in  faraway  lands  of  Soviet  Union,  China,  Turkey  and  Africa.  During  the  decade , cities  were  attracting  rural  masses  for  employment.  But  concerns  were  also  being  raised  about  the  cultural  decline.  In  that  sense,  ‘Mother  India’  and  ‘Do  Bigha  Zameen’   brilliantly  portrayed  the  rural  scenario . After  all,  it  was  not  very  long  ago  that  Mahatma  Gandhi  had  said  that  real  India  lived  in  villages.  In  1957,  Pyasa , a  treatise  on  individual  struggles  in  post-independence  India ,  hit  cinema. The  film  directed  by  legendary  Guru  Dutt  was  rated  as  one  of  the  best  100  films  of  all  times  by  the  Time  Magazine.

After  Independence,  it  was  early  60s  when  India  had  to  look  for  solutions  to  its  numerous  problems,  Manoj  Kumar’s  celluloid  adaptation  of  Lal  Bahadur’s  slogan  of  ‘Jai  Jawan  Jai  Kisan’ through  his  film  ‘Upkaar’  underlined  the  sacrifices  which  were  expected  from  the  sons  of  the  soil.  Chetan  Anand’s  ‘Haqeeqat’  chronicled  the  saga  and  valour  of  soldiers  who  lost  their  lives  defending  the nation.  The  story  of  ‘Guide’  was in  more  than  one  way  the  story  of  an  Indian  who  didn’t  know  which  road  to  take  till  the  end.

If  the  50s  represented  romanticism  and  hope  and  the  60s  were  marked  by  disillusionment  and  escapism,  the  70s  were  clearly  signed  by  rage  and  despair.  This  was  the  decade  of  angry  movement,  the  death  of  democracy,  the  decade  in  which  petrol  suddenly  became  a  precious  commodity  and  inflation  savaged  India.  The  ‘oil  shock’  of  1973  triggered  a devastation  bout  of  inflation  that  promoted  movie  makers  like  Manoj  Kumar  to  make  weepy  films  like  ‘Roti,  Kapara  Aur  Makan’.  This  decade  also  witnessed  the  entry  of  Amitabh  with  movies  like  ‘Zanjeer’,  ‘Sholay’  and  ‘Dewar’,  which  completely  redefined  the  image  of  the  Indian  hero.  He  portrayed  the  angry  young  man  who  is  hell  bent  on  changing  the  system; becoming  a  ‘villain’  in  the  process  of  that  helps  his  cause.  Of  course,  Indians  wanted  a  revolution,   but  were  not  ready  to  completely  destroy  the  old  system.  So  Bachchan,  the  rebel  would  be  routinely  killed  in  the  climatic  scenes.  By  and  large,  Indians  were  still  very  religious  at  heart.  Hence,  ‘Jai  Santoshi  Maa’  was  able  to  become  a  blockbuster  in  spite  of  its  release  with  ‘Sholay’,  movie  of  the  millennium.

In  the  80s,  India  faced  real  life  Mogambos,  while  new  frontiers  of  discontent  opened  up  from  Kashmir  to  the  North-East,  Bollywood  was  busy  experimenting  with  ingredients  ranging  from  science  fiction  to  Hollywood  remakes.

The  90s  witnessed  a  churn  in  politics,  economics  and  society  that  would  often  transport  India  to  the  very  age  of  despair.  Movies  like  ‘HAHK’,  ‘DDLJ’  and  ‘KKHH’  showed  an  affluent  actor-actress  pair.  Coming  to  political  scenario,  India  was  confronted  with  the  new  villain,  terrorism,  which  was  reflected  in  films  like  ‘Roja’,  ‘Maachis’,  ‘Sarfarosh’  and  ‘Dil  Se’.  Mumbai riots  and  bomb  blasts  were  acutely  painted  in  movie  like  ‘Bombay’.

In  the  new  Millennium,  the  world  came  to  terms  with  a  cocky  India  bulging  with  a  bare  chest  confidence.  Sex  was  no  longer  a  taboo  and  we  had  movies  like  ‘Murder’ ,  ‘Khwahish’  and  ‘Love,  Sex  Aur  Dhokha’.  On  the  other  hand,  masterpieces  like  ‘Company’  and  ‘Satya’  were  denoting  the  stronghold  of  underworld  while  ‘Ganga  Jal’  and  ‘Omkara’  showed  the  rule  of   bahubalis.  If  ‘Dil  Chahta  Hai’ ,  ‘ ZNMD’  echoed  self-assured,  cool  and  keep  smiling,  live-today  mantra  of  Indian  youth;  ‘Black’,  ‘Corporate’,  ‘Lage  Raho  MunnaBhai’  and  ‘Black  Friday’  vindicated  that  even  Bollywood  films  can  deal  with  the  complex  issues.  ‘Lakshya’  and  ‘Rang  De  Basanti’  depicted  the  maturing  of  the  young  Indians  ready  to  die  for  a  national  cause.  Thus,  one  can  say  that  a  movie  is  not  only  a  visual  treat  to  its  audience  but  it  is  also  an  account  of  the  societal,  economic  and  political  setup  in  which  a  person  is  living.

Films  like  ‘The  Day  After  Tomorrow’,  ‘Apocalypse  Now’  and  ‘My  Name  Is  Khan’  have  addressed  the  grave  issues  of  climatic  changes,  wars  and  political  tensions  which  need  immediate  attention.  However,  films  like  ‘Vicky  Donor’,  ‘Brokeback  Mountain’,  ‘Dostana’, ‘Salaam  Namaste’,  ‘Cocktail’,  ‘Kabhi  Alvida  Na  Kehna’  have  different  stories.  They  discuss  the  taboo  subjects  of  infertility,  homosexuality,  live  in  relationships  and  infidelity.  These  are  the  issues  of  our  time  and  whether  we  like  it  or  not,  we  have  to  address  them.

Impact  of  social  system  of  a  country  can  be  seen  in  the  cinema.  As  the  Indian  society  is  patriarchal,  so  is  Bollywood.  Women,  barring  a  few  odd  films  or  except  a  few  Vidya  Balan  flicks,  are  hardly  given  any  decision-making  roles.  They  are  either  put  up  as  exhibitory  objects –  that  again  is  restricted  to  the  younger  lot,  or  portrayed  as  an  epitome  of  sacrifice.  Whereas  in  Hollywood,  where  people  are  above  all  this-  movies  like  ‘Lara  Croft’,  ‘The  Iron  Lady’  says  it  all.  Moreover,  senior  actresses  like  Meryl Streep  or  Judi  Dench  enjoy  equal  amount  of  adulation  as  their  younger  counterparts.  Undoubtedly,  Bollywood  is  extremely  male  centric  like  our  society.  We  can  only  overcome  it  if  that  sexist  ideology  undergoes  a  change.

There  is  severe  criticism  that  films  now-a-days  alienate  themselves  from  simple  life  and  ground  realities.  Producers  and  directors  take  film  as  a  mix  of  dances,  songs  and  load  them  with  unnatural  situations,  false  projection  of  heroism  and  ill-timed  jokes  and  romances.  These movies,  devoid  of  skill  or  finesse,  also  represent  life  and  society  though  negatively.  The  anguish  and  protest  of  public  over  corruption  and  abuse  of  power  are  reflected  in  an  all-powerful  hero  who  fights  for  justice.  The  struggle  and  tension  of  common  man  is  portrayed through  him.  Absurd  jokes  and  artificial  comic  scenes  are  added  to  make  people  laugh  and  relax.  Common  man’s  insatiable  and  secret  desires  are  the  reason  for  vulgar  and  obscene films.  Here  also,  the  link  between  man  and  cinema  is  revealed.

Let  us  conclude  with  the  words  of  Don Dellilo  “Film  is  more  than  the  twentieth-century  art. It’s  another  part  of  the  twentieth-century  mind.  It’s  the  world  seen  from  inside.  We’ve  come  to  a  certain  point  in  the  history  of  film.  If  a  thing  can  be  filmed,  the  film  is  implied  in  the  thing  itself.  This  is  where  we  are.  The  twentieth  century  is  on  film.  You  have  to  ask  yourself  if  there’s  anything  about  us  more  important  than  the  fact  that  we’re  constantly  on  film,   constantly  watching  ourselves.”

Cinema,  ultimately  presents  the  man  in  society  with  all  its   virtues  and  vices.  It  may  neglect some  features  to  highlight  a  graver  one  or  vice  versa.  But  none  can  deny  the  fact  that  it  projects  nothing  but  man.  Commercial  films  do  this  nonchalantly  or  casually,  parallel  films forcefully,  but  with  reservation,  and  pure  art  films,  complicatedly  and  passionately.


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