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June - July 2009


Avoiding Politics - on Screen

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

India is often described as the Largest Democracy. Registered voters for general elections 2009 are more that 270 million. A mammoth number. Election process itself goes on for several months. Despite this India lacks Political Cinema. Why...?

Some bad guys thrashing up innocent, hapless people, they turn to police for help, but a white cloth clad leader phones the police station and puts pressure to not to touch those baddies… Such scenes are aplenty in Indian or Hindi films, but are they part of ‘Political Cinema?’

Besides largest democracy, India also happens to be the largest producer of films. According to official figures, in 2007 1132 films were produced in India. Though the industry is churning out hundreds of films in various languages, it strangely lags behind in producing political cinema.

India chose ‘Parliamentary Democracy’ and elections are a part of this system; so are political parties. They contest elections to attain power. So every thing is a part of the power politics. Still this drama, and the drama behind the tug-of -war are rarely depicted in films, Commercial Cinema in particular.

What is Political Cinema after all?

When films go beyond entertainment and, deal with more serious topics concerning society, when they depict political happenings. Such cinema records political incidents not as a documentary but it comments upon them. It analyzes political system in the country/society, and ventures to explore and gauge its impact on common man’s life. then we can call those films as ‘political’.

Before independence India did give some films, which had political connotations, but after Independence we did not see much of political films. This is true with commercial or mainstream cinema.

Generally when we talk of political films the name “Aandhi” comes to fore easily. Its leading lady is in politics; perhaps she holds some important position (in the government? What is it? it is concealed cleverly). Not only that, she is contesting an election. So some scenes of election campaigning (now a distant past) are there, but still, is it a political film? This is basically a love story. A father has high aspirations about his daughter’s political career, but she falls in love with an hotelier. Conflict between career and home is the backbone of the story and politics comes as a backdrop. The get-up and appearance of the leading lady was similar to then Prime minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi, more over the film was banned during emergency that gave certain glamour to the film. Still this is not a political film because it fails to comment upon prevailing political situation.

Films like Nishant or ‘Aakrosh’ are more political as they tell us how political system pushes downtrodden in the plight they are. They were more close to reality. In an out right commercial film like Inquilab the protagonist kills all ministers. This is not a solution to people’s woes. Violence has no place in democracy. The film is also not a true depiction of political structure in India.

When main stream, commercial cinema failed to reflect mood and feelings of common people towards politics ,regional films did a good job. In southern parts of India politics and films are closely bonded. Many actors enter politics and some even become chief minister also.

Thaneer Thaneer (Water) a Tamil film created quite a stir in mid 80’s.On the face, it is about water scarcity. But its strong political tone, reality presented through it, created waves, and made people at the helm of affairs uneasy .At one point it was about to be banned. Great filmmaker Mrinal Sen openly took “left” side .His ‘Calcutta 71’ was scathing attack on ruling community, in W.Bengal and in India in general. It exposed hollowness of the government and its machinery called administration. His Hindi film ‘Mrigaya’ is a film which has strong political overtone. Another film maker Adoor Gopalkrishnan has raised question about politics, its place in the society and its relevance to common people, even to supporters of an ideology.’ MukhaMukham’ (Face to Face) is one such example.

It is interesting to note that when filmmakers from Bengal, Kerala, and Karnataka made anti establishment films, challenged governments and parties in power, Hindi cinema remained cliché ridden. Portrayal of political leaders, their henchmen and moles were stereo typical. These films try to show that they are rebellious but actually they are status quoists. Perhaps people from Hindi film industry do not like any conflict with the ‘Authority’, or they are content with ‘running- around- trees’ kind of songs and simple stories. Censor board (now film certification board) is controlled by the central government. It can put hurdles in release of the film, which the board may think is anti public(read anti government) That may be the reason, why Hindi film makers are not venturing to produce real political films.

People in power also want entertainment to be simple entertainment .They don’t want any thought provoking stuff being given out from films. That helps them to remain in power. Or people-the spectator- are not interested in watching realty any more ?Are they more concerned with their jobs and daily lives than thinking of wider issues?

Whatever the reason might be, we do not have good political cinema in India,

It shows that we as people and citizen, are avoiding facing reality, and that is a disturbing fact.

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