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December 2009 - January 2010


People’s Entertainment

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

India became ‘people’s state’ 60 years ago. People of India underwent a change, media also transformed in these decades. How Hindi Cinema responded to changes is a subject of huge study, but here is quick look at the people’s medium.

People come first in democracy. Their wish is supreme, at least theoretically.

Cinema is the medium, which catches people’s mood perfectly. It reflects their aspirations and expectations also. Cinema hanges faster than any other medium, the reason can be its adaptability to shifting situations, social or political also. This is true with any film industry in the world and Hindi cinema as well.

In pre independence era mythology served as an allegory to freedom struggle. Demons depicted in the films were symbols of British rulers or officers. So showing the end of the devil meant triumph of good over evil on the surface but indicated end of foreign rule too. That was the hidden meaning filmmaker wanted to convey. One of the early examples of portraying ‘people’s revolt’ is ‘Amritmanthan’ (1934). Renowned ‘Prabhat Film Company’ had produced it and V.Shantaram, one of the doyens of Indian cinema, directed it. People attacking a tyrant religious leader were clear indication of India’s mood then. The film was made in Hindi and Marathi, extending its reach to the large part of India.

Besides political freedom, social reforms were also of importance to people of India. ‘Achhut Kanya’(1936) dealt with the problem of caste system. Some other films also denounced this evil practice . Prabhat’s Dharmatma (1935)was originally named as ‘Mahatma’ but British government forced to change the title . Though it tells the story of the saint poet Eknath from Maharashtra, it opposes caste system without mincing words. This was clearly the influence of Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts. ‘Padosi’ (Neighbour)(1941) again a film by Prabhat Co. brought forth the issue of communal harmony, so vital in those turbulent times. Such films did help reformist movement in India then.

Cinema is the medium of mass entertainment, since its inception, but it has played a major role in mass education also. Films did play an important part in the freedom struggle of India. After independence, though films were conservative in nature , still they did try to instill new ideas. When rate of ‘illiteracy’ was very high in India, Hindi films tried to spread awareness about importance of education ; ‘Anpadh’ is one such example. Hindi Cinema after 1947-48 was exploring the psyche of people of a newborn nation. It was trying to reflect people’s aspirations and ambitions of leaders of the time.

Films of Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, and V.Shantaram –to name a few- are worth mentioning. Films like ‘Awaara’, Shree 420’ ‘Jis Desh mein Ganga Bahati Hai’ coming from RK Studio were reflections of ‘Nehruvian’ ideology. They project hope and dreams of a generation. Dilip Kumar, the mega star of 40’s through 60’s, was the face of this philosophy. Their films promoted liberal, center left, humanitarian thought. That was the need of the hour of a nation struggling to shrug off colonial and feudal past.

Bimal Roy’s ‘Sujata’ is a lyrical film. It is a love story , but it is also a comment on caste and equality and bonds of relationship. Guru Datt’s ‘Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam’ tells the story of fading feudalism, decadence and search for the new society. It also, in a subtle way, enquires the role of a woman in family and society. His ‘Pyaasa’ is not just a story of a broken hearted poet in the ruthless practical world, it asks questions to Nehru’s political philosophy, like ‘Is socialism the right answer to ills of the society?’, ‘Will it really bring equality?’ and so on .The famous song from the film ‘ Jinhe naaz hai Hind par who kahan hain’ is the epitome of such questions raised by common man of the period. They are still relevant. Another film ‘Phir Subah Hogi’ is more leftist than socialist in nature, and challenges capitalist dominated society.

One political or social ideology can not satisfy all. Debate , discussions are inevitable in a democratic set up. Films-Hindi and regional language- are participating in it vehemently. They may not be considered as Mainstream films,but art house films have played a part in keeping conscience of people alive . Bengali and Malyalam film directors were on the forefront in this regard

Now ,perhaps the society has once again become, status quoist .There is hardly any discussion on socio-political topics among people, especially among youth. They want material pleasures. Their wishes are expressed in present Hindi films. Urban setting, foreign locales, superficial, trivial issues are important .The Hollywood type ‘look’ is more imperative to attract young consumers. In the process films are no more relevant in social context. In such a scenario film is losing its significance as a medium of people’s expression and as a weapon against system. Vibrant, questioning media is essential for a vibrant, dynamic democratic society .The question remains, is anybody interested ?

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