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Indian Cinema Of Today: A Culturally Responsive Artifact

admin   August 30, 2019

The success of movies underscoring Indian ethos and nationalism, or challenging social norms, reflects the people’s desire to feel personal connection to the past and influence by the current set of political and social narratives, turning a movie experience into an active collaboration between the movie maker and the audience for awakening human conscience. By Dr S. Raghunath

With entertainment content from anywhere in the world being only a click away, recent Bollywood releases are continuing to draw the audience to the movie halls. The success of movies such as Raazi, Uri, Kesari, Padmavat and many others shows the role of movies in shaping the way people today feel the need to visualize, understand and feel invested in events and happenings relating to their country – India. It appears as if it is not just the Indian movie audience in cinema halls that are demonstrating their veneration for the flag and national anthem, but so are the moviemakers in a similar mode of reverence and adoration.

While considering the experiential mode of engagement in a movie hall as evident from the box office figures, it appears to be influenced by the current set of political and social narratives. There is a popular desire to have a felt, personal connection to the past – distant or recent.

Indians who derive an understanding of current happenings of national importance do so by reading the newspaper or watching the debates on television and interpreting the issues in the recent and distant past, specifically on the role of women in spearheading the Indian ethos and nationalism; the discrimination of people on the basis of caste or the heroic acts of bravery and defense.

Movies based on the knowledge of such events are enabled in interesting and provocative ways by a range of popular representations of the recent past, situations where the audience is not merely being presented enactments of the recent past, but are being forced to reflect on their own act of thinking as well.

Consider the movie Article 15. The movie deals with Article 15 of the Constitution of India, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

While the movie content is claimed to be based on multiple true life events including 2014 Badaun gang rape allegations and 2016 Una flogging incident, the storyline follows the socio-political situation of the country. The movie attempts to deepen the understanding and reflects on social mores that have antecedents in history that require attention.

How the audience in the movie hall understands and uses its societal awareness is by having some kind of immediate, direct access to it while viewing the movie and, therefore, the understanding of societal anomalies turns into an active collaboration between the movie maker and the audience for awakening human conscience. The experience in the movie hall then is not of just reliving the past but of pulling the past and present together in a short frame of two hours. Movies such as Article 15 making it to the box office, signifies an emerging profound and popular desire to touch and be touched by recent events and distant history pertaining to social anomalies.

People are also most motivated to action by those issues in which they feel a personal stake. The expressed reaction of the audience while watching the movie Uri – The Surgical Strike was reportedly exceptional. The movie is about the Indian Army’s special forces carrying out a covert operation, avenging the killing of fellow army men at their base by a terrorist group. Moreover, the year 2018 until mid 2019 was a period in the country when heightened awareness of political and military related events concerned the audience.

Movies such as Kesari and Uri, which are about historic events such as those relating to Indian soldiers in British regiments or the Uri attack, foster narratives that touch, move and provoke, engaging not only intellectually but in affective ways as well. These are fresh attempts by moviemakers to offer a cinematic experience that produces historical knowledge and appreciation.

All these movies use a variety of techniques to shock rather than to pacify the audience. There is a revolutionary impact of montage—the piecing together of the movie so as to create a jarring or shocking experience for the audience. The cinematic experience possibly leads to cognitive shifts in thoughts and ideas translating to societal and historical insights. As a result, there is also a certain character type that is emerging as a preference of the discerning audience. The characteristics of the Indian hero or heroine—his or her composure, commitment to unfettered movement towards the justifiable goals; reluctant but morally clarified use of violence—make him or her the super hero or heroine.

Inevitably the protagonist is presented as a brave, independent, considerate character and the reappearance of these qualities, movies after movies suggest how the patriotic Indian functions as a symbol of national pride.

In such movies a debate arises of whether violence is justifiable. That debate is resolved through the view that violence is justified when it is inflicted on the guilty in the name of justice. Therefore, these movies in a sense justify vigilantism.

For example, Raazi, an adaptation of Harinder Sikka’s 2008 novel Calling Sehmat, is a true account of an Indian Research and Analysis (RAW) agent who, upon her father’s request, is married into a family of military officials in Pakistan to relay information to India, prior to the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and she successfully carries out her mission at great personal risk.

Similarly, the movie Kesari depicts the valour of Havaldar Ishar Singh as a part of the Sikh Regiment of British Indian Army posted at Gulistan fort along the Indian Afghan border.

The movie follows the events leading to the Battle of Saragarhi, a battle between 21 soldiers of the 36th Sikhs of the British Indian Army and 6,000–10,000 Afridi and Orakzai Pashtun tribesmen in 1897.

These movies represent entertainment content, wherein a society sees its fantasies acted on the screen. When the society’s fantasies evolve, so do unconventional plots and visual details in movie making .The flexibility of Bollywood’s conventions ensures its adaptability for popular Indian society’s shifting concerns and interests.


Featured Post

Indie Resurgence

admin   August 29, 2019

Driven by a fresh burst of energy, a new breed of independent filmmakers are delivering films based on their own individualistic visions, erasing the gap between the socially meaningful and the commercially viable Indian cinema – By Saibal Chatterjee

Mediocrity is mainstream Indian cinema’s comfort zone. It has always been. But today, being middling is more than just an old habit for filmmakers seeking easy ways to achieve runaway commercial success. It has become a necessity. Low-grade, star-driven commercial cinema and its purveyors are being gleefully embraced by both the masses and the official agencies charged with the promotion of film culture in the country.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that an unabashedly misogynistic film like
Arjun Reddy hits the box-office bull’s eye. Its Hindi remake, Kabir Singh, made by the same director with a different actor, does even better.

Another easy-to-sell category of cinema has emerged, especially in Mumbai, over the past few years: adulatory biopics and puff jobs. These are films that are either aggressively jingoistic (Uri: The Surgical Strike, RAW: Romeo Akbar Walter) or are unabashed extended, fictionalized public service adverts (Toilet: Ek Prem Katha). Taking the line of least resistance pays instant dividends. These films not only make pots of money but also often go on to win national awards at the cost of essays that are leagues ahead in cinematic terms.

But for a new breed of independent filmmakers who are consciously pulling away from the crowd and following their own individualistic visions to deliver films aimed at erasing the gap between the socially meaningful and the commercially viable, Indian cinema today would have worn the looks of a hopeless wasteland.

Mercifully, even filmmakers working in the mainstream space – Pa. Ranjith and Vetrimaaran in Chennai and Anurag Kashyap and Anubhav Sinha in Mumbai – do not shy away from hitting political hot-buttons and questioning gender presumptions in stories couched in popular narrative formulations.

When Vetrimaaran makes Vada Chennai, he ensures that it isn’t any ordinary gangster flick. He infuses it with a social resonance that communicates truths about a city and society in ways that are beyond the reach of less clued-in filmmakers. Pretty much the same is true of Pa. Ranjith. His two Rajinikanth vehicles, Kabali and Kaala, have a strong caste struggle sub-text delivered in a style that never strays into the preachy and boring. Ranjith also recently produced Mari Selvaraj’s Pariyerum Perumal, the story of a boy from an oppressed caste struggling to ward of continuing discrimination.

Ranjith is now in the midst of directing his first Hindi-language film – a drama based on the life of tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda. The choice of hero is a natural progression for a filmmaker whose cinema has probed the place of the deprived and dispossessed in a society where power flows from religious identity and caste allegiance.

Important elements dovetailed into the plot of Anurag Kashyap’s boxing drama Mukkabaaz also reflects the political consciousness of the maker. The ills of the caste system have also been laid bare in stark detail in Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15. The film is a worthy follow-up to Sinha’s Mulk, which addressed the issue of Islamophobia head-on. We might argue that Indian films still haven’t gone far enough to call out patriarchy and the Brahmanical order. But the very fact that some films are making an attempt, no matter a feeble, is itself a sign of the changing times.

A fresh burst of energy is driving independent filmmakers not just in Tamil
Nadu and Kerala but also in Mumbai. The primary space in debutant Madhu C. Narayanan’s Malayalam film Kumbalangi Nights, scripted by Syam Puskaran, is the home of four brothers who have no woman in their lives. The siblings are all flawed, scalded individuals until women enter their lives and make them see life and love in a different light. The film is an examination of masculinity that turns the entire notion of patriarchy on its head.

Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s daringly innovative multi-plot drama Super Deluxe is a film that throws caution to the wind and yet comes with such astounding formal precision that one cannot but watch in awe and applaud. Kumararaja throws four sub-plots into a giant, constantly whirring grinder and emerges with a film so fascinating and so wondrously inventive that one is caught by surprise at every turn.

Super Deluxe subverts our expectations at every turn. A couple is thrown into turmoil following the death of the woman’s ex-boyfriend in her bed. A father of a boy returns to his family after a seven-year absence in the guise of a transwoman. A schoolboy who bunks school with his friends to watch a pornographic film flies into a rage on discovering that his mother is an adult movie actress. Four friends get into terrible tangle with the underworld in an attempt to wriggle out of a minor jam.

The fast-paced, almost breathless film delivers a dazzling kaleidoscope of an urban landscape where every single day is as strange and disconcerting as the previous one. Super Deluxe is testimony to what younger Tamil filmmakers are capable of as storytellers and craftsmen.

The new Malayalam cinema, too, is going through a wonderfully fecund phase. Three films made by Kerala directors are in two of world’s major festivals this year. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Chola (Shape of Water) premieres at the Venice Film Festival while Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu and Getu Mohandas’s Moothon are in the Toronto International Film Festival. Sasidharan’s S Durga won the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam a couple of years ago, the first Indian film to bag the prize.

Lijo is, of course, also a name to reckon with. He is in the midst of a urple patch., Before Jallikattu, he delivered two absolutely stunning films – Angamaly Diaries and Ee. Ma. Yau – both of which prove his grasp over the medium and his phenomenal ability to handle a multiplicity of actors within single uninterrupted sequences.

The first world that spring to mind when watching a Lijo film is dynamism, the kind that can be extremely infectious. It would be no exaggeration if we were to suggest that he, along with Sasidharan, are the ones who are propelling the resurgence of Malayalam cinema on the global stage. We expect more surprises as filmmakers from Kerala reclaim the place they had in international festivals in the 1980s and a part of the 1990s.