BHARAT KI KHOJ
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
“Hindustan mein jab tak cinema hai ... log chutiye bante rahenge!” (In India, as long as there is cinema ... people will keep becoming fools). This dialogue from the movie Gangs of Wasseypur, in a casual yet nuanced way brings forth the close relation between the day to day living in the country and the role of cinema. The word ‘fool’ at once seems like a parody but look deeper as it emphasizes how the common man uses cinematic idiosyncrasies to shape their daily living.
Look around and one is bound to notice someone sporting a hairdo, draping a clothing style, aping a walking mannerism, and even reciting dialogues from a movie of their favourite actor in their day to day life. Each one, is living their own cinema, every day in their head – may be just to fool their immediate reality.
There is a cinema outside cinema and there is a cinema inside cinema. “Hamari filmo ki tarah, hamari zindagi mein bhi end tak sab kuch thik hi ho jaata hai ... happy's ending” (Just like our films, in our lives too everything turns out to be fine by the end… happy ending) - a dialogue from the movie Om Shanti Om is one of many dialogues across movies where cinematic references are used as a medium of narration with the audience.
The dialogue makes two indications. One, that cinema in some way serves as factor of hope (not just Hindi cinema, but any cinema across languages) for the masses of this country. A hope from the daily, and beyond the daily. Secondly, and more significantly it reflects how even the makers of cinema struggle to realise where the blur between reel and real life takes place.
Cinema has assumed different roles for itself across the years. On one hand it reflects the society and on the other hand it critiques. At the same time, it prescribes while sometimes it influences. Most times it acts as relief from the mundane, and in the same grain projects the brutality of the daily. And, at times it imitates history while leaping into the realms of fantasy.
The imprint though of embarking many roles however has left only one impression - entertainment. No matter how much the society is surrounded by cinema; it has, over the years, not been able to free itself or look beyond the negative connotation of this form of entertainment associated with movies. "Filmein sirf teen cheezo ke wajah se chalti hai ... entertainment, entertainment, entertainment!” (films do well because of 3 reasons….) is not
just a statement; it is in fact a mannerism of the country translating an art industry into mere imagery of glamour, glitz and gaudiness –an expression loudness.
Is this a biased statement? To judge, let us recollect from memory. In the initial years of each of our childhoods, participating in any form of creative art – literature, painting, music, crafts etc were all seen as encouraging signs for a child. But somehow watching cinema or encouraging one to watch cinema was either a reluctant decision or deemed unfit. Cinema was a prohibition, as if it was not art but mere indulgence. Why the prohibition? Why the bias towards a chosen art? These are questions that, as a society we never ask - for we are content to be an audience being entertained with the Friday release.
We are audience, aren’t we? Which means that we distance ourselves from cinema and discuss it only as a recipient. As an audience, therefore it gives us the right and the comfortability to point a finger at this art industry and blame them for the excess and the opulence it projects. However, do remember artists (both technical and performing) professionally produce cinema. It is the audience i.e. we the people who chose stars and make heroes out of them.We project an artist to a stature - so that it gives us an excuse to emulate them, worship them and at the same time make them liable whenever it suits us. This nature of idol worship and image driven breeding is for long been a part of our culture.
We take the artist, turn them into stars and carry with us wherever we go. In our living rooms, we discuss the alleged affair of a star, in the pub their body proportions, in the streets we create a stampede when we spot them, in their personal lives we barge as if we own them, and at times we even become the law to ensure that if even a few other criminal offences get unnoticed at least the movie star should be punished with immediate effect.
We feed on them, the media preys on them – each for personal benefits, mostly entertainment. And, in return the industry – like any other industry uses this to their advantage for monetary, publicity and corporate benefits. The star culture has seeped in so deep that we are surrounded by artists selling us day to day items including something as intimate as an innerwear! But when the going gets tough we even allow the image of the artist to assume a role of a moral figure for betterment of society.
INDIAN cinema’s first public screening dates to 1913, and the man responsible for the same - Dadasaheb Phalke demonstrated the skill of motion picture first by documenting the growth of a plant, in 1910. The cinema industry, like the plant has grown across ages in many facets. From silent movies to talkies; from black and white to color; from single screen theatres to multiplexes; from biscopewalas to drive in theaters; from two-hour feature films to short films on screen, from ticket counters to online viewing.
However, for the industry itself a noticeable shift happened somewhere around the 1950’s when production houses (studios) gave way to financers. Not that the shift marked a decline to the art of making cinema, but it bought itself a peril known as the “Box-Office” – the evaluation of art through profit and loss.
With advent of the movie industry becoming a crorepati club, for many individuals and groups to play out political agendas and social traction, the industry has now turned into a soft target. At the name of cinema not upholding the “culture and history of INDIA’, these political agents prey on the industry’s financial vulnerability to stall movie release and demand film edits. Or else how would one explain that an industry needs to pay token money to safeguard their art just because it gives opportunity to a neighbouring artist to perform in one of the largest cinema industry across the globe?
The other part of the Box-Office peril lies however more with the film makers. Often to hide the mediocrity and distasteful visuals that masks certain sections of the film industry the excuse is ‘mass appeal’. This is a mere cover up of an attempt of movies which are produced as a business model to generate income. To accept lack of creativity and capitalistic pleasures, it is only unfair that the people of the country, and their taste is targeted upon.
And what for? A democracy that have grown up equally respecting and appreciating so called ‘parallel’, ‘mainstream’ and ‘new wave cinema’ have the capability to judge good or bad cinema. It is that simple. An industry that has the most outreach beyond caste, gender, language, and geographical barriers least need to resort to blame the population to cover up its own inadequacies and pressures of performances.
For a country that makes an average of 16,000 films in a year, across 24 languages, and viewed by millions in the country and across the globe, one tends to believe that is a creation that a country should be proud of. But pride is hardly that one associates with cinema. It is merely nautanki (commotion), isn’t it? An attitude that even the government itself reflected a few months back by having the audacity to appoint a person lacking any credibility to the topmost post in the country’s most privileged film institution.
Don’t just leave it to the government, for as individuals a movie is no more than a passing affair. Friday, popcorn, watch your star, claps and the show is over. We forever want to be the audience that just views cinema for pleasure, but never as a collective society who want to take responsibility to debate, discuss and inform cinema. May be that is why we never look back, and ponder as to why in educational institutions where we study about art and artists - the art and history of cinema is not taught to us?
When we don’t have the time to ponder, how then do we find the time to gossip? We are ourselves to blame for bringing cinema at the cross roads that it stands today. No respect, least acknowledgement but only serving as an emblem for entertainment. If we cannot appreciate it, then at least let’s not mimic at its face value. For it is not going to go down too well in history, that as a society we ruined an art that took the effort to dress up a man to portray a woman’s role (105 years back) - eventually paving the path for female modesty to be accepted, and associated with the notion of acting. If one feels this effort is negligible and doesn’t need recognition, it is time to think again.
As for the ones that represent cinema, just make cinema. That is all there is to do. You are not here to educate, so do not don the responsibility, and even be burdened by it. Provoke if you wish to but do not titillate. And as a population, if we are going to blame you for consumption of alcohol, smoking a cigarette, believing that what you depict as history is the fact, teaching us eve teasing and sexual harassment and all the perils of the current society – then it is not you who needs to reconsider your art but we who need to question our perception: “Chashma utaaro phir dekho yaaro; Aadhi haqikat, aadha fasana” (Take off your glasses and then witness; half is real, and the other half is fiction)