Is Cinema a Reflection of Society
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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