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Does Indian Cinema Shape Our Popular Culture Or Merely Reflects It?

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By Akshay Mishra:

Give me some sunshine, Give me some rain
Give me another chance, I want to live up once again…

This was a very popular line on the lips of all students who came out after watching ‘Three Idiots’. This movie is a mega hit of recent times and the reason is that the characters portrayed the life of Indian students and the problems they face in the current educational system. Though there was a million dollar message, the ‘factory-system’ of education continues to thrive. This gives an insight into the role of India cinema.

From the times of first movie ‘Raja Harishchandra’ to Sholay, Deewar to Three Idiots, Dirty Picture, Indian cinema has undergone a paradigm shift. At each stage it has represented the pertinent values and lifestyle of society. The influence of mythology, epics was predominant in earliest pre-independence films. It was followed by influence of Gandhian and Nehruvian ethics in movies like Mother India,’Do Bigha Zameen’ etc. and further later in film ‘Deewar’ the crumbling of Nehruvian ideology is evident as money takes over values of honesty and integrity. During 1970s, 80s the villains in movies were mostly zamindars and industrialists who exploited small farmers and labourers. Prem Chopra in ‘Kaala Pathar’, Amrish Puri in ‘Aaj Ka Arjun’ are few such examples inter se. This was also the case in real lives where a mammoth portion of society was under poverty line. This led to glorification of poverty on screen where poor often fought for their rights and won. The influence of socialistic thinking was clear. In the post- liberalization era, Indian cinema reflected the western ideas that gained acceptance in Indian society. A large number of Indian families migrated to other nations and this is shown in movies centred on Indian families living abroad like ‘Dilwaale Dulhania Le Jayenge’. Now we can see industrialists as heroes in movies like Guru, Ghajni which represents changing attitude of society towards capitalism.

Youth forms the major audience of cinema. The influence of cinema on their lifestyle, the music they listen to, their dressing sense, eating habits is evident. But the effective reach of cinema is limited to urban areas. The rural population and the elder population remains unaware of most of the developments in the world of cinema. Most importantly Indian cinema is not only Bollywood but also movies made in other vernacular languages such as Bangla, Bhojpuri, Tamil, Telugu, Odia, Malayam etc. The movies in these languages essentially have a regional tinge and often are unable to draw national audience due to which intermingling of regional cultures is a distant dream. Many National Award winning movies like Antardwand are made in these languages but these movies try to represent an existing problem or issue of immense concern rather than shaping popular culture.

The commercial movies on the other hand are just for entertainment. The shaping of popular culture, however, involves an influence on multiple facets of society such as its language, literature, music, art, beliefs etc. In addition to this, the popular culture is a result of ongoing developments in a society and its interaction with other societies over a long period of time. Nevertheless, the influence of Indian cinema on popular culture cannot be denied in too. All over India people dance to Bollywood beats in marriages and parties. Bollywood to a certain limited extent has exposed different communities to each other’s culture. The result is some people doing Bhangra in South India and numerous people singing ‘Why this kolaveri di?’ in North India. So, it would not be wrong to conclude that Indian cinema is not a prism but only a mirror which mostly reflects what is happening in society and only marginally modifies or influences the popular culture.

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  1. Karmanye

    It would be wrong to suggest that Bollywood has no reach in rural areas. Overall, I quite liked the piece, especially the first two paragraphs. Subsequently, when you delved into regional cinema, you should have elucidated the trends in the same too, for that reference to be meaningful. Just constructive criticism. Made an interesting read!

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