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Here’s What “India” In Bollywood Looks Like: An India Alien To Indians

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By Nihal Parashar:

I have always been amused by the way India is portrayed on the Silver screen. No, I am not talking about the India of Bimal Roy, Satyajit Ray or of Gurudutt. I am talking about the India that the filmmakers of my generation have shown me. I am talking about the India which Shahrukh portrayed, Salman praised and Aamir criticized. I am talking about India of Karan Johar and also of Anurag Kashyap. I am talking about India which Dibakar Banerjee painted in front of me. I am just curious to know if the present generation of filmmakers is truly representing the society they are a part of or are alien to the realities.

Sometime back a friend said something which has stayed with me. “A country gets the kind of cinema it deserves” or something of the same kind tweaked from a famous Political Science quote. I actually wondered if it is true, though the statement is certainly powerful. Being an ardent film lover, I do watch films from across the globe. Any film, doesn’t matter how bad, is essentially a testimony of the era it was made in. A film is the visual form of literature- and I can die for this belief! I do feel that we need to search for the nation we live in, in the films it produces. It is important because films are one of the most powerful tools in this country and play a major role in reinforcing prejudices, and at times break prejudices like nothing else. But the matter of the fact is, it is not a tool for social reform, and it should not be. Artists have a crucial role in the society, and their shoulders must not be burdened with the added responsibility of social change (which I don’t know what is!). Films are a source of entertainment and they must be loyal to that.

chennai express

It is only sad that in the name of entertainment we are shown tried and tested formula films. A genius is one who entertains in a manner which his or her predecessors have not done. But sadly this is not true for many eminent filmmakers.

If an alien (let us assume somebody from Jupiter) is asked to make a view about India by watching the mainstream Bollywood films, I am sure he/she will have a totally different perception of India- something which is alien to Indians! Recently I saw Chennai Express. I do not find it a suitable right now to share if I liked it or not. In the film there is only one Sikh character, played by Mukesh Tiwari. The first time he meets Rahul (you know who I am talking about) he greets him with a “Balle Balle”. These particular species of Sardars or Sikhs are found only in the traditional mainstream Bollywood films who greet everybody with a Balle Balle. I have not met a single Sikh who greets me with a Balle Balle. Just imagine the Alien from Jupiter meeting our PM and greeting him with a Balle Balle thinking that’s a Sikh greeting! Well this is a harmless prejudice, but there are many harmful prejudices prevalent in Bollywood as well, which we may have noticed. For instance, our filmmakers love to make the audiences laugh at every possible point. Most of the jokes they use are based on some or the other prejudice we have in our society- making fun of a particular name from a particular region, making fun of the colour of the skin from a particular region, making fun of the physical appearance of the people and also of the sexual preference. All these contribute in our laughter. It is, on a serious note, a politics of appeasing the majority population. Salman makes fun of somebody’s height in Dabangg and SRK makes fun of somebody’s name in Chennai Express, and a major section in the cinema hall gets another point to attack the “other”.

It is all business- we have been told, but more than that it is simply immature and less sensible behaviour in the business. Maybe sensible people cannot be a part of the mega business which operates in the form of cheap entertainment.

You must be to comment.
  1. Social Scribblers

    Sahi Baat Hain !!!!

  2. Raj

    You have conveniently forgotten that many movies do in fact portray social realities and harped on the ones that don’t. The audiences love the escape such fantasy movies it provides.
    The most realistic Indian movie would be 3 hours in the life of a farmer. The movie would begin with him/her waking up at dawn day at 6am, going to the toilet, bathing, eating breakfast, going to the fields to work, working in the fields. By this time it would be 9am in the movie and thus 3 hours would have passed in the theater, so time to end the movie. That’s it that’s the movie. Not the least bit interesting but hey that’s reality for you!

  3. Najeeb Ullah Gilgit GB

    very articulated and nicely portrayed the shortcomings of present day indian cinema

  4. Rajaram

    I agree that Indian cinema’s got quite a few stereotypes drastically wrong, but at the end of the day, as you said, they are harmless prejudices. We’ve grown to laugh at our jokes. As long as there’s a balance between giving and taking, and leaving all this behind in the theatre hall, I don’t see why it should be a problem. Well written though!

  5. shankar

    sad but true…….

  6. shruti kapoor

    Why stop at Bollywood, I feel Hollywood does the same in fact, theatre, too. Why is it ok to accept spoof on one thing but not the other? It’s a form of expression and if people get a laugh out of it let’s not blame the actors, filmmakers and the entire Bollywood for it. Let’s first blame us, the people who enjoy laughing at such jokes!!

    1. jayati kalra

      @shruti- Absolutely true………. movies are made to cater the needs or rather desires of the audience.

  7. jayati kalra

    The worst part is that such movies enter the 100+ crore club!

  8. Ridhi Murari

    Agreed that artists and the entertainment industry has a crucial role to play in societal understanding of roles, culture and so on. However, we should remember that it is after all the entertainment industry, its meant to entertain in ways that appeal to the masses. Even though we are the masses, the locals of a city or village form a large portion of the audience and keeping in mind what appeals to them, it becomes a tough call for those part of the industry to construct themes or stories in accordance without hurting too many sentiments in the process.

  9. bidhan chandra singh

    dear nihal
    i couldn’t go through the article but was very happy to see it. bravo keep it up
    i am proud of you.

  10. Aditi Thakker

    Let’s not forget that movies are here to entertain more than enlighten. These movies would not run successfully, become tried and tested formulas and be repeated every year, unless there was an audience for this kind of cinema. People look forward to films like Chennai Express, for those three hours of senseless laughing. Would you really want to watch a film on corruption after tackling it all day? Or about women being beaten up and the poor farmer ploughing his fields. They’re good films once in a while, but they don’t generate enough revenue. How often will you pay money to watch films that are realistic or highlight social issues?

    It is a business and it provides jobs to millions around the nation, regardless of how stupid it may be. Bollywood India maybe alien to Indians, but Indians love watching this Alien India!

    To give you an example from the movie that I’ve seen happen in reality, lets consider the scene where the bodyguard pulls the chain to stop the train at an unscheduled station. When Deepika Padukone says “Its quite common here”, she actually means it. I have experienced it on my way to Chennai too.

    1. Renu Sharma

      It really isn’t about portraying heavy things in terms of movies all the time; like corruption, or crime against women. The point is, Bollywood film makers have very little imagination. Every now and then, some movie comes up which is not about the tried and tested formula, which serves laughter, brings tears, and still a hit. For example, a movie like “Taare Zameen Par”, “3 idiots” and even SRK’s “Chak De”.

      Not all Hollywood movies are dramas based on social issues. They have all genres, and most of them try to be sensitive to things like racism and so on. In India, offending someone on the basis of their skin color, size, sexual orientation etc. is no big deal at all even in cinema. Kids not only learn from their surroundings but from movies that it is ok to poke fun at somebody with dark skin. The point is to have an imagination and at least not resort to cheap shots at making people laugh.

  11. Saumya Sahni

    I agree with you here Nihal. The same movie Chennai Express shows Deepika in a loud south Indian accent. I too have interacted with many South Indians, who are not at all loud. Harmless prejudices they might seem to be, but they certainly seem to leave impacts in a lot of minds. People in the end do get influenced by whatever is shown to them.

    1. Raj

      Deepika is a South Indian herself right?

  12. sg02

    haha.. nicely put. 🙂
    the topic that seems to have sprung up is whether movies are for purely entertainment purpose or do they bear certain social responsibilities?
    my view is that since cinema is part of media and is “visual form of literature”, and India is a free country, they have the freedom to choose what kind of movies they want to make. and that is determined by what sells. and that depends on general public taste. (which is not very good of course!) there are certain good movies no doubt, but for the most part, nihal parashar, i agree with you.

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