By Prerna Grewal:
“Films do well only because of 3 reasons … entertainment, entertainment, entertainment”, says Silk Smitha (Vidya Balan) in The ‘Dirty Picture’.
Mainstream Bollywood, embroiled in the demands of entertainment and commerce, ends up providing unrealistic or delusionary representations of situations, places and people. This is also the case with the representation of academicians and academic spaces in commercially successful Bollywood movies such as ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai‘, ‘Main Hoon Na‘, ‘Student Of The Year‘ and ‘Two States‘.
Many people have fallen in love with at least two of these movies – for their songs, star cast and dream like romance. Many have also hated them for one or all of these reasons, deeming them as sentimental sap. While certain exaggerations and unrealistic elements have still been criticised, not many people have paid attention to the representation of academic institutes and academicians in these movies. And who can be blamed? It’s easy to overlook sub plots and minor characters in the face of Arjun and Aalia’s mesmerizing romance and Shah Rukh and Kajol’s on screen magic.
Amidst the melody and drama of ‘Two States‘, one is hardly likely to pay much attention to the scene where Ananya’s (Aalia Bhatt) answer to a question is dismissed by the professor as not being up to the mark. This is followed by Krish’s (Arjun Kapoor) effort to comfort her by saying that within a few years, they (Ananya and Krish) will be financially successful, while the professor will still be working in the same institution and making the same amount of money. The character of Arjun Kapoor conveniently ignores the crucial role that the institution and its teachers play by imparting knowledge to students and assisting them in the achievement of their aspirations.
In the case of the other two movies, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai‘ and ‘Main Hoon Na‘, the depiction of the college is more like a circus. Even the principals of the institutes depicted in the two movies, hardly wield any authority and often become the butt of jokes. The characters of Archana Puran Singh in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai‘ and Sushmita Sen in ‘Main Hoon Na‘ appear as highly sexualised manifestations of professors, where the focus is more upon their body rather than their professional ability.
‘Student Of The Year‘ crosses all levels of unrealistic representation of academic spaces. The entire movie is nothing more than a ‘high school musical’. It’s simply about the ostentatious display of wealth combined with petty politics of wealthy teenagers. And going even beyond the circus of ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai‘ or ‘Main Hoon Na‘, the academic space in ‘Student Of The Year‘ is more like the stage of ‘India’s Got Talent‘.
Perhaps some of these Bollywood directors and producers need to take lessons from movies like ‘3 Idiots‘ and ‘Aarakshan‘ when it comes to the representation of academicians and academic spaces. Minimal levels of exaggeration are observed in the depiction of these institutes. Apart from this, due credit is given to academicians.
From both the movies, one gets an impression that a certain amount of effort has been put into research regarding the representation of these spaces. Further, their research is critically oriented and not just limited to appropriate representation. ‘3 Idiots‘ highlights how, in the pursuit of the ultimate aim of getting a job, the essential motive behind the pursuit of education is often forgotten. Similarly ‘Aarakshan‘ provides a perspective upon the issue of reservation within the education system.
The problem lies with the overall attitude that people tend to have towards academicians, and Bollywood either supports this attitude, or is too laid back for research and analysis or indulges in hyperbolic representation for the purpose of entertainment. If one is investing so much hard work, energy and resources, they might as well invest some time in proper research. On the making of ‘3 Idiots‘ for instance, both the cast and director highlighted how the decision to stay on the campus of IIM Bangalore was “one of the best”. Not only did it help in imbibing the ‘student spirit’ but also provided them with a better sense of the academic space.
Bollywood is about entertainment. That is the crux of the industry. But because of the mass appeal and influence that this industry enjoys, it also needs to be conscious of a sense of responsibility while conveying messages, using images, portraying a certain setting or situation and so on. It is not that none of the people involved in the industry are conscious of this sense of responsibility. Some, in fact, undertake projects to highlight social or political issues and convey larger messages.