Bollywood, the land of crushed dreams and the boulevard of empty promises. Around 1,200 movies release and 5 billion tickets are sold every year, with a plethora of films with box office collection above 100 crores breaking new records every second. Yet, not one decent motion picture made on one of the burning -literally- topics of our age: climate change. I mean Bollywood, why you no worry about the environment?
Bollywood or the Hindi Film Industry, which constitutes 43% of box office collection in India, has always been famous for being out of this world and fantastical in a way none of its international competitors has. None of what is shown in Bollywood movies is real; for historically, the Indian Film Industry has relied on a false sense of escape instead of realism to survive in its ever-changing and complex Indian society. I mean, no couple is running across a sunflower field to hug each other, and no girl is waiting for a boy she met in childhood, to marry her in her prime. It just doesn’t happen.
Hollywood has slowly and steadily moved from the fantasy culture to more relatable and realistic cinema based on historical events, believable science fiction, and, most importantly, the day-to-day life of the audiences. However, Bollywood is still busy making love stories which have no logic whatsoever and no relation to the reality of our country.
One of the worst victims of Bollywood’s gross neglect of our society’s truth- other than people’s intelligence – has been the environment. Whether or not, we as a society, indulge in measures to manage climate change, and the harmful effects of global warming, we all know one reality; that we have irreversibly damaged our ecosystem in the past seven decades, in a way that our ancestors couldn’t do in close to five millennia.
Almost everyone knows that the sea levels are rising, precipitation has become scarce, and the global temperatures continue to increase by the day. We, however, conveniently ignore the naked truth to live an apparently ignorant existence. There is no surprise then, that the pop culture too, very skillfully ignores the topic of climate change, and doesn’t depict it at all on the silver screen.
Look at the history of the Hindi Film Industry, and you’ll realise that not one viable movie or documentary has been made on the harmful effects of climate change and global warming. When in the 2000s, Hollywood was making movies like The Core (2003) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004), starring top Hollywood superstars, Bollywood was stuck to its tried and tested formula of dumbed-down and no-brainer entertainment. In fact, the handful of movies that have indeed been made on climate change can be counted on one hand.
Whether it be Jal, (2013) with an impending search for water in a barren wasteland, Tum Mile (2009) with its focus on the 2005 Mumbai floods, or Kedarnath, (2018) and one of the worst floods North India has seen till date; if you dig deeper, you come upon an inescapable truth. Even when a Bollywood movie has elements of climate change and its drastic effects on nature, like floods and droughts, the primary focus is always on another plotline, which more often than not, is a love story. I mean, what is up with Bollywood and love stories.
One movie that I thought managed to focus very well on global warming and its harmful effects on agriculture, was Kadvi Hawa (2017). Starring Sanjay Mishra and Ranvir Shorey, the movie revolves around a farmer, his son, and many other stakeholders collide against a backdrop of droughts and resultant farmer suicides. But again, since it was not a big banner or big-budget movie, it failed to live up to the commercial success parameters studios, like Yashraj and Dharma have become used to. Result? Even though it was appreciated critically, it didn’t reach a large audience to make the impact that it should’ve or could’ve.
In fact, one constant argument that is made against movies made on social issues is that they don’t have any future, and can’t make the money that Bollywood mainstream movies churn out. However, we all know that even if that might have been the case in the past, it is no longer valid in this day and age. Movies such as Toilet (2017), Airlift (2016), and Padman (2018) are the proof that Indian audiences are slowly starting to appreciate realistic cinema and issues that they can relate to.
Moreover, I would like to make a counter-argument. Climate change, and its adverse effects, that continue to dwindle the agricultural output, as well as the living conditions of our country, are clear as day to almost every citizen right now. Every day we come across news of farmers committing suicide because of crop failure and the changing weather patterns all across the country. I ask the big studios of Bollywood: Isn’t this a relatable issue? Isn’t this something that the entertainment industry should invest in?
When did the motion picture industry become only a moneymaking venture? Where did the days go when an artist wanted nothing but the audiences how the world looks from their dazzled eyes. We stand witness to the horrors that humans, animals, and nature have to undergo every day due to the damage we have done to our surroundings. What about them? Don’t they deserve their time on the infamous silver screen?
In fact, the thick smog of negligence and nature’s plight has gradually moved from the rural areas to the cities we live peacefully in. A few days ago, Delhi had to face yet another air pollution emergency following Diwali. Hell, make a movie on that. Or is that not relevant?
I started my journalism career as a movie critic. So, I more than understand that in India, movies have always been a means to escape the monotonous and problematic life of a developing country and catch three hours of respite. However, times are changing, and it is imperative that we change with it. Global Warming is no longer a ghost story mothers use to scare their children to sleep. Climate change is here and now.
Temperatures are climbing by the day, and sea levels are rising by the hour. Every year crops fail in one more state of India, and yet more farmers end their lives in fear of retribution of banks. One more child sees his father hang, and cries himself to sleep every night. And one more square meter area of our beautiful country becomes clouded by smog. If not for yourself, do it for your child’s health.
Dumb or dumber, we can’t deny the fact that Bollywood and its equivalent facets in other parts of the country are trendsetters. What they show on screen is what society follows and believes. Behind a small line of seemingly intelligent people, there are hordes of people who worship the actors and actresses as living gods, and goddesses. A movie made on the right topic can hit the issue in the heart and make sure that people understand the gravity of the situation.
The human mind is a fickle thing, and it doesn’t work on fear. To make people more aware, and most importantly, more effortful and involved in the effort to reverse climate change, we have to indulge them in a personal way. We have to show the audience what happens when a farmer loses his crop. What happens when the climbing temperatures force people to change their homes and uproot their lives. Show them how mother earth has done nothing except giving us food, water, and shelter all its life and in return, has received only suffering.
And what better way to package all these dreadful and eye-opening scenes than cinema. If mainstream movies and big actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan actively use their stature in society to make people more aware, it’ll go a long way. When asked about climate change, the responses of our Bollywood stars go all the way from utter ignorance to asking what they can do about it. You can do a lot if you try, buddy.
Let me give an example in case you think I’m speaking in unrealistic terms. A short documentary called Shores of Silence made in 2000 touched on the needless and brutal killing of whale sharks by poor Indian communities. It not only received several critical acclaims and awards but also managed to bring about major legislative changes to protect whale sharks worldwide.
Think about it. If a 24-minute documentary can bring about such a huge impact politically and socially, what can a mainstream Bollywood movie with a big budget do for our mother nature?