“This is a story of desire, a desire to choose your own gender.” The line quoted above is from a movie called ‘Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish.’
The film is an insight into the daily struggles of a queer man, his relationship with the parents and the society around. The film revolves around how same-sex couples cannot adopt children in India and therefore, the protagonist chooses to undergo sex-change surgery. It educates the audience about the difficulties and dilemma faced by the LGBTQ+ community and their families respectively.
Cinema in India is very romanticised and glorified and therefore certain directors, producers and actors take this magnificent perception to another knot to bring in social change through unconventional stories. Now, cinema is the voice of voiceless, power of powerless in a society which tries to silence down the ones who go against its norm. Cinema has the power to move the hardest stone.
Through its subtle satire and sarcasm, it represents the reality of society. It invokes the deepest emotions of individuals. It is the un-sanitized and explicit portrayal of reality.
Take movies like ‘Super Deluxe’, ‘Lipstick under my Burkha’, ‘Aligarh’, ‘Ardha Satya’, ‘Jane Bhi Do Yaaro ’, ‘Peepli Live’, ‘Article 15’ that are masterpieces dealing with homosexuality, women’s sexual desire and eroticism, police brutality, politics, and marriage. They have the power to influence the masses towards a particular trend, thought and ideas in the most subtle way. They have the ability to bring in the hardest topic on the table, the conversations that are either brushed under the carpet or talked in hushed voices, weaving stories and narrating them through its cinematic marvels without any moral posturing.
These films talk on topics surrounding same-sex love, menstruation, mental health, discrimination, human trafficking, child abuse, sperm donation, impotence etc. These “woke films” break taboos around social issues, exploring lives, stories, experiences of marginalised people. They are a tool through which people can connect with themselves; these are stories that have existed in reality in the audience’s life, stories that is their own.
‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ or ‘Padman’ for example portray issues faced by women are brought in public which leads to conversation forward around women’s health issues leading to a significant change in the society.
Movies like ‘Nagarkirtan’, ‘Qissa’, ‘Moothon’, ‘Aligarh’ are stories revolving around same-sex love, normalising the concept of queerness through their natural portrayal of the character and breaking the stereotypes about how gay men are assumed to look like or behave. These movies break open the forced gender identities, sexualities and showcase how it is normal to be gay and is a real insight into the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community.
Mental Health is an issue that Indian society is not well equipped to handle. They will turn to exorcism, brush it off, poke it, make fun of it, but will not address the issue or have a one-on-one conversation over it. So a film like ‘A Death In The Gunj’ took on the responsibility and portrayed the mental health implication of toxic masculinity through the horror genre. There are other movies too covering mental health issues like depression, anxiety, panic attack, schizophrenia such as ’15 Park Avenue’, ‘Kaasav’, ‘Dear Zindagi’ and many more.
It should not be mistaken that ‘wokeness’ is a recent thing in Indian cinema. Rather it goes back before the 90s. The evergreen saga like ‘Mother India’ transcends beyond time and space. It depicts the stark reality of the socio-economic-cultural life of the people living in villages and the glorious representation of Indian woman through the character of Radha. ‘Pakeezah’ is yet another marvellous movie that focuses on prostitution as a career.
We are aware how difficult the society is for the sex workers, and hence, a movie like ‘Pakeezah’ tries to show the inside world of sex workers and their lives and tragedies in a different era from today when they were looked at very differently. It changed the mindset of people towards the profession. We all remember or are probably are a fan of the dialogue, ‘tareekh pe tareekh pe tareekh’ from ‘Damini’? It is a hard-hitting movie that that has conversations around rape, its victims and the social structures around the legality of social justice which hits viewers at the right spot on their conscience.
On the other hand, ‘Prem Rog’ touches upon the sensitive issue of widow remarriage in times when they were boycotted and widows were pushed out into a life of misery. ‘Achhut Kannya’ is a film that deals with the social position of Dalit girls and is considered a reformist period-piece. Movies like ‘Kya Kehna’, ‘Salaam Namaste’ are based on premarital sex, live-in relationships that were and still somehow a mystery for Indian society.
In India, there are countless movies made on social awareness and on breaking taboos which have been breakthrough moments for the Indian society. Cinema has played a huge role in changing the social structures of our society because of its ability to impact the minds of its audience through its visuals, seeping deep into the emotions and conscience of the viewers. Cinema is the most effective and efficient way to send a message to society.
Films like ‘Badhai Ho’, ‘Shubh Mangal Savdhan’, ‘Highway’, ‘Massan’, ‘Udaan’, ‘Manthan’ address one or the other social issue that poses a challenge in the holistic development of the society and human civilization. Though these movies face a lot of obstacles like censorships, protests or blockage through commercial movies, they overcome all these obstacles and do what they ought to do to appeal to the conscience of the audience.
I will end with a dialogue from the movie ‘Roti’ which depicts Mangal’s struggle for a piece of bread to make his living, revolving around the struggle to earn and survive in this world: “Insaan ko dil de, jism de, dimag de, lekin ye kambakht pet mat de” (Give a person a heart, brain, a body but don’t give them a stomach to fill)