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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bollywood: Miles away from Bharat

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India is a land of great diversities. In his book ‘India After Gandhi’, Ramcharan Guha describes “Hindi cinema to be great unifier.  We are divided along caste, class, language, language and gender. Attempts to make Hindi a national language failed. It is Bollywood that has made Hindi language more comprehensible across India. It has given icons that are revered across the country in the same breadth“. The only other thing that unites India like anything (that comes to my mind) is Sports and more precisely Cricket. With Cricket and Bollywood, I really find it difficult to believe that India could have remained united with such a diverse culture.

Films can play an important role in the society as they reflect on present issues. In a poor country where vast numbers of people are still illiterate, movies are much more effective medium to shape public opinion than books. Hindi movies have always played an important role in nation building. Bollywood played a vital role during the Independence struggle as it evoked patriotic emotions. Post-independence several movies about inter-caste marriages, north-south marriages and also Hindu-Muslim marriages have been made aimed at promoting India’s unity. The legendary 1957 movie ‘Mother India’ talked about struggle of a widow, the exploitation of the farmer at the hands of the moneylender.

But that has been Bollywood of the past. Bollywood today does not cater to the audience in rural areas. Bombay (Is Raj Thakerey reading :P )-Pune  circle contributes around 40% of the revenues. Today’s movies are targeted at Multiplex audience and Audience abroad. Today’s producers and directors like to copy Hollywood stories, use Foreign Locations, and depict the lives of NRI’s or rich in India (of course that represents the aspirations of a small section of Indians). Quite often producers are enticed by Western Countries to shoot in their countries. (This is because Hindi movies are an ideal platform to showcase their countries to the potential tourists from India.)

Looking back at the Bollywood hits in the last 10-15 years, I really find it hard to recall many mainstream movies that were based on a story of rural India in today’s context and depicted the issues of rural India. Only movie that comes to my mind is Swadesh. But even Swadesh didn’t really cover all issues that plague our rural society. It basically talked about poor infrastructure and illiteracy. Caste issues were touched but not much. It did not touch issues such as farmer suicides. Nevertheless, it was brave attempt. It was more centered on evoking nationalistic feelings and called upon the intelligentsia to stay in India and to contribute in nation building.

While the movies in the earlier year’s depicted common man and his problems like dacoits in villages or role of money lenders. Gradually these dacoits were replaced by Smuggler. Today’s villains are Underworld gangsters and terrorists. This is more of an urban phenomenon and urban issues. Unfortunately, no bollywood mainstream movie has depicted the problem of farmer suicides.

While movies on Kashmir are regarded as glamorous, there are hardly any movies on the North-East. There is absolutely no wonder that these region are troubled and yet to be fully integrated with the India mainstream (in real sense). 

While the Prime Minister of India might argue that Naxalism is the biggest threat to India, Bollywood doesn’t seem to be interested in the issue.  There have been several Bollywood movies on Pakistan, Terrorism, and even about Gay and Lesbian relationships but no mainstream movie has been made either on Naxalism or Farmer Suicides.

It would be incorrect to say that Bollywood does not make any movies with social messagea. Some of the recent movies that come to mind are – Lage Raho Munnabhai, Swadesh, Firaaq, Baabul, etc. But by and large, such movies are rare, and mostly take up issues that more relevant to Urban India, and not to the rural Bharat. Even Baabul, a story on widow remarriage, was actually a story set in an Upper Class Family. The upper class and even middle class to large extent are much more open minded. It would have been better if the producer could make a similar movie based on a rural setting.

Two of the upcoming movies – My Name is Khan and Total Ten. While the first one is about a Muslim man’s struggle in America post 9/11, the second one is about 26/11 Mumbai Attacks. Both the issues are primarily urban.

Naxalites often claim that there is a growing inequality in our society. Unfortunately our movies only tend to depict the opposite. It showcases only the riches, lives of NRI’s, grand marriages. Movies like Hum Apke Hain Kaun were purely urban stories. The only poor people shown in the movie were servants. Even Slumdog (which was an Indian story by Indian author, involved Indian Actors, Technicians and Musicians) was actually produced by a foreigner.

If Hollywood can successfully movies like Kiterunner (depicting problems of Afghanistan) ,Blood Diamond (Africa), Hotel Rwanda, etc depicting problems of all around the world, why can’t Bollywood do the same on the problems of our own country. All the above mentioned movies were big hits.

Over the last 10-15 years, Indians have been bombarded with this false sense of prosperity and now there is feeling that is creeping, particularly among the urban, metropolitan youth that India is much better off that it actually is. They are often surprised how HDI rank of India is even poorer than Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.

Bollywood cannot remain oblivious to its environment. It’s difficult to think of any suggestions or solutions. Movies on patriotism are often made tax-free. Even Lage Raho was made tax-free as it was based on principals of Gandhi – the father of the nation. But movies on Naxalism, North-East and other Social Issues like caste, dowry,etc should also be made tax-free. This is can make such movies commercially viable. Likewise, the govt. can tax movies that particularly and clearly made for the classes – movies that are ostensibly made for audience abroad and show far too much prosperity.

While the first step is rather easy, the second is difficult to implement. While it is difficult to convince producers (often driven by commercial interests) to make movies on these subjects, attempt can be made to promote art movies. Art movies are often much closer to reality. One such move can be to fix a mandatory period of say 2 weeks during which all cinema halls across the country (including multiplexes) can show only movies that won the national awards in any category. Few Indians would know that every year, Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration is given away. Some of the Bollywood movies like Mr and Mrs Iyer, Bombay, Roja have also won it in the past.This can be a huge promotion for regional cinema as well help in integrating India.

Indians need to be constantly reminded that there is Bharat that has been left far behind India.


  1. Hi Sandeep,

    Thank you for bringing light to this important fact in the face of an increasingly pop-culturized Bollywood. I really appreciate your views and have such complex perspectives myself being an NRI, music and film manager, and Indian Olympian. I would love to continue this conversation further with you; it is something that is important to bringing the joy of language and culture to all parts of India. Please get in touch with me at your convenience.

    Ankur Poseria

    Executive Producer, Third Estate Media

    VP Marketing, Renaissance Artist Management

    Seminar Coordinator, Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles

    Indian Olympic Swimmer, 2008 Beijing Games

  2. Hi Sandeep,
    A very interesting observation indeed! 'Larger than life' sure is the buzz word in bollywood!
    I totally agree with the fact that a majority of Indians live with the sense of false prosperity. the Gap is increasing with every passing moment. I believe, Prosperity should be achieved optimistically with an eye on reality.
    Where to vote it for on indiblogger?

    P.S- Not to forget Ekta kapoor soaps! ;)
    Everyday a protagonist talks of some 500-600 crore rupees over the phone and by the end of the day he has had clinched the deal!

  3. @Azad
    Thanks for appreciation. You may vote using the Indivine feature of Indiblogger.

    Sure, u can interact me on my email id.

  4. This is a great post. I honestly hate Bollywood and find it to be a huge mockery of Indian culture and society. Many of my American friends often ask me if there are actually any GOOD Hindi films and when I tell them there is, they don't believe me!

    Anyway, you forgot to include LAGAAN as one of the very few mainstream Bollywood films in the past 10-15 years to touch upon caste issues (along with racism).

  5. Hi Sandip

    There will be a film about farmer suicides hitting the screen very soon,

    it will be something very new

    look forward to it


  6. @ Sound Designer
    I am not sure whether the movie that u r talking abt wud b a mainstream movie. A mainstream movie means big stars and huge promotions and thus the movie wud b released in multiplexes. I think it will be another of those art movies.

    Lagaan is a period movie and thats why I did not include it. Swadesh is an example of a mainstream movie that did touch upon caste issue even though it was only a little.

  7. I think it's not only in Indian cinema that this 'larger than life' theme is happening. In Hollywood, it's giant robots and comic-book superheroes. In Thailand, it's ghost stories. In Indonesia, it's fairy tales and legends brought to life. In Hong Kong, it's triad wars and kung fu fights. In the UK, it's their fascination with the glorious past and their monarchy.

    In this modern time of recession and a depressingly violent world, with everyone increasingly experiencing all sorts of difficulties in their real lives, most times the only reason why the audience comes to the movie theaters is to forget.. or to feel emotions that elude them in their cold relationships. That's why the kind of escapism cinema you're talking about gets the most budget and often reach BO position. I think for a cinema that depicts the depressing reality.. it must also give hope and portrays how an everyday man can be an everyday hero.

    That kind of stories are very hard to find. And I doubt that the modern cynical man will be able to swallow it in large doses & for very long.

  8. @Ami
    Welcome to the blog and thanks for bringing a fresh perspective.

    I agree that Cinema is a mode of entertainment it helps people forget their difficulties and enjoy. But u cannot afford to escape reality all the time particularly in a country like India where disparities are growing. Larger than life cinema tries to portray that all is well.

    Particularly the younger generation in India remains oblivious to the problems in rural India. I have given example of several movies like Slumdog, Blood Diamond, Kiterunner, etc which have portrayed reality and still made money.

  9. Hollywood is still by far better than Bollywood. Hollywood will still produce and greenlight gritty films-- and you'll see lots of racial diversity in Hollywood. Some of Hollywood's biggest stars are BLACK... while Bollywood producers are only interested in luxury porn and white-skinned Indians!

    I have shared your blog post with my friends on myspace, I hope you don't mind.

  10. I agree with "Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist!" Not to forget the controversy that raised during the Ms.Bollywood IPL South Africa.

  11. @Deaf Indian
    I dont mind at all.