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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 32, August 5, 2023

Book Excerpt: Hindi Cinema and Society | Bharat Dogra and Madhu Dogra

Saturday 5 August 2023, by Bharat Dogra, Madhu Dogra


[This is a slightly edited version of an extract from the recently published book Hindi Cinema and Society written by Bharat Dogra and Madhu Dogra (published by Saptarishi, pages 234, Paperback) ]

Hindi cinema has an overwhelming presence in Indian society. Whether it is a young man humming a romantic song constantly, or a girl trying to dress up like her favorite film star, these are only the more obvious signs of the presence of popular films in our life. Much more important are the many important ways in which films impact several important social trends in society, intentionally or unintentionally, visibly or implicitly.

When an important filmmaker like Hrishikesh Mukherjee raises a strong voice against the rampant corruption and decline of ethical values in a film like Satyakam, this of course influences sensitive minds in important ways. However in a different film like Anand the same film-maker simply tells a great story in a great way, without really trying to convey any special message, yet the film is so well-made that it enhances the sensitivity of viewers in very important ways and hence contributes to creating a better world. Over 50 years after this film was made, it still continues to contribute with its abiding impact.

Some viewers may see Bimal Roy’s Bandini as simply a great story of immortal love, but there will be other viewers, more conscious of human rights issues, who will never forget the images and songs of women prisoners in this film. There is much fun in a film like 3 Idiots, but the more discerning viewers will no doubt also reflect on its message of reforming higher education.

Similarly while a film like PK is attractive for its romance, songs and superb acting, many viewers will find in the film a lot of thoughts on how to distinguish real spirituality from hypocrisy that is being inflicted quite frequently these days in the name of spirituality.

Quite apart from the contribution of specific films, what is perhaps even more important from a social point of view is the overall impact of the imaginary film world which most of the masala films create. There may be attempts with varying degree of success to make the routine commercial films appear more realistic and authentic, and yet in many ways the filmi duniya they create may be far from real life. However because of the important presence of these films in society and their association with big film stars who have millions and millions of fans and followers, even very unrealistic film situations which are seen again and again for their entertainment value have a very real impact on society.

This can be for good or bad, or in ways that cannot be easily categorized as good or bad. However the possibility of adverse social impacts instead of being brushed aside should be considered in rational and evidence-based ways. Unless there is such consideration, how can we move forward to reduce the possibilities of adverse impacts? Some of the adverse impacts may be unintentional, but from the perspective of social good, these cannot be ignored just because of this. The focus should not be so much on condemning or criticizing anyone, but more on identifying adverse impacts so that efforts to minimize these can be initiated.

Take the character of Gabbar created in that smash hit film Sholay. This became almost a household word in India following the huge box-office success of the film. This is a strange case of an exceptionally cruel and sadistic character being somehow made attractive for imitation by clever use of dialogue and style. The actor, dialogue writers, film-makers are professionally very capable persons and do not have any intention of harming society; they are merely pursuing the objective of attracting more viewers to their film. Yet by not being very conscious towards the possibility of harm, and ironically because they are so skilled in a narrow professional sense, they have ended up making a very cruel and sadistic character also a very attractive character for many people, a character whose voice, style and dialogue are repeatedly imitated by a large number of people. This is clearly harmful for society, as this leads to celebration of someone recognized as cruel and sadistic. This is serious social harm that is caused unintentionally but should not be ignored.

While there are many good books by very competent writers on the many-sided, very colorful journey of Hindi films, nevertheless a need has been felt for a book on Hindi cinema which is written more from the perspective of its social impact. In our just published book ‘Hindi Cinema and Society’ (Saptarishi, Delhi, 234 pages) we have tried to fill this gap. As some of the related issues have been studied in greater detail abroad but are also relevant in the context of this subject, we have not hesitated to refer to some of these studies as well, particularly in the section where impact of depiction of violence and crime in cinema is discussed. In many studies impact of cinema, TV and videos is considered together, realistically so as it is not possible to draw a wall when overall impact is being studied. This book has also looked at this combined impact in some chapters.

There is increasing concern relating to understanding the impact of cinema, TV and videos on issues like violence against women and on several problems experienced by children, and we have tried to make this book helpful in this context too.

In the middle of such concerns, we have tried to remain close to one of our basic aims of highlighting several outstanding Hindi films and the work of some of the greatest filmmakers. About 100 such films are mentioned in this book with small notes on each one of them. Great songs have been generally an integral part of such films and this book has an entire section on Hindi film songs and their important social role.

Hence we hope that this book will fulfill an important need of a book on many-sided social impacts of Hindi cinema and at the same time also delight readers with a journey down memory lane of many remarkable and outstanding films as well as many melodious and unforgettable songs.

(Authors: Bharat Dogra and Madhu Dogra have worked together on issues relating to community libraries and cinema)

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