Witnessing : A not so typical Bollywood

Bollywood seems to be leaving its escapist mode. It has started asserting itself. Some of them, especially Amir Khan has developed the habit of throwing the bomb into national conscience. Lagan perhaps was historical, but it has its way of asserting Indianness by defeating its colonial masters. Tare Jameen Par and Three Idiots touched the nerve of the nation. Both of the movies has to do something with education.  Tare Jameen Par was set around primary education and over ambitious parents while Three Idiots was about higher education and again, about parents ambitions. He became some sort of ‘educational celebrity‘ in recent past. Hilary Clinton shared the platform while she was on India visit to speak on ‘education’. Even Indian government went on to award this actor Padma Bhushan (one of the India highest award given to her citizen).

Not everyone was pleased with suddenly changed attitude of Bollywood. M. K. Raghavendra, writing in a very prominent Indian Weekly, Economic and Political Weekly has some very valid concern about this change. Pointing out the geographical nonsense in this film, he says, ‘shows the protagonists driving from Manali to Leh as easily as one might from Church­ gate to Chowpatty, perhaps taking its n­otion of the Manali-Leh highway from an auto­ mobile advertisement.’ Raghavendra is also skeptical of the social concern this movie seem to portray. ‘If 3 Idiots‘ he continues, ‘is a film with a social concern’ then it can be ‘criticised for not being adequately concerned with the actual circumstances.‘ and if it is a ‘“fantasy”, then it shows itself incapable of imagining existence in a far-flung corner – except as extensions of upper class city life.’. The most prominent point he makes which could well be a hallmark of our middle class is that while the movie describe ‘Dog eat dog” and “rat race” are disparag­ing terms for market-induced competitive­ness’ but at the same time this ‘films show little faith in the possibility of bypassing market in any circumstance. In the end of this movie, Rancho’s ‘affinity to the poor children of Ladakh, the former servant’s boy Phunsukh Wangdu (Rancho full name) can only be judged on the basis of his American patents’.

In addition, he argues that ‘the Mumbai film factory has transformed itself from an escapist to a more insidious entity, and the State now conspicuously approves of its “messages”.’ He says that ‘The film 3 Idiots proposes that children of household employees can become inventors without being able to imagine the journey from their origins.’ That it does not take any consideration whatsoever what was ‘the level of primary education made available to children of such a class’. Getting more political in the concluding part of his commentary, he laments, “This mirrors the disproportionate attention given to higher education by the government, which regards the public increasingly as a clientèle, segments of which can be served “viably”.’

Nonetheless, This movie is widely acclaimed by middle class. Harsh Mander, writing in The Hindu saw it as the sign of returning of the real people on the screen. He finds this movie ‘a cinema that is original and thoughtful but never  didactic, entertaining but never mindless, subversive but never cynical.’ I see some more inconsistency in this movie, while the movie seem to conclude that all the pressure on the ‘three idiots’ was from their parents, after spending two years in IIT Bombay, I really do not think that student of this institute (or of any Indian Institute) choose their career because their parents ask them them for it. Parents pressure is almost nil on them, however they are much more prone to peer pressure and seems to grade their jobs with respect to pay packages (quite a reasonable measure, if you ask me). I do not think I’ve met anyone who have chosen a career otherwise though there were NGO’s which were able to get some candidates.

I have some sort of respect for Bollywood because of its services to my native language, Hindi. Without Bollywood, Hindi could have been on a totally different path. It is still a evolving language, and Bollywood played a key role in standardizing its dialect. Hindi cinema has tremendous influence on the masses. Its impact was first felt by myself after the release of ‘Lage Raho Munna Bhai’. The thing it did to Gandhi philosophy in three hours, hundreds of thousands pages of writing couldn’t do. Never mind the way it was presented. Starting from this movie, we have seen a new genre in Bollywood in which as Harsh Mander said ‘a cinema that is original and thoughtful but never  didactic, entertaining but never mindless, subversive but never cynical.’

 Not long ago, India’s and world’s ace film director, Satyajeet Ray did not like Hindi cinema for obvious reason of it’s shallowness. Recently, we have seen some wonderful pieces, Rocket Singh, Delhi 6, Garam Hawa, Billu Barbar, Paa, Welcome to Sajanpur, …. But the most important movie which came out in this decade from Bollywood is Peepli Live. I am certainly biased, I am farmer by birth so would like to see ourselves on silver screen. On village life, Satyajit Ray gave his last words and this still considered the final words on the villages. Since then there was virtually nothing about villages in the movies. We had sprinkles like Welcome to Sajjanpur but they were stories of some people. This movie touches a much more wider issue. Movies like Swadesh was not a real portrait of a Village. Village were set in a way to boost the image of its main actor, just like all of his movies. In every movie, he is anyone but Shahrukh Khan.

In India, you can find the sympathizer of farmers at every nook and cranny of this nation, in any class, at any time. Not because they do care about them, just because it is fashionable to talk in good term about farmers – for certain historical and political reasons. Just like you can not find people attacking Indian secularism in public or talking negatively about women participation in public domain. Practices may be different but the lip services must be made at the same time. Just like we do condemn corruption in public very profoundly but show little or no hesitation for their company, and most of us even take pride in ours hobnobbing with them. How could you explain they get away every time even after being exposed in media. We simply do not see as a issue at which we should loose our mind and take the streets. In India, hardly anyone cares how you made your fortune. Once you are successful, everyone is like your bitch, but if you’ve failed, you are your own. Just like these farmers.

Farmer suicide is a very new phenomenon in the documented history of this country. Its not like that they have suddenly become poor so they’ve started committing suicide. They have been poor all along throughout the history and worst time was on and before independence. Even that time they did not commit suicides. They hardly have anything to eat, no shelter, and a little hope of future at the time of independence. Most of them were migrant from Pakistan or uprooted from their place in communal riots. Then why suddenly they have started taking their lives, that too when one part of India is growing leaps and bounds. Its not the public policy that make us committing suicides (a good many keep us poor by the way). Media love to point fingers at government. At best, government can keep us poor but can not force us to commit suicide. It is the media – the prostitute of the middle class – which tell us that we are the looser. You do own not a car, yours children can not speak English hence they have no future. Farmers here, introduced themselves apologetically. Government plays its part of not fulfilling its promise of free elementary education so that at least we don’t go on to compete in open. They’ve already killed public distribution system and health care.
Doordarshan which was our darling was destryoed by elites under middle class pressure. It did cared about us and showed us the program which were about us. Seeing ourselves sure made us feel significant. Then there were movies glorifying us championed by Manoj Kumar. These days you try to glorify a farmer and you can turn yourself into a laughing stock. Beautiful people of this nation only wants to see beautiful people on the screen so they keep citing the TRP of DD in cities as an excuse to kill it. Prasar Bharati does not have very strong backbone. It is as strong as government want it to be. Government in turn, can easily be influenced by media. There are few half naked ladies dancing on DD these days as middle class wants it to be shown but have no agricuture program for farmers. Even the common man on the DD is no more a farmer, it lives in some city or at least in some big town. Is it neccessary that you decide what we like to watch just because you have the power to do that? Watching your kind of M.Tv. stuff is surely tempting, who does not want to take drugs twice if once given for free!

This movie may be able to rope in larger number of middle class people in to the debate. Once a poor man gets the voice, he can not remain poor. It’s the voiceless, like tribals, who remains poor even though they live on the richest land. Although I am very doubtful, since it is only a part of fashion in India to show sympathy for poors. Come on, there is a super rich person in Mumabi who have the gall to build perhaps the costliest home where 40% people live in the slums. As Ramachadra Guha points out that a Scothish who was the chairman of Unilever found this disturbing while a Indian friend of him found this fella as Calvinist.  By the way, Have you heard of any Indian Rockerfella (Leave Banglorian or Malyalies)? 

Dilawar

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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