Cinema and protest: Dadasaheb, Golden Lions and FTII


By Ishan Kukreti

The Government of India has the power to make decisions, decisions it feels are right. However, one of the beauties of democracy is that it leaves a window open for the voice that disagrees to penetrate the Parliament and reach the government.

Students of FTII have been trying to reach to the authorities through this very window since the last 30 days. Appointments of Gajendra Chauhan and other four members of the faculty according to many is an act of political back-scratching done to forward the government’s saffron ideology.


The present government has been placing people with ideologies congruent to its Hindutva agenda. Censor Board, Indian Historical Research Institute and FTII are some of the examples. Though this is a common practice among State authorities, the resistance faced by NDA in doing the same says a lot about the general acceptance or non-acceptance of its ideology. 

The scope of cinema as a tool for propaganda and consent manufacturing was well established by the end of Second World War. Nazis had used it and the Soviets too reaped its benefit. Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise that the independent Indian government brought the industry under it with the creation of Bombay Board of Film Certification and the Indian Cinematograph Act, 1952.

The struggle of FTII students is the resistance of a nation refusing to be indoctrinated, to swap their history, culture and values with something they do not agree with. And as free thinking individuals and believers of freedom of expression, it is quite obvious that they have taken the lead in this movement.

Cinema and rebellion

Since its inception, cinema has been a major voice of protest; often serving as a platform for the dissident. Films of the silent era made by Dadasaheb Phalke, Sahala Shah and S.S. Vasan etc. had a strong nationalistic element attached to them.

Alam_Ara_poster,_1931Talkies (movies with sound) which started in 1931 with Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara had a similar note of criticism. Films also touched on social issues like caste,  child marriage, inter-caste marriages. The cinema of Prithviraj Chauhan, Franz Osten and Bijon Bhattacharya among others was nothing less than a sustained critique of contemporary reality and a ceaseless effort to improve it. 


Cinema in independent India

The spirit of rebellion that is an intrinsic characteristic of many artists has always worked as a check to the progression of societal development.

As a nation whose memories of oppression are just 70 years old, there are sections which have not exchanged the rebel inside them for something adulterated or watered down.

It was with this conscientious attitude that the Indian cinema created masterpieces reflecting, in great depth, the human condition of the newly independent nation. Filmmakers of the independent era like Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray, Chetan Anand have been hailed amongst some of the finest Indian filmmakers. The cinema they created deconstructed social reality to make it more personal.

Ray, who won a Golden Lion at Cannes, had said, “The only solutions that are worth anything, are those that people find themselves”.

Unsung genius Ghatak believed that cinema in a society cannot be based on a void, it has to belong, belong to man.

Their works have also been reflective of their beliefs. Most of the cinema of the time, be it Neecha Nagar (1946), Pather Panchali (1955) or Nagrik (1952) pensively ponders on the immediate issue of the then Indian polity and poverty.

Zanjeer, Albert Pinto and the angry Indian

The focus of cinema in India under Mrs. Gandhi and her “Garibi Hatao andolan”, however, shows the inseparable presence of state dictum has on the medium. Cinema moved on from the poor. Though it revolved around a general sense of poverty, the fulcrum became issues other than poverty. And gradually they become highly skeptical and sometimes openly defiant of the status quo.

Films like Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya (1983) delve into the tussle between the State and the individual, while Adoor Gopalakrishna’s Mukhamukham (1984) and Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala (1987) are introspections on the nature of the State.   

When Amitabh Bachhan shot to fame as the angry young inspector Vijay Khanna in Prakesh Mehra’s Zanjeer (1973), he was riding the wave of a highly dissatisfied nation; a nation that did not know how/whether to vent, after it had given its all to end a 300 year servitude.Satya

A cranky, hot headed Naseeruddin Shah in Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Albert Pinto ko Gussa kyu Aata hai? (1980) or an enraged Satya in Ram Gopal Verma’s Satya (1998) are characters mirroring the shrinking patience of a disgruntled nation.

Globalization, cinema and struggle

The floodgates for the creation of a consumerist society which were thrown open by the Privatization of the Indian economy had a profound impact on the cinema too. The larger than life picture that films like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), Hum Dil de Chuke Sanam (1999) generated and their appeal to NRI audiences were results of Globalization. ddlj2
However, the anger that was so palpable in the cinema earlier was not lost. Films like Kamal Hassan’s Hey Ram (2000), Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday (2004), Rakesh Omprakesh Mehra’s Rang de Basanti (2006) while looking back with nostalgia at a bygone era, made a clear and biting statement, bordering on a warning.

Now, as for the first time, a government with a different ideology has secured a majority in the Parliament. efforts are afoot to streamline the biggest propaganda machine in the nation for its own benefit.

In this round of the political chopat, the votes in the next general elections along with the future of the Indian cinema are at stake and the only ones defending the latter right now are the students.