Saturday February 16, 2019

Cinema and protest: Dadasaheb, Golden Lions and FTII

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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.

Saffronisation

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.

Next Story

Actor Anupam Kher Says That Cinema And Politics Cannot Be Separated

"The Accidental Prime Minister" is slated to release on January 11

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National Award winning actor Anupam Kher, who essays the character of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in “The Accidental Prime Minister”, says cinema and politics cannot be separated since one reflects the other.

The film, even before its release, has grabbed a lot of eyeballs and faced criticism for the projection of its central character and for being timed to hit the screens before the 2019 general elections.

Anupam told IANS: “Look, when the audience is going to the theatre to watch a film, they are regular cine-goers and movie lovers. They are not entering the hall as a voter.

“But yes, when they come out, the film might linger in their mind. But then, cinema and politics cannot be separated, because they are a reflection of each other.”

The actor further said: “A filmmaker or an artiste really cannot figure out why people are voting for a political party. Some voters are loyalists; some are making a list of good and bad to choose a party and the government. How much can a film could contribute to that?

“Having said that, I personally believe that when people go to vote for choosing a government, they do not decide anything based on the impact of a film.”

The movie is based on an eponymous book which was released during the 2014 elections when the political transformation happened and the nation voted the Bharatiya Janata Party government over the Congress-led UPA government.

Does the film intend to influence the voters to form an opinion on the Congress party by showing Singh in a critical light?

“It is ridiculous to say that people choose a political party and a change happened in the government because of Sanjay Baru’s book! Similarly, it would be silly to say that this film will change the result of the election this year,” replied the 63-year-old actor.

Anupam Kher
Cinema, politics can’t be separated: Anupam Kher, flickr

Directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte, the film also features Akshaye Khanna, Aahana Kumra and Arjun Mathur.

The book gives an insight of the Prime Minister Office (PMO) as well as the personal journey of Singh. And the film’s trailer gives a glimpse how the narrative will emphasise on the contradiction and difference of opinion between the PM and the Congress Party, especially its then president Sonia Gandhi.

In fact, such elements in the book also received some criticism in 2014.

Asked if highlighting on the conflict between the former PM and Congress party president is the core content of the film, Anupam said: “No, no, the story is a very humane tale of a man, who was born into a middle-class family and with his merit, he excelled and became a Prime Minister.

“He is a man with all heart, a true patriot, well read, humble man who went through a huge struggle and felt vulnerable as a Prime Minister of the country.”

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Commenting on the party president and PM conflict, the actor added: “It was never a secret. It was rather an open secret that has come out. It was there in the book as well!

“Everyone knew that he was chosen to become a Prime Minister by the Congress party and he was the least expected candidate. Our film is shown from the point of view of a media advisor in the PMO.

“It would be appreciated if audiences watch the film, as a story.”

“The Accidental Prime Minister” is slated to release on January 11. (IANS)