Long ago someone told me that real life never inspires Hindi cinema beyond a point and more so for Bollywood. This sweeping statement germinated from the thought that unlike Vietnam inspiring American filmmakers across generations, the Indian military operations of Sri Lanka or Maldives never roused our artists. I tried arguing but in the end the evidence was so overwhelming that I had to agree. A few decades ago filmmakers like Manoj Kumar would come up with stories that were inspired by reality and those tales ironically enough ended up inspiring millions in real life. How come filmmakers today aren't interested in what's happening around them?
There have been films like Sehar and Peepli [Live] that took a deep look at the political pulse of times but there's no denying that the number of standout political films has shrunk consistently. Barring a handful most of the films that try to tread this path aren't interested beyond the headlines. It might have been years since Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005) and decades since Garam Hawa (1973) but in spite of a more colorful social scenario today, it's rather sad that the plausibility of a good, and gritty political film from Bollywood is a near improbability. Rumored of being based on Indira Gandhi's life was enough for the government to ensure that Gulzar's Aandhi (1975) never got a full release. They even banned the film during the Emergency and it was only after the Janata Government came to power that this classic saw an all India release. A few years later all the negatives of a light veiled satire by the name of Kissa Kursi Ka (1977) were destroyed. Why? Of course, the film poked fun at the functioning of the government but the fact that it was made by a Janata Party MP called Amrit Nahata was enough for the government to act. In spite of all the atrocities attributed to him during the dark years of the Emergency this was the only case for which Sanjay Gandhi was ever arrested.
One common error in the judgment of current filmmakers towards the genre of political films is that they often mistake resolution for solution. Like every other story they habitually end up looking for answers that the viewer can take back. Political films are or must be seen in a light unlike any other genre. The idea behind a good political film isn't to filter the viewer's response into something the filmmaker believes in; on the contrary a political film works best when it doesn't spell everything out. The recent spate of political films such as Gangajal (2003), Raajneeti (2010) and Aarakshan (2011) made by a seemingly socially conscious filmmaker like Prakash Jha is exactly what ails the genre. These films might deal with larger than life issues but they aren't larger than life and yet each one of them looks bigger in scale than the previous. These are films that dwell on the socio-political ills of our nation and barring the films no one is fooled into believing that the solution will unfold as the film progresses. Each political film right from Garam Hawa to Peepli [Live] is inspired by the bigger issue but it's the micro that they choose to focus on and more importantly they never claim that the manner in which the characters' dilemma was resolved must be replicated on a nation wide level.
Real life is physical, tangible and makes you want to be angry. Look around and you'd notice how bad things are. Yet, there is no Manoj Kumar and Roti Kapda Aur Makaan's (1974) Mehangai Maar Gayi, an unplanned anti-government anthem, which came at a time when inflation was 22% and scared the daylights out of the then Congress government. In 2009 Naxalites were active in ten Indian states and the only thing Bollywood could come up with was Red Alert (2010), which might have lacked all the subtlety it could have used but provided an extremely sugar coated solution to the whole upheaval. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) suffered 1200 casualties in Sri Lanka and yet there's not a single film or even a song that is inspired by this sacrifice. In spite of their best interests most filmmakers end up alienating themselves. The more films a filmmaker makes, the further he/ she gets from reality. In the last decade barring Dibankar Banerjee and to a limited extent Anurag Kashyap you can't think of any other Hindi filmmaker who has managed to maintain a healthy distance with the real world or in other words kept Bollywood at a safe distance. It's very rare, almost heroically uncommon, for a filmmaker to stay connected but those who somehow mange to maintain even a line of sight with the real world end up making films that compel us to think. God knows we need more of those!
Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
From HT Brunch, March 18
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