The favourite Bollywood theme changed from patriotism to romantic melodramas to angry young men to slick action. The vamp and heroine merged into the same character; the hero morphed from patriotic Bharat to furious Vijay to suave Raj.
With three days to go for the fifth and last round of India’s 15th parliamentary elections, one character has withstood the ravages of time over 62 years: the politician.
From Ardh Satya, Aakhree Raasta, Inquilaab, Raam Teri Ganga Maili, Saaransh and New Delhi Times of the 1980s to the more recent Shool, Hu Tu Tu, Nayak, Yuva, Dev and Rang De Basanti, the politician in Hindi films has failed to shed his wicked, two-faced image over the decades.
“The Indian audience needs someone to hate and to criticise and the politician is considered the worst species,” says director and producer Mahesh Bhatt.
While a film such as Leader, with Dilip Kumar, highlighting vested interest in politics, was made as long back as 1964, it was in 1980s that the politician got etched in public memory as the villain.
Ardh Satya and Inquilaab were among the first films to create the stereotypic figure of politician in Rama Shetty, played by Sadashiv Amrapurkar, and Shankar Narayan, played by Kader Khan. The protagonist in both films kill the politician in a chilling climax.
“Popular mainstream cinema all over the world is rooted in its own mythology. There is the good and the evil and people want to watch Ram triumphing over Ravan,” said Bhatt. “This is the reason Hindi cinema rarely explores gray shades of politics.”
The portrayal of politicians as villains is, at one level, a reflection of reality. Many, however, believe the audience has also formed a naïve opinion of politicians, which leads to his clichéd representation.
“Indian audience is mature enough to understand politics and distinguish between reality and cinema,” said sociologist Ashis Nandy, Centre for the Studies of Developing Societies in Delhi.
Film scholars believe that negative depiction of politicians isn’t merely an extension of reality. “Films are also a critique of the power and political structure, a reason why politicians are rarely shown in a positive light,” said Ira Bhaskar, associate professor, school of arts and aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). “The role of cinema isn’t to solve problems but to also articulate aspirations of viewers.”
The defence minister in Rang De Basanti wasn’t very different from politician Prosonjeet Bhattacharya played by Om Puri in Yuva, both painting the picture of the stereotypical corrupt politician. Yet, the two films depict two completely different ways of dealing with the same problem.
“Both films were removed from reality as neither do we have our youth shooting politicians and nor do we have them actively joining politics,” said Bhaskar.
“Both were successful because they were able to articulate the desire of the audience for resolution of the problems of corruption and manipulative politicians.”
The cynicism against politicians is evident when we notice that in several films such as Roza, Mission Kashmir and Fanaa, the villain is redeemed at the end of the film. “But the politician is rarely redeemed in the climax because there is no explanation for his greed,” said Bhaskar. “Cynicism against politicians is stronger, which is why he has survived as the villain.”