[Before I start my rambling, I must tell you that I have rarely tried to form articles from these opinions, most of which pop in my head quite randomly. So please forgive me if you notice a flavour of an amateur buff in this article. I will appreciate all your brickbats, kudos and comments – please be generous with them as it will help me improve this website and take it forward.]
I recently attended a heavily enlightening talk by Nandita Das, an actor and social worker, in which she spoke on a variety of issues ranging from her passions, her works, why she did the films she did and generally about prevailing issues in the Hindi film industry. However, if I was to sum up her talk – she was directing all her words of wisdom and experience towards this one important question – Can Cinema or Art for that matter be used as a powerful medium for effective social reform?
Can we enlighten and ignite minds across a society or even influence people strongly enough through various art forms to such an extent that it brings about a social reform of any kind?
Questions such as these have been raised by people across the globe at film festivals, public screenings and private screenings; in newspaper columns and magazine articles; in casual coffee table conversations and in serious debates on important forums and platforms. I have tried to ponder over this myself for hours together but the questions raised and the answers still seem ambiguous. Are we willing to change ourselves and our lifestyles after watching a film? Are we ready to erase all the beliefs and morals, however wrong they maybe, after watching two hours of a movie?
Yes and No.
Answering such questions is much like dividing colours into black and white – impossible and impractical. But the problem is nevertheless interesting and intriguing. Put yourself in the shoes of a filmmaker and just think – are you capable enough of moving the masses with a mere representation of reality, to the best of your ability, on celluloid? Or be a musician and imagine changing the world with just seven magical notes and some meaningful lyrics…
Here are some examples of art forms which have inspired people, sparked off huge controversies and political debate, given us insight into our society and most importantly, tried to sensitise people towards social reform:
- During the civil rights movements in the 50s and 60s in the united states, when singers and musicians were supporting the cause of Black freedom, the songs of Nat King Cole, Bob Dylan, etc. gave lots of songs for protestors to sing along during their marches etc.
- The entire flower power era which was in protest to the vietnam war was led by the youth through their music, movies and arts. These songs and movies helped people to associate themselves with what was happening around themselves.
- Salman Rushdie’s the Satanic Verses compelled the head of Islamic Cleric in Iran to declare a fatwa against the author. Perhaps one of the most controverial books of all time.
- A mere cartoon in a Dutch newspaper raised a whole hue and cry about the freedom of art and expression.
- Our very own Dostana, a story about a gay couple, has helped a lot people talk more freely about homosexuals and the movie itself had become a common dinner table conversation.
These are just few examples which illustrate that arts and cinema can be used as a means towards social reform though I am not saying that these forms are the most successful. Unfortunately, I cannot think of any other examples to prove my point further.
These things show that deep down inside, serious entertainment does affect an individual emotionally if they relate to it. Its only the magnitude of this small tingling and inspiration which needs to be magnified on a much larger scale so that one can notice and noticeable effects.
On the other hand, one must ask another vital question before embarking towards social reform – Do you actually want to make movies which have a serious theme, all the time? How viable is it in the long run, before people get bugged of it?
Filmmakers should ask questions like these before starting off on ambitious projects because you never know what is going to strike with the audience and who is going to connect with what.
Take the example of last years critically acclaimed film, Taare Zameen Par. The movie, by traditional means, had several flaws:
- The theme was serious – about learning disabilities – something which had never been done before in a commercial film meant for mainstream audiences.
- A small kid was playing the lead role. Aamir Khan, the supporting star came in the movie only after half of it was finished.
- There was no such female lead or any other important characters. Just a student and a teacher.
Things could have gone terribly, terribly wrong with the movie, but they did not. The film was enjoyable and had a very relevant social message which struck the chords of millions across the world. People suddenly started looking at the same ‘dumb’ kid differently.
This is just an isolated example but if you comb cinematic history, I am quite sure other such examples will be noticed.
I hope this debate continues in the form of comments, reviews, articles. What do you have to say about this?