By Chaitali Wadhwa
Cinema is a powerful medium. It speaks with the language of universality. Cinema through story-telling, documentary, realism or fiction through its very nature demands a universal language. By accessing and understanding what makes a universal issue, the audiences can better engage with the world around them. Films represent and at the same time signify. They remix the real, the unreal, the present, real life, memory, and dream on the same shared mental level.
However, other than being a very important means of entertainment and regaling the audience, cinema has played a significant role to bring about social changes.
Indian cinema has seen a great transformation since the early nineteen-thirties. The 1930’s saw the emergence of three big banners in Indian cinema- Prabhat, Bombay Talkies and New Theatres. The first Indian talkie – Alam Ara – was released on March 14, 1931. After that, there was no turning back. Directed by Ardeshir Irani, it was the first Indian film with sound.
During the same period, South India saw the release of two talkies- Bhakta Prahlada in Telugu and Kalidas in Tamil. Following the release of these movies was the till-date-famous Devdas.
During the 1940s cinema in South India accounted for nearly half of India’s cinema halls and cinema came to be viewed as an instrument of cultural revival. The late 1940’s also saw the commencement of the “Golden Age of Indian Cinema”. The “Golden Age” was from late 1940’s to 1960’s.
Mehboob Khan’s Mother India dealt with several social issues. It was one of the earliest films that were women centric. It became a landmark in Hindi cinema. Released in 1957, it brought the character of mother at the centre-stage in Hindi films. It was also nominated as an Oscar for the best foreign language film.
While commercial cinema was thriving, the same age saw the emergence of a new Parallel Cinema movement mainly led by Bengali cinema. It was the cinema of social significance and artistic sincerity, presenting a modern, humanist perspective in contrast to the fantasy world of the popular cinema.
During the 1960’s, popular cinema shifted its social concerns towards more romantic genres. This period also became prominent for a more assertive Indian nationalism. Mughal-e-Azam carved a niche for itself because of its panache.
There was also an introduction of Comedy of Errors. For the first time, the double role of an actor was introduced by the movie Ram aur Shyam. Later a lot of similar films were made. These include Sita aur Geeta and Duplicate.
Following the Indo-Pakistan wars in 1962 and 1965, the Indian officer came to be a rallying point for the national imagination. Old films such as Aradhana, Sangam, and newer ones like Main Hoon Na and Mausam highlight this.
The 1970’s were an introduction to young romance. The movie Bobby brought forward teenage love. This era was also a time for action flicks, the most loved one perhaps being Sholay. At the same time, devotional films were given importance. Jai Santoshi Ma is a devotional classic released in 1975.
It was in the late 1970’s that Yash Chopra’s film Kala Patthar released. It focuses on the pitiable and dangerous lives of the coal miners. This movie too sees the characters fight for social justice. It was Mahesh Bhatt’s film Arth that put a bold theme before the yet reserved audience. The big screen was familiarized with the idea of extra marital affair.
In the late 1990s, ‘Parallel Cinema’ began experiencing resurgence in Hindi cinema, largely due to the critical and commercial success of Satya, a low-budget film released in 1998. It was based on the Mumbai underworld, directed by Ram Gopal Varma.
The new millennium started with the controversy generated by the filming of Deepa Mehta’s last of the Trilogy Water, which was based on the life of Hindu widows in the 1930’s. The years that followed saw movies like Rang De Basanti and No One Killed Jessica that not only popularized the concept of candle march, but also encouraged the audience to stand up against crime and in favour of justice. The famous movie 3 Idiots changed the way students looked at marks.
It is a matter of pride that, Indian cinema has not only remained popular in India, but it has increased its boundaries elsewhere in world. It is really encouraging to see a ‘double bottom-line’ production house in India. Movies are a really powerful medium in India.
In the words of Bertolt Brechet:
“We need a type of theatre which not only releases the feelings, insights and impulses possible within the particular historical field of human relations in which the action takes place, but employs and encourages those thoughts and feelings which help transform the field itself.”
Chailtali Wadhwa: A pass out from Bluebells School International, Chaitali is currently a 1st year student at Amity Law School Delhi, IP University