Cinematic Prejudice


By Sunil Dang

I genuinely believe that films constitute an extremely significant medium of information for any society. These have potential to influence opinion, mobilise support & act as alternate channels of propaganda besides uniting majority of the population through the construction of a common imaginary. And when cinema takes it upon itself to frame the larger public sentiment for posterity, it has more than acted as a visual watchdog for its audiences.

India is no exception to the unwritten treaty between glamour & politics. Indian cinemas are overtly or covertly very political. What makes their dalliance truly unique is the very accommodating Indian political system, which by essence fosters a seamless transfer of a star-fan to a politician-voter relationship. In fact some of the most critically acclaimed cinema has been inspired by actors from the political arena. Not surprising then, that their life & career has been frozen in endless reels & put on the celluloid for larger audiences to judge. Whether or not the movie mirrored the truth, depends on which side of the political divide, did the filmmakers sit on.

Such cinema can be highly divisive & malicious too. It could lead to an undesirable opinion building & mass social messaging that could have all sorts of implications. It is no brainer then that every now & then, we see an insidious portrayal of a perception that links reality with creativity & facts with fiction. Not many would have forgotten the movie “Udta Punjab”. While as the underlying message of the enormous mess, misery & menace having gripped the state in its tentacles wasn’t lost, we could also make out how power & politics can be utterly inhuman. Some would say that Udta Punjab was an attempt, a tool, an elixir; the Aam Aadmi Party had wanted to use to further its political aspirations just before the Punjab & Lok Sabha polls of 2014.

So when a certain Anupam Kher plays Manmohan Singh in the Vijay Gutte (BJP supporter whose father has benefitted by 328cr from 06 banks), produced “The Accidental Prime Minister”, the underlying messaging & plot must not be lost. One is left wondering if the making of such a controversial movie (suggested by the protagonist himself and corroborated by the trailer) just ahead of 2019 elections is an attempt by BJP to add to its depleting ammunition to fire at Gandhis. And why is BJP marketing this movie on its official twitter handle? It makes the plot so obvious.  

“Thackeray” is yet another much anticipated releases of 2019. Again, some would say, this is an attempt by Shiv Sena, the warring ally of BJP to show its partner in poor light & call its bluff (BJP) on Babri masjid demolition story.  We may see more of this culture of political voyeurism in days to come & cinema is becoming more than a receptive partner to lend sound, light & fury to such a dangerous tactic employed by our political class.

I shudder to think of a scenario where our “national cinema” is misused by powers to be as yet another tool to misinform masses. Cinema has a duty, a better job of the nation-building process. It owes to the millions of cine-goers a return favour just like an actor & a politician too, who is what we have made of him. When cinematographic production is, in spite of popular belief, extremely political, how can we then divorce allegiance from prejudice? History & electorate have not been utterly kind to such biased cinema & the latest attempt by BJP through its proxies could also backfire.

In a country as diverse as India where 25-30% of its population is still illiterate, where polity alienates & polarises, where opinion can be highly biased & where Ram & Rahim have together been quoted in verses, Cinema must rise above the bait & become a truly representative medium, independent of political interferences, commercial trappings & communal stinkers.