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Society through the prism of cinema

By July 25, 2022No Comments

There are many practices and traditions in our society which are based on ignorance and which have hindered the progress of our society. Rigidity of caste system, untouchability, dowry system and purdah system have caused great damage to our society. Cinema films can do much to eradicate these evils. It can be used to promote national unity, prohibition, inter-caste marriages, family planning, eradication of illiteracy etc. Such themes can help transform our society. Cinema can be used as a tool to free people from obscurity and guide them on the right path. It can help remove ignorance from our society. Not only this, many necessary social reforms can be introduced and brought about with the help of cinema.

There are different opinions about the effects of cinema. Manufacturers and financiers find it a lucrative and tempting business. For actors and actresses, it is the instrument of making money and gaining popularity among people. The director, story-writer, lyricist and cinematographer take it as a work of art. For some, it is an audio-visual translation of literature and has its own message. For the government, it works as a potential source of revenue and employment. For most cinema goers, it is nothing more than a cheap and interesting form of entertainment and amusement. Whatever the reason, cinema has captured a large market share for its cinephiles.

Cinema has been a part of the entertainment industry since long time. It creates a wide impact on people all over the world. In other words, it helps give them a break from the monotony. It has also evolved greatly in recent years. Cinema is the great escape from reality.

Additionally, it helps in rejuvenating one’s mind. It is certainly beneficial in many ways; however, it is also having a negative impact on people and society. We need to be able to distinguish right from wrong and make decisions accordingly.

The Bright side of Cinema

Since its inception with the film ‘Raja Harish Chandra’ (1913), cinema has been the most powerful medium of mass communication in India.

Cinema holds the power to mix entertainment with communication of ideas. It has potential appeal to its audience. It certainly leaves other media far behind in making such appeals. Like literature, cinema has produced much that touches the innermost layers of man. It reflects episodes in a way that affects generations to come. Cinema presents an image of the society in which it is born and the hopes, aspirations, frustrations and contradictions present in any social order.

In the current era, cinema has been replaced by small screen productions. Television serials and programs are taking over the craze. They make money through advertising. Thus, broadcasting of films has become a major source of income for the industry and trade.

Man has instincts, various thoughts flow which affect the mind. One laughs with movies and tears with them. Scenes from Raj Kumar Santoshi and Manoj Goswami’s film ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh’ make people nationally minded and emotionally involved in the film’s show. Film dialogues find place in our real life. Mughal Azam’s dialogues found a place in the common conversation of people for a long time. People talked and walked like Prithviraj, the great king Akbar. Similarly, the plays of Aga Hashat and Devdas by Saratchandra left a deep impression on the public. Similarly, the movie ‘Sholay’ created a huge impact on many people.

If we look at the positive side, cinema has many benefits. It is said to be only a reflection of society. Therefore, it helps us to face the reality of what is happening in our society. It portrays things as they are and helps open our eyes to issues that we may well have ignored in the past.

Likewise, it helps people socialize better, connects individuals and also helps break the ice. People often discuss cinema to start or further a conversation. Moreover, it is also very interesting to talk about politics and sports instead of politics which are often divided.

Above all, it also enhances people’s imagination. Cinema is a way to show the world from the director’s point of view, thereby inspiring others to expand their thinking and imagination.

Most importantly, cinema brings to us the diverse cultures of the world. It introduces us to different art forms and helps us gain knowledge about how different people live their lives.

In a way, it brings us closer and more accepting of different art forms and cultures. Cinema also teaches us a few things about practical life. Incidents like robberies, fires, kidnappings and more are shown in emergency movies and help us learn things that we can apply in real life to save ourselves. Thus, it makes us more mindful and helps us to improvise.

The Dark side of Cinema

While cinema can be beneficial in many ways, it is also very harmful in various areas. First, it stereotypes many things, including gender roles, religious practices, communities, and more. This creates a wrong perception and creates a negative impact against a certain group of people.

People also consider it a waste of time and money because most movies these days do not show or teach anything valuable. It is rubbish material with objections and lies. Moreover, it also makes people addicted as you would have seen movie buffs flocking to the theatre every weekend just for the sake of watching the latest movie.

Most importantly, the cinema shows very violent and sexual content. It contributes to the vulgarity and eve-teasing prevalent in our society today. Thus, it harms the young minds of the world very seriously.

India tops the charts for featuring attractive women in its films, with as many as 35% of these female characters featuring some nudity, shows the first UN-sponsored global study of female characters in popular films around the world. A study conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media reveals deep discrimination, widespread stereotyping, sexualization of women and their underrepresentation in powerful roles by the international film industry. While women represent nearly half of the world’s population, less than one-third of speaking characters in films are female, and Indian films rank among the lowest. Sexualization of female characters in movies is a standard practice in the global film industry, and women are twice as likely as men to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, partially or fully nude, five times as likely to be referred to as thin and attractive. Indian films are third behind German and Australian films in showing women in “sexy outfits”, and at 25.2%, India tops the list in showing attractive women in its films. Another trend that is growing is the prevalence of item-numbers in films. Today, item-numbers have become indispensable, with offensive or provocative lyrics and whole skin shows. It is very disturbing that terms like ‘item-girl’ or ‘item-number’ have become acceptable and the female-lead herself is promoting and promoting this so-called ‘item-number’. What these celebrities don’t realize is that people look up to them and when they themselves do such things, they unconsciously reinforce the already prevalent stereotypes and prejudices about women.

The obscenity shown in movies leaves a bad impact on the young generation of our society and the psyche of children. Youngsters try to act like the main characters of the films. Therefore, if they are shown smoking, taking alcohol or drugs, committing crimes, it will be harmful to the youth. Movies containing obscenity and terrorism can dangerously affect the minds of the youth. Youngsters try to imitate the lifestyle of actors in films. They fail to distinguish between reel life and real life. Movies are taking away the interest of the youth from reading books and novels.

The Bengali Cinema

Realism and modernism are two words closely associated with Bengali cinema. Some of Bengal’s greatest and most popular filmmakers reflected modernist ideas as well as took the realistic genre of films to new heights. Realism and modernism go hand in hand in Bengali films, especially in the works of greats like Satyajit Ray and Ritvik Ghatak.

Satyajit Ray’s magnum opus ‘Pather Pancheli’ is the best example of realistic films representing various elements of ‘modernity’. Inspired by Italian neo-realism (especially Vittorio de Cicca’s Bicycle Thief, 1948), Ray made his first film and masterpiece reflecting the evolution and social change in Bengal and the modernization of ideas and concepts.

In Pather Panchali, Ray talks about leaving behind old ideas and moving forward. It talks about how over time, old ways of living, ancestral ideas and traditional lifestyles have become stale and need to be replaced. Apu, along with his family, eventually leave their home and village as the ancestral home holds them back. They went to find a better way of living. They went to get rid of the old house which could not help them in any way, but instead took the life of their daughter.

The entire film is a transition from pre-modern to modern way of life. Ray distributes several metaphors throughout the film – metaphors of modernity and the need for change. An important character that served as a metaphor for me was the old aunt. She is old, tired and does not wander around the house. That she is repeatedly asked to leave shows that she is not wanted in the house. The family is tired of it just as they are tired of the traditions and the same lifestyle they used to live – famine, poverty and fear of existence. The old aunt wanders, trying to find a place for herself, and when she does not find it, she dies. Ray represents the death of old ideas. Ray wants change. It shows the need for change and breaking away from traditions that hold you back. He wants to show that there is always a need for change. The old aunt is just a metaphor for him that shows how traditions have become stale.

‘Charulata’ (1964), another of Ray’s great films, also speaks of change. But here, he sets it in upper middle class Bengali society where a lonely housewife falls in love with her son-in-law when they both encourage each other to write. It juxtaposes two different ideas of home and desire, literature and politics, pre-modernity and modernity.

Ray’s films have a humanitarian touch. He uses his ‘craft’ to reach the deepest depths of the human heart and extract emotions from there. Apu throws away the necklace Durga stole, Amal leaves the house to avoid being unfaithful, Durga stealing food for her aunt adds to the humanitarian approach of Satyajit Ray’s work.

Neo-realism is another thing that inspired Ray. In my opinion, it is mainly because his stories were about society. He could not have created them in a fantasy style because then they would not have belonged to society. His stories were not just for movies, but a reality of the times that Bengali society needed to emulate and a reflection of the society in which he lived. His characters were sketches of real people. They were close to reality. For example, when you think of Durga, you don’t think of her as a two-dimensional good or bad character, but as a girl who exists and has different traits in her personality just like everyone else. She was not a puppet.

Additionally, Ritwik Ghatak’s movies introduced different modern topics to the growing society of Bengal such as alienation, isolation, need for home.

In ‘Ajantrik’, one of his most ‘personal’ and socially relevant films, Ghatak introduces the concept of alienation and separation from society. He shows the man with his car, an inanimate object and a troubled social life where he does not connect well with the people around him. Scenes where the character Bimal talks to his car, the car answers him, he takes care of the car like a companion and doesn’t care what his society says shows how important the character Jagaddal (the car) is. Ghatak treats the car not as a prop, but as a character. He tries to show the car’s point of view; he wants to make us feel his presence thus implying the fact how ideas and relationships have also evolved with the modernization of society; how people have become more attached to their property rather than fellow human beings.

Similarly, in Suvarnarekha (1965), Ghatak reflects on the feeling of home (along with many other sub-themes such as happiness, relationships). His work is about change, modernity and its effects and mainly, how division has affected society and constituents.

In Suvarnarekha, he tells the story of a family going to the banks of Suvarnarekha river after partition and how the girl Sita finds happiness throughout the film. In addition, he talks about his feelings in the new home. The river becomes her new home to whom she confides its secrets, sorrows and joys.

From what I have observed in Ghatak’s films, he believes that society has changed from being a ‘community’ to a collective life of individual individuals. I observed the individualism in his work, and how people turned from their fellows to nature or man-made beauty, whether it was mountains and rivers and cars and property.

I feel that both Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak’s films show many modernist elements, from their content and themes (home, anthropology, modernity itself) to their craft (use of POV shots, different styles of cinematography, manipulation and use of space) of Brechtian elements).