Monday, January 08, 2007

Secularism in Hindi cinema has primarily been a Hindu’s responsibility

Reproduced WITHOUT permission from agencyfaqs, excerpts from a speech by Javed Akhtar, during the fifth Subhas Ghosal Foundation lecture at Mumbai, on ‘The Role of Secularism in Hindi Cinema’.

"Art is all about entertainment, but there’s a fine difference between art and circus. Cinema, although exaggerated, is relevant to the common man, and one can actually learn a lot about real society from Hindi movies. Dreams don’t offer realism either; but they are relevant nonetheless as they are often a reflection of our thoughts. In a way, cinema is like a relevant dream as well…on decoding it one can unearth the collective psyche of the society."
Having established the relevance of Hindi movies in society, Akhtar went on to outline the importance of characters in films, and how these are a mirror image of real life. He said that if one makes a list of Hindi film villains over the last few decades, he can actually learn everything there is to know about society’s evolution in India. "In the 1940s, we had the Zamindars as villains, which was a reflection of the actual state of affairs. In the 50s, this villain lot was replaced by the factory owner bully. In the 60s, however, the underworld don of big cities ruled the small screen as the bad guy. In the 70s, this underworld don became a hero. In the 1980s, the villain in a Hindi film was invariably a policeman or a politician – yet again a reflection of societal affairs. In the 90s, Pakistan became the villain. In the new millennium, we don’t have any villains; such characters in today’s movies frighteningly resemble us!"
On a more somber note, Akhtar spoke of a time which shook the nation: the year 1947. "India went through a trauma back then, but Hindi cinema couldn’t handle that and pretended it didn’t happen. For a very long time, Hindi cinema did not touch upon this topic." Further, he insightfully declared that for several years after partition, no film with a Muslim protagonist was made. Finally, in 1960, Chaudhvin Ka Chand came along which broke this trend, followed by Mere Mehboob, both of which has Muslim characters as heroes. "These films, to my mind, were dangerous, because they created Super Muslims or unreal Muslims". For instance, such films showed Muslims to be understandably pathans or nawabs living in large havelis, who talked only in poetic lingo, wore sherwanis all day long, indulged in Mujras/brothels, and sported beautiful women at their arms. This created a world that never existed. So then, one saw the era of two categories of Muslims. "The first was who we saw on cinema. The second was my neighbour – an owner of a cycle shop". This real life Muslim then started believing that his ancestors may have really led the kind of life shown on screen". As one can see, both these Muslims were far away from reality."
Secularism and religious tolerance in Hindi cinema is exclusively a Hindu’s responsibility. On secularism, Akhtar said that while we can have a Vijay getting saved by a 786 billa in Deewar, one is yet to hear of a Muslim character being saved by a Ganesh idol. "I haven’t seen a Muslim character play Holi in any film, although millions of them do so in real life. Further, while a goon can hide gold behind a Hindu deity, one can’t show a similar situation in a mosque, as filmmakers are afraid of hurting the sentiments of a minority".
On religious tolerance too, Hindus seem to shoulder the burden. "There are films on untouchables and child marriage, but rarely one on a social malpractice by a minority. The closest a film came to doing that was Nikaah (on the disadvantages of the Muslim divorce system), but that too was a personal story, rather than a community one. It all boiled down to one point: filmmakers know exactly what society can take, and what it won’t accept".
Hindi films haven’t treated Christians very well. A Christian has always been depicted as a good hearted drunkard, or the Mona Darling type (the vamps in Hindi cinema took on the form of Rita/Mona/Julie, who dressed and talked in a particular way). But then, heroines started wearing those kind of clothes, so the differences with the vamps sort of vanished.
Akhtar concluded on a promise of a better tomorrow. He placed faith in today’s young generation, as they possess a less tainted view of society, and are healthier than their parent generation, in that sense. This too, is reflecting in Indian cinema. Secular movies such as Rang De Basanti, Sarfarosh and Iqbal are finding their places in the hearts of Indians – three films which wouldn’t have been accepted in the 50s despite the roar of secularism that had erupted then.

1 comment:

satya said...

I think this was a very cool piece and I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for making the effort to share it with us, makes all the difference.

I also wish people like Javed Akthar would write more often about how he sees the world and how it relates to it.

Naseeruddin Shah is someone who I so want to hear talk about India and about larger issues.