Is Cinema the Reflection of Society?

The Eternal Connect Between Cinema and Society

A Potpourri of Vestiges Guest Post

By Thewhitescape

“Indian cinema has virtually become a parallel culture. Talk of India with a foreigner and debate virtually centres on Indian films,” said Amitabh Bachchan.

Indian Cinema Collage; Courtesy: India Today
Image Courtesy:

Cinema is the beautiful combination of art, literature and science. Art and literature are reflections of life representing the moments of life and science studies man and his world. So cinema, a combination of these three invariably presents man and his life in the society. Cinema undoubtedly is reflective of the society itself. What we see or do in reality is more often than not what we see on silver screen. It's not rare that we encounter incidents in our daily lives that are in most ways very similar to the ones that we witness in movies. We often get to see startling resemblances between events of real and reel life, be it films or documentaries.
In Natyashastra, Bharatmuni declares that art is the search for truth. The aim of life is not different and hence cinema, society and life are closely related. Our life and the principles are influenced by the passage of time and changes in the society. Cinema is inspired and influenced by the society and it portrays it colorfully.

Raja Harishchandra, Directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, First Indian Film
A Still from Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harishchandra
From  Dadasaheb  Phalke  to  Farhan  Akhtar, every  decade  of  Bollywood  has  reflected  various   hues  and  aspects  of  real  life  on  reels  of  cinema. When  Dadasaheb   integrated  centuries  old  mythological  narratives  with  emerging  medium  of  cinema  in  forms  of  films  like  Raja  Harishchandra  and  Kaliya-Mardan, it  was  instantly  lapped  up  by  audience  and  showed  spiritual  bent  of mind  of  society  of  those  times. Ashok  Kumar  starred  Kismet, released  during  Quit  India Movement,  was  a  cinematic  rendition  of  resistance  against  imperialistic  British  by  Indians.

Post  independence  Nehruvian  socialist  era  was  time  of  Guru  Dutt, Satyajit  Ray  and  Bimal  Roy, ruthless  perfectionists,  who  vividly  captured  the  growing  pains  of  infant  democracy  and  universality  of  human  emotions  in  their  films. During  the  time  of  70s  and  80s, with  films  like  Ankur, Manthan and Saransh,  art  cinema  finally  came  of  age  and  showcased  common  man’s  struggle  with the system  and  striving  for  basics  of  life. Post 90s,  when  Indian  society  woke  up  to globalization  and  liberalization, new-age  cinema  makers,  too  broke  traditional  Bollywood ’s  definitive  cinematic  boundaries.

Anupam Kher starrer Saransh, Directed by Mahesh Bhatt
A Still from Anupam Kher starrer Saransh
With pots of money pouring into India, Indian film industry too  learned  to  talk  in  crores  and  filmmakers  went   global, aimed  for  Hollywood  kind  of  releases, and  tried  to  earn  revenues  from  satellites, video  and  other avenues apart  from  box-office  collections. Catering  to  a  highly  diverse  society,  Indian  film  industry  is  largest  in  the  world, churning  out an  average  of  800  films  per  year. The audience consists of an estimated 3.6 billion people with 14 territories in India and 52 counties across the globe. As  such, no  film  producer  and  director  can  vouch  for  homogeneous  consumption  of  his films.

Directors  like  Govind  Nihalani, Shyam  Benegal, who  are  not  burdened  to  cater  to  the  masses, inescapably  remind  viewers  of  refined  tastes - of   hard  facts  and  realities of  life  through  their  straight-in-the-face films. Then  there  is  entire  breed  of  film  merchants  who  serve  to  the  entertainment  palates of  the majority  by  playing  it  safe; by  making  traditional  commercial  Bollywood   potboilers. Also  there  are  cerebral  directors  like  Nagesh  Kukunoor   and Madhur  Bhandarkar  who  delve  deep  into  stark  realities  of  everyday  life  to  give  us  edgy  cinema  like Iqbal, Chandni  Bar, Girl friend, Joggers Park, Being Cyrus, Dil Chahta Hai-  which  prick  our  sense  of  film-viewing  in an entirely  different  way. They handle topics which are sensitive and controversial as relationship between a young woman and much older man, young man and older woman, lesbian aspect of friendship, lives of bar dancers. Madhur Bhandarkar's film Page 3 effectively brought out the utmost details of the page 3 category people belonging to the upper class society. This national award winning director also spilled the beans in his film Fashion, about the dark, gloomy, and pitiful state of affairs in the world of fashion, modelling and glamour. These films, we all realize and understand, are the mere cinematic versions of the unquestionable truth or fact. In more than a few occasions we somehow identify with the characters in movies.

Aamir Khan starrer Dil Chahta Hai, Directed by Farhan Akhtar
A Still from Aamir Khan starrer Dil Chahta Hai
Romance, popular novels, patriotism, underworld politicians, nexus are still the moving themes and are projected without any hesitation. Devdas, Mangal Pandey, Veer Zaara and Parineeta belongs to this group. Analyse the relation between the hero and the harlot portrayed in Mangal Pandey, it was something unthinkable in old times, once again pointing towards the mindset of the society and its changing maxims. Unfortunately the society today is a witness to various ill doings, communal problems, deplorable events and sheer malevolence. Few of the many plagues of the present society are murders, rapes, suicides and to top it all is the utmost form of violence, terrorism. The worst possible evil at present is undoubtedly terrorism and this is an issue that has been dealt with in cinemas recurrently. Even if we attempt to name a few movies having dealt with terrorism it would amount to many. All this does nothing but evinces that cinema is a reflection of the society. In film Corporate, we were provided with a sneak peek of the sinister details of the world of business. The rampant corruption in the business world was simply enacted in this film. Women getting jobs in return for pleasure, cricketers participating in match fixing in exchange for crores, teenagers taking to drugs, perversion leading to teenage pregnancy, people going to the extent of murdering people over trivial matters - we all get to hear such things, and subsequently we get to see these in movies.

Film may be bad or good, based on a fiction or a real story, centered around a village or city life, but it explores the phenomenon that is man and his often contradictory relation with the society. 2004 Dadasaheb Phalke award winner and eminent director of Malayalam movies Mr Adoor Gopalakrishnan says, -“it is impossible to truthfully present characters who do not represent social life in some way or the other. I can ascertain that there are lively social issues in all my films”.

Bipasha Basu in Madhur Bhandarkar's Corporate
A Still from Madhur Bhandarkar's Corporate
Social dynamics have always regulated the content of cinema. The  main  protagonist  of  any  film  fights  villains  who  are  manifestations  of  contemporary  societal  evils - from village money-lender  to  land-hawks  to  advocates of dowry, dons  and  modern  day  terrorists. A  society,  which  is  highly  tolerant  despite  ethnic, religious  and  linguistic  cleavages,  is  visible  in  rendition  of  a  religious  bhajan  by  Mohammed  Rafi  in  a  role  essayed  by  Dilip  Kumar  in  the  film Ram Aur Shyam. Khans from minority are the darlings of the masses. The  biggest  super-star  in  Tamil  film  industry  Rajnikanth,  is  a  Marathi  by  birth.

Indian  cinema  has  always   tried  to  showcase  Indian  culture  in  all  its  ramifications. Family  ties, particularly, joint  family  system  and  series  of  rituals  like  wedding,  engagements, celebrating  of  new-born  etc  are  always  present  in  our  films. There  are  feel-good  films  like  Bobby, Kaho Na  Pyar  Hai,  which  define  puppy  love; Sholay,  a  wholesome  entertainment; Golmaal - healthy  sprinkling  of  humor; Border  and  LOC -stories  of  supreme  sacrifices  of  our  valiant  soldiers, Murder  and  Jism,  which  deal  with the theme  of  adultery; Black Friday - realistic  portrayal  of  1993  bomb  blasts– all  ideas  picked  up  by  our  social  setup.

Oscar awarded/nominated movies tell a different story. They emphatically declare cinema to be reflection of the society. Films like Goodbye and Good luck, Munich and Crash which won Oscars for best film, they highlighted the political tension and changing world order after 9/11 attacks, different assessments of the cause of Palestinian people, prejudice and social segregation in the USA. Brokeback Mountain discusses the taboo subject of homosexuality –man’s desires and how they lead to the breaking of families. These are the issues of our time and whether we like it or not, we have to address them. Cinema ultimately presents the man in society with all its virtues and vices. Something’s in society and life are too complex for oral transmission, so cinema makers make fiction out of them to make them universal. The cinema is something between art and life, unlike painting and literature; the cinema both gives to life and takes from it.

Brokeback Mountain, Directed by Ang Lee, starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal
A Still from Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain
The Indian cinema has come off age with movies like Black. But the unfortunate part is such movies are rare. The bulk of the films dished out to audience are based on the so-called formula- a mixture of heroics, melodrama, violence, nudity, music and catchy dialogues.

“Great  films  will  be  made  when  we  become  a  great  audience,” said French  author, Andre  Malraux. Indian filmmakers are often panned for making unreal cinema.  But  with  audience  enlightening  up  and  graduating  to  outside  cinema,  cinema-makers  have  tough  job  in  their  hands to  keep  audience  glued  to  their  celluloid  products. Cinema  industry  is  realizing  that  they  need  to  be  experimental  and  open  up  to  new  set  of  ideas  and  shed  their  old  reservations  about  audiences. Schlock cinema, with  lot  of  plot-holes  and  half-baked  stories,  are  becoming  things  of  yore. Simple  relatable  stories  about  unassuming  characters  from  non–metro  and  moffusils  towns  and  villages  are flavor  of  filmmakers.  Time and again cinemas have acted as a mirror to the society. Cinemas have persistently dealt with the problems of the society, and brought out the darkest secrets of the world as it is today. The thought that a movie always equals entertainment is but a myth. I would like to salute the filmmakers, actors, and producers who have done and are still doing their bit to let the people know about the society better. So, as a conclusion I would like to restate and make clear that cinemas are undeniably reflective of the society that we live in and the strong link between reel and real is here to stay.

About Author - 

This guest post is written by Thewhitescape, a social media nut, freelance writer, blogger, creative thinker, editor, fashion addict and a wanna be author based out of Hyderabad. Blog: Connect with Thewhitescape on Facebook Page. The views expressed by the author are personal.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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  1. True cinema reflects the changes in society.

  2. Very true... thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts! :-)

  3. Good one! i do agree that changes in society reflect in society. and so do in music.

  4. GOOD cinema is definitely reflection of the society. But the problem is the ratio of good is to bad cinema is such that we get to watch a lot of stuff that is objectionable and has no or very less relation to real life.


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