India is home to many contrasting worlds. We have villages dwelling in darkness and we have cities that do not sleep. This is a country where the way a language is spoken or the way a festival is celebrated changes after every hundred kilometers. There are people embracing their age old traditions, some abstaining from them and some confused. So many worlds, so many debates and so many stories. It is therefore not surprising that almost 200 Hindi films release every year. What is disappointing however, is that despite being surrounded by so many stories and despite producing numerous films every year, only a handful of them are true to the milieu in which they are set.
The stories that surround us even when put simply, seem so much more appealing than a lot of the ones we see on-screen. Most of us do not know people who ran away from their grand wedding after realization of true love, yet this concept continues to be overused and reused till date. However, almost all of us are aware of the initial awkwardness that follows an arranged marriage but not many films have explored this space as non-dramatically and honestly as it actually is. There is also a humongous difference between the characters we see on-screen and the people we often meet. Many films tend to judge their own characters by putting them in boxes of black or white, beautiful or comically hideous, intelligent or dumb and so on. Such categorizations not only result in one dimensional and unrelatable characters but also lead to very rigid notions about beauty, heroism, romance etc.
Over the last couple of years, we have seen a dozen films that have managed to hold a mirror to the society we stay in or are aware of. These films have been lauded by critics, welcomed by a section of domestic audience and have even won praises from international audience despite addressing issues that are unique to India. Masaan, last year captured the pulse of young Indians trying to break away from the parochial society they reside in, with the religious hub of Banaras as its backdrop. The film introduced us to Devi, a woman who refused to be judged by the society, fighting for what she truly deserves while seeking closure. The film also captured the desperation of many youngsters to move to larger cities and the general thought of “Jitni choti jagah, utni choti soch” .
In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, we saw a confident and ambitious woman unapologetic about her weight. We finally saw an over-weight character who was neither used as a comical prop nor did she demand viewers’ sympathy. The Lunchbox told the tale of a bored housewife and a crabby older man who fall in love by exchanging letters in lunchboxes delivered by Mumbai’s dabbawalas. The film was unique not only in its concept but also in the way it presented Mumbai as a city of working class in contrast to a glamorous city of dreams or a ruthless city with an air of despair, as seen mostly in cinema. Court (2015), informed us about the gut wrenching reality of working conditions of sewage workers with a straight face while taking on the Indian judiciary with subtle humor. The scene where the deceased sewage worker’s wife is interrogated in the court room is among the most compelling scenes I have seen in recent times. Piku managed to hold a mirror to our living room conversations and more recently Kapoor and Sons redefined the family drama genre by analyzing the complexities of family ties with a non-judgmental eye. Such films help us see the simple stories that are hidden in lives that we lead, they make us more aware of our society and its problems, archive the present time and more importantly do not invoke exaggerated expectations of sacrifice, beauty or romance.
Sadly, Hindi cinema continues to be dominated by star-power. Box -office collections take precedence over art which restricts the space for experimentation. There are more businessmen producing movies than artists or connoisseurs of cinema. A middle class Indian is mostly over-worked and exhausted, so for him grand and over the top cinema is entertainment as it helps him escape day today problems and thus a cinema closer to reality becomes too serious. Commercial masala films have become his comfort food. While so much is being made out of this apparent new wave of Hindi cinema, the hard reality is that even today Housefuls mint crores of money while Ankhon Dekhis are barely able to stick around for a week. Despite these deeply ingrained problems, there are courageous film makers and producers who bring to us the stories they truly believe in. There might be just five good movies out of the 200 of the year but you deserve to watch them because it is these five films that alter your thinking about our society, that expose you to new ideas and that make you appreciate the simpler stories around you.