How many of us come out of a movie feeling changed, motivated and determined? I’m sure most of us do. That is what filmmakers intend to do too. They want us to live the entire movie, become a part of the story and most filmmakers along with actors and the whole crew achieve to do so. That’s the power a movie has over us and it is this power that makes it a valuable tool to bring about social reform.
Let’s talk about Bollywood. Bollywood is often defined by its cliché movie storylines. Ranging from overdone love stories, light comedies, family drama, and patriotic films, Bollywood is now witnessing the rise of movies with social messages. Taare Zameen Par, Queen, Vicky Donor, Padman, Toilet-Ek Prem Katha, 3 Idiots are some movies that tried to influence the audience to break societal taboos and bring about social reforms.
Box office collections in India are generated mainly from the small-town audiences, and it is this
chunk of society that requires radical social change. Mental illness, marital issues, the taboo around menstruation, open defecation are problems still rampant in rural India. The lowest strata of society are the ones deprived of a good education, books, and urban exposure. Such people often look at movies as their source of entertainment too. Due to this, movies have become an even more important tool for social reform.
There are many aspects of a movie that can subconsciously affect a person’s thinking. The clothes, especially of women, can help tackle the ‘need’ of conservative clothing. The casting decisions also affect the popularity and reach of movies. Die-hard fans of popular actors definitely wouldn’t want to miss the movies they work in. If these popular actors work in movies with social messages, it can increase the reach of the reforms. The story, of course, sends across important messages, but so do the minor story-lines in movies. A simple example can be seen in the movie Badrinath ki Dulhania. While this movie has a great ending where a conservative and misogynistic family accepts Vaidehi’s (Alia Bhatt) wish to work after marriage and become open to change, the first half of the movie shows Badrinath (Varun Dhavan) stalking Vaidehi to force her to accept his marriage proposal for the simple reason that he finds her pretty and is from a rich family. Filmmakers need to realize that the nonchalant incorporation of dowry, rape, violence, intolerance, chauvinism and such conservative principles not only normalizes them but also leads to the audience believing that these are the things that led to the happy ending of the movie. This causes them to imbibe these ideas and use them in their lives. It is important to take into account all these aspects of film making and realize how deep and long-lasting an effect such small things can cause.
While there are numerous positives to these movies, there are other genres that negate the effect too. Movies on social reform are still not widely accepted by conservative Indians, while movies with age-old concepts, item songs, old-school principles are much more popular. It is hard to bring about change in a human’s thinking. We are wired to produce resistance to new concepts and easily stick to the ones we already believe in. Movies like Kabir Singh-which promotes the classical definition ‘mardangi’, DDLJ- which promotes the old ‘ideal woman’ idea and normalizes stalking, end up performing phenomenally- a fact which can be verified from their Box-office collections. Movies with social messages are also resulting in the loss of small-town audiences. The audience’s refusal to accept such movies leads to losses to producers. One can only be afraid of this resulting in the return of Bollywood clichés that harm the society.
While the netizens are opening their eyes to the negative effects of such ‘classic’ movies, the rest of the country, cut off from the Internet and such exposures, are oblivious to this. This places increasing importance on new-age movies as they are available to all sections of the population.
The need of the hour is the realization of the effect that can be achieved by movies and their importance to set the wheels of social reform in motion. We can hope that producers and filmmakers realize this and persistently make these wonderful films in spite of some unacceptance. It is the continued effort that can help free India from the shackles of conservative ideals.