Indian Cinema and Its Impact on Society

by Amrit Gangar

My comments

My class notes

Summary from the Program

Hindi cinema produced in Bombay, now superficially well known as Bollywood is essentially a generic cinema that pervades India. But of late the products of Mollywood (Madras) have quite markedly influenced its aesthetic strategies while Tollywood (Tollygunge, Calcutta) has been constructing its popular idiom following Bollywood. Hindi cinema is also considered as an "all-India formula film" [critic Chidananda Das Gupta]. However, one has to be cautious not to generalize Hindi cinema as such.

As it is well known India produces a massive number of feature films in many different languages, including several dialects. In 1999, the total number of films produced, in as many as 35 official languages and dialects, was 601 - up to October but one could add about 30 - 40 feature films to this number up to end December, 1999. The production figure has been steadily declining since 1990 when India produced little less than a thousand films a year. The debate, however, keeps going whether it's cinema that influences society or vice versa.

Most of the dominant formula films get their narrative base, in one way or another, from the two Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The dream merchants seem to be knowing this fact well to extract an impact as wide as possible for a box-office success. This holds true of the generic Bollywood, including television.

The reality that obtains in southern India (especially in Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh) is substantially different from that in northern India. The cinema politics nexus in Tamilnadu, for instance, is quite interesting. All five chief ministers who have governed Tamilnadu since 1967 have been associated with cinema. "The immense popularity of film as an entertainment form and its emergence in Tamilnadu as a major cultural preoccupation underscores the significance of the role of audio-visual communication in Tamil society." [S. Theodore Baskaran] Superstars MGR and NTR - doyens of Tamil and Telugu cinema respectively - were quite active in regional and national politics.

The social impact of the cinema in India is also seen in the nationwide popularity of film-based programs on various television channels. It's mostly the young generation that has been caught up by the film-song programs. Popular film song has gone very deep into the Indian collective memory and conscience.

In a nutshell, my presentation will take up some concrete examples of what impact the cinema has on Indian society by and large - including how the classical villain eventually turned into a hero or how social values underwent a certain change. Popular films have even been changing people's dress and hair styles; in Bombay, I remember even shoes would be branded after a box-office hit film. The cinema's social impact is reflected in the way censorship operates in India. In colonial India, the local, police controlled, film censorship, was mainly political in nature, but in post-colonial India it has acquired moralistic overtones; I'll touch upon some recent examples in this realm. I think it's the state that constantly finds itself insecure vis-a-vis society at large and artists in particular. All said and done, the cinema hasn't yet shed its mystical hallow in India.

My Notes

Indian Cinema - Amrit Gangar

- in Gujarat cinemas are Ministry of Finance (usually culture)
- audiences "interact" with films, tell characters on screen what to do 
by giles