Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hindi films, songs mirror India’s economic policy

Hindi cinema has often deliberately pushed the economic policy of the day.

I discovered that strong economic messages were conveyed through some Hindi film songs... Like the bas itna sa khwab hai (just this dream) of Yes Boss (1997) reflecting the dreams and ambitions of post-liberalisation middle class youth, or Govinda's what is (your) mobile number do from Haseena Maan Jayegi (1999) as a take on new telecom policy.

Cinema is a very powerful medium of our popular culture, it subliminally reflects the economic arguments of the time. The hero and villain in films often symbolise prevailing economic conditions.

For example, each time we have a meaningless legislative control, the villain is the one who violates it. In 1950s' films, he was a ration shop owner or a money lender, as those days villainy was associated with hoarding and shortages, then we see him as smuggler in the 1960s and '70s films.

This is not as much reflected in the behaviour of the hero, except perhaps in Amitabh Bachchan's angry young man, which meant "I am sick and tired of the system".

The transition of Indian economy is evident from the days of drought and landlessness of Mother India (1956), Do Bigha Zameen or Lagaan (2001) to the affluence and ambitions of Yes Boss. Every time such major changes occur, cinema seems to capture it, not only in visuals but also in dialogue.

For example, Gupt (1994) has a scene with a strong debate on whether India should have foreign direct investment. The rest of the film has nothing to do with that clip, but the scene presents strong arguments from both sides

We should see if this powerful medium can be used to shape attitudes on what we want to do in the future: like dispelling the notion that reforms are about the rich, or more topical issues where government machinery has failed to convey the message, like the power theft or health concerns such as HIV/AIDS

Bollywood does keep a tab on its times, but blink, and you will miss it. It is the journey for that elusive clip in a long movie, the rest of which will have nothing to do with the prevailing economic situation.