Indian Cinema has grown leaps and bounds in popularity from the days of its inception, that it is no more an entertainment industry catering to our free time entertainment need but is a part and parcel of our life. The spread of dish TV from 1990’s has been prime reason for such rise in demand for Indian cinema. The huge popularity enjoyed by movie stars, not only domestically but also abroad, is a proof in itself about importance ascribed to cinema.
Cinema has, in many ways, been a driving force of Indian society, reflecting not only the culture but also the moods of society. Any ‘art’ will have that energy to lead the society in better way than it is going, so ‘cinema’ with such a huge popularity can certainly influence the society in positive or negative way.
Indian cinema is definitely not only Bollywood which produces largest number of movies in India, but also the regional cinema – four Southern movie industries, and Bhojpuri, Manipuri, Odiya, Marathi etc. that has been influential in projecting the cultures of different regions. Some regional cinema is also enjoying huge popularity at national level and because of dish TV showcasing the regional movies dubbed versions (mostly Southern movies), regional cultures are also becoming popular, breaking the stereotypes about people of different regions.
After Independence, in the hefty task of binding the people of nation and spreading nationalism, Indian cinema played its part too. Apart from reflecting the cultures & moods of society, cinema started showcasing the realistic political scenario, sometimes criticising the policies of Government too, but mostly helped in spreading nationalism. It was after the failure of ‘Janata Experiment’ after emergency period, frustration of the society was reflected in ‘Angry young man’ movies criticising the ‘system’ and discrimination & inequality in society.
There is no doubt in saying that cinema has popularised several Indian festivals, throughout the country, which were earlier celebrated in only few pockets. “Ganesh utsav” of Maharashtra is one such festival that is now celebrated with great pomp & fervour in large parts of India. Even ‘Dandia’ dance of Gujarat has gained prominence in several states, thanks to several songs of Dandia and Garbha in movies.
But it has to be noted that cinema has largely failed to either reflect or shape the culture of minorities. In terms of cultural minorities, it is not just religious minorities, but includes the linguistic, caste and regional minorities too. For example, the Northeast region culture is not uniform but has several varied cultures with minor differences, but Indian cinema (except Manipuri regional movies) has failed in showcasing such cultures like Bihu, Cheraw, Manipuri dances, or the local festivals of these states. Not only the cultures of Northeast, but the tribal cultures of states like Chattisgarh, Jharkhand etc. also was not favoured much by the cinema. Some critics argue that the innate caste discrimination of Indian society has stopped the Indian cinema from adopting the cultures of all castes and regions.
Indian cinema has, but all of its criticisms, been a devout social activist questioning the evils of society and making strong statements on social conflicts, indicating a modern, liberal outlook which will enable the society to be closer to egalitarianism. More than a decade ago, movie “Aame”(Telugu) questioned the patriarchy in Indian society and recently ‘Queen’ (Hindi) has done the same in a lighter tone, strikingly both the movies have garnered huge success at box office. So is the case with ‘Yennai Arindhal’ (Tamil blockbuster) in which the protagonist (superstar Ajit) marries a divorced woman who already has a child, it is certainly rare to see even in reality in Indian society which is most often male dominated. With the gap between the mainstream movies and realistic cinema narrowing fast, such movies dealing with social conflicts are not rare anymore. ‘PK’ (Hindi) questioning the role of religion & dominance of God-men in Indian society, ‘Fandry’ (Marathi), ‘Sairat’ (Marathi) showcasing the harsh caste discrimination, are more such examples.
Indian cinema has certainly done much more than just entertaining the people. It has been a platform to popular culture of the nation, not only popularising it in different regions of India but also in several nations. Despite of its several shortcomings and few narrow-minded filmmakers, Indian cinema has also successfully shown the society a new direction and is doing so even now..