Indian cinema's 'dark phase'

Indian cinema, precisely known as Bollywood industry, has always set a big platform for bringing cheer in people’s lives. Known as one of the most powerful mediums of communication and entertainment to bring social change in Indian societies for betterment, cinema today during the times of one of the dangerous health emergencies (Covid pandemic) challenging the existence of human beings, has attracted the focus of millions of people across the country and even globally for all bad reasons. Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s (SSR’s) death in suicide has opened a Pandora box, exposing the clandestine world of high voltage Bollywood where its players, be it actors, directors or producers have been caught in a whirlpool of controversies. The death of the young actor is proving a gateway to law enforcing authorities to explore the unheard “cruel and unforgiving” nature of the industry and weed out the nexus running drug trafficking and operating unnoticed.

Actually SSR’s death has just marked beginning of a dark phase of the Bollywood industry, which is bound to dent its reputation with a long term impact. The players, especially the actors, who used to be role models of younger generations, are now in the danger of losing their connection with the audience. Can they be now role models of our younger generation when allegations of drug abuse, sexual abuse against the industry have surfaced? Notably, some reputed actors have already admitted either being victims or players of the abuses rampant in the industry.

Before deliberating upon the ugly side of the Bollywood exposed by the death of SSR, let’s take a look at the journey of this industry from “Golden Era” to present fall of the industry from grace.

Bollywood has a rich past which started from the first Indian sound film, AlamAra produced in 1931. While looking at the performance of the film industry during all these decades, we come across remarkable facts describing its glory. According to some statistics, Indian Film industry is the largest in the world, in terms of the number of films produced in a year. Over 1600 to 1800 movies in 25+ languages are produced every year showcasing a variety of movies, different spheres of life, in innumerable themes – comedy, romance, thriller, horror etc.

The industry was marked with “Golden Era” from 1940 till the early of 1960. It’s the era when highly acclaimed movies like Awaara(1951), Shree 420(1955), Mughal-e-Azam (1960) etc. were made. The beauty of that era was that films were scripted around the common man’s struggles in life which the audience could relate the story to and the films would trigger social change in the societies to be better in life.

In a phase from late 1960s to the early 1980s, the film making saw shift in the general storyline of the movies. Action and romance got embedded in the script and even violence sequences became integral part of movie- making. It’s in this era when villains’ role marked presence in the storyline of a film. In this era, main protagonist (hero) got a new make-up and was projected as “angry young man”. Bobby (1973) and Sholay (1975) mark this period’s most successful films

An era between late 1980s to early 2000s witnessed sweeping changes in film making. Advanced technology was introduced in the production of films which enthralled the audience at a different level. The industry started shooting films in foreign countries.

Then came the era beginning late 2000s when film makers started laying hand on more advanced technologies. We saw film makers putting a greater emphasis on the visual effects rather than the story. Many times, film critics discussed a lot of movies produced during this era shot abroad, with only the mention of India.

While analyzing the journey of film industry, shift of themes during all these decades since 1940 reflects the professional approach which the film makers have been observing from time to time. As it’s most important to produce movie what the audience desires, the film makers would accordingly shift the theme and plot of their film projects in line with the mindset of the people watching it.

Precisely, the changing patterns in movies were basically a result of the changing mindsets of the audience as well the bid to attract international audience who have different perspective than the ones for whom movies were made in the 1950s.

While undergoing major shifts and finally leveraging advanced technology in film making, the industry improved its reach to unimaginable levels. As technology has taken precedence in film making and distribution of movies across geographies; it opened up enormous avenues for the makers, advertisers, brands and the influencer community including CEOs, brand experts, market experts and the respective opinion makers to leverage it further for their business advantage. Today, cinema has emerged as one of the most preferred advertisement platforms for corporate world and has been capitalizing on the power of cinema to reach with their products to the last mile audience.

Let me reproduce some reports suggesting magnificent growth of cinema in the times to come. As per the PwC report, India is poised to be the third largest cinema market in the world by 2021 and the Indian media and entertainment industry is slated to grow steadily over the next four years. The industry is expected to exceed Rs 2, 91,000 crore by 2021, growing at compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5 per cent between 2017 and 2021.

As per the recent FICCI-EY report “despite comprising only 17 per cent of the films made in the country, Bollywood contributes almost 40 per cent to the net box office collections annually. Films made in almost 29 other Indian languages contribute around 75 per cent of the films released but they contribute approximately 50 per cent to the annual domestic box office collections. The balance is constituted from Hollywood and international films.”

Here it’s worth mentioning that glimpses of events which took place in and around the Bollywood industry in the past few years have neither been secular nor democratic in nature. Over the years, patriotism as a theme has been used in many films, but its treatment, just like the evolving Indian society, has also changed immensely. In fact, the filmmakers left no stone unturned to use the same patriotic sentiment more to mint money rather than exhibiting their love for the country. They infused this fever into the audience in a most objectionable way and blatantly misused the power of cinema grossly misleading the masses across the country through this filmy patriotism.

If we look at the past, the theme of patriotism has been delved in Bollywood movies many a times. There were times when Indian movies typically screened the hero in love with his motherland and ready to die to save the honour of his country. ‘ Kranti’, ‘PurabPaschim’ , ‘Shaheed’ , ‘MeraGaonMeraDesh’ etc were the films carrying a plot around truest form of patriotism reflecting a society emotional about its country and its rights.

Precisely, over the years, Bollywood is the major contributor to the changing concept of the word ‘patriotism’. Today one fails to pin it down and define it precisely. It is very difficult to bring out an honest and precise definition of the word ‘patriotism’. Young generation in India have no clear idea about what patriotism means, courtesy filmy patriotism.

Now the misuse of power of cinema has reached to a new level. The death of SSR by suicide has brought the film industry on the brink of losing the trust of its audience which its peers have nourished all these decades. The big players of the industry, actors, producers, directors and other significant contributors to the industry are currently engaged in mud slugging. Actors of repute are charged with drug and sexual abuse and most stunning part of this dark phase is that those running the frontline campaign to clean the industry have admitted to have been pushed into such abuses forcibly. Such ‘role models’ speaking about the dirt of which they have been part, whether wittingly or unwittingly, has shocked their audience. How such celebrities can be morally so downgraded? This question must definitely be probing the minds of common audience.

Meanwhile, in the words of veteran actor Dharmendra in a tellingtweet unveiling the ugly side of the tinsel world, says that SSR’s death served as a reminder that the industry could be “cruel”. He wrote: “PyaareSushant, naa film dekhinakabhimila tum se… par tereachaanakchalejaane se badasadmalaga. This beautiful beloved show business is very cruel. I can imagine your unbearable pain. I share the pain of your loving family and friends”.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)