The Famous Nigerian Novelist Ben Okri once said: “To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Stories define a people’s history and aid in shaping their future. Once a people’s story has been corrupted their fate is doomed. Beware of the storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art. The greatest religions convert the world through stories.”
The potential of soft power is immeasurable. It can influence culture and civilizations. Throughout history, the dominant forces have always impacted other cultures through the spread of folklore, art, dance, songs, drama, and historical narrations. The ancient Bharatiya Samskriti passed on from one generation to another through rock carvings, dramatic adaptations of Mahabharat and Ramayana, music, and different forms of dance and paintings. This spread of knowledge was not controlled by boundaries. The greatness of Bharatiya Samskriti was accepted by different parts of the world not because of the brute force of a sword but through various messengers who spread the teachings of great teachers to different parts of the world through love and grace. The Sanatan Sanskriti has remained eternal because of the influence of its soft power and its ability to embrace diversity. The impact of Bharat in shaping different civilizations is widely accepted.
Wang Hui, Professor of the Tsinghua Institute for Advanced Study states that “Many years ago, one of my old friends in China made a comment that in a long history, India has had huge impacts on reshaping Chinese civilizations, mainly because of Buddhism.” The impact of Bharat was felt throughout southeast Asia. The reminiscence of which is felt even till today. However, throughout history with the suppression of Bhartiya culture by rulers of Abrahamic faiths, the penetration of Bharatiya Samskriti has reduced immensely. Even after independence many ancient dance forms, folklore, and history were systematically suppressed. The result was that an ordinary Bharatiya, ignorant of his culture, heritage, and history, fell into an inferiority complex. The same is even reflected through the cinema after independence where almost little to no education about Bharatiya Samskritik heritage is provided through films.
With the advancement of the digital age, the film and music industry the world over became one of the biggest mediums of cultural dissemination. The film industry along with its icons started having a huge impact on how humans behave. The trade and commerce of various industries started depending on how film celebrities acted and behaved. A prime example of it is how the tobacco industry used Hollywood films to promote itself. The film and music industry created global icons whose adulation knew no boundaries. The film and music industries became very powerful centers of soft power. The movies made in the west started influencing people in the east and vice versa. The movies made in a country pretty much created a country’s image globally. The movies started shaping cultures.
This is one of the prime reasons that the youth of Bharat today may not have seen Ramayana and Mahabharat but are very well versed with the Marvel universe. The Bharatiya local heroes and cartoon characters started getting replaced by global phenomena like Harry Potter. The local Byomkesh Bakshi slowly got dwarfed by Sherlock Holmes. The movie industry of the west pretty much governs the way we dress, the brands we use, the food that we eat, the car we drive, the heroes we follow, and pretty much everything around us. The industry has the power to augment an issue or downplay it. In Bharat also, the movie and music industry has been very instrumental in spreading narratives and running discourses. However, the discourses and narratives run by the industry are seldom for the betterment of society. When we dig deeper we find a heavy influence of the left lobby over the industry. The movie industry in Bharat currently promotes all the vices. They mostly tell stories of disappointment. A prime example of this can be seen in the messaging propagated in the movie ‘Pushpa: The Rise’.
Pushpa: The Rise, one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, glorified the rags to riches story of a red sandalwood smuggler. Though the movie is intriguing, the whole narrative it promotes can never be considered good for society. If we analyze the movie properly we will realize that the movie is pure messaging of anarchy. The movie glorifies a smuggler who when faced with challenges in society turns to illicit means for his survival. This concept of being a rebel outlaw when faced with atrocities promotes mistrust for the state. There are multiple examples of humans as well stories in which a person when faced with adversity and atrocity goes on to improve it by being within the fold of the system. Movies like Swades, Taare Zameen Par, Soorarai Pottru, Nayak, Super 30, and Manjhi are prime examples of how protagonists even when faced with societal evils and drawbacks of the society go on to improve the system without being an outlaw or even promoting one. When we have always believed in democracy as a society from ancient times, were poisoned with an intellectually bankrupt ideology called Communism which not just taught Bloody revolution but also practiced Anarchy which was carried forward by left trained Filmmakers and writers who not just glorified Heroes who always took the law into their hands. He never believed in the system not in improving it for the betterment of all. The protagonist is always confined to his selfish problem or challenge rather than bringing in a change to the corrupt system if so for the greater good of the society. The same 70s Angry Young Man has re-emerged in a movie like Pushpa: The Rise, where there is a blatant glorification of a smuggler who when faced with difficulties at a very personal level decided to rise up in the society through illicit means. The main issue with such glorification is that in modern times such discourses are even run to give cover fire to terrorists. Background stories are created to show why a person became a terrorist. Though there can never be a valid justification for it, the same argument is used to protect against terrorism.
The film promotes the very same argument. The movie further promotes the weakness of the system in front of such outlaws. The police officers in the system are portrayed as weak in comparison to the protagonist in terms of acumen and power. This is far from reality. Also, the film promotes and glorifies individual rebellion. The message that being an outlaw is cool does not serve any good purpose. The movie in itself does not promote hope but promotes rebellion and aggression against the system. Unlike our Bharatiya Samskriti which teaches us to definitely Rise but not with Grudge, Revenge & Immorality. An individual Anand Kumar from a small village in Bihar doesn’t become a Naxal for being denied the opportunity he deserved instead creates a new system that offers great opportunities to the deprived class, Anil Kapoor in Nayak chooses the approved democratic way to bring the necessary change and the list goes on. We need Abdul Kalams born in a poor family in a small village and not Dawood Ibrahim born in a middle-class family in Mumbai to be portrayed as a HERO through Cinema.
People grooving at the movie’s item number and mesmerized by the plot fail to understand the negative psychological ramifications of glorifying criminals of society, especially on children. The rise of Pushpa is actually a fall of cinema in India. A great medium that can help shape a better future for the people of Bharat is confined to glorifying all the rogue elements and vices of society. The movie promotes anarchy at an individual level. Going against the system to achieve things isn’t a matter of glorification. Being a criminal in society isn’t a matter of glorification. Luring girls through money isn’t a matter of glorification. Smuggling sandalwood isn’t a matter of glorification. ‘Jhukega Nahi’ for something that is out rightly illegal isn’t a matter of glorification. We as a society need some serious introspection when it comes to movies we promote. We take too lightly to issues that are of great concern to society and are promoted in movies through a lighter tone.
Movies such as Pushpa: The Rise, should never have been promoted the way it was done because of the serious messaging fault in the movie. The argument that the protectors of the movie industry take are that cinema is for entertainment and not for education or enlightenment. But, the same people do not argue against why an entertainment industry promotes vices rather than virtues. Bharat has since time immemorial produced multiple heroes but if we start counting the number of such heroes being acknowledged through cinemas, we can count them on our fingers. Over the past 75 years, the depiction of Bharat’s rich Sanskriti, heritage, and history through mainstream cinema has been very limited. Movies have the power to guide and educate. However, what is taught through the Hindi film industry as well as the regional cinemas does no good to society. The worst affected are the children. The potential of cinema in mobilizing society for betterment is still left untapped. Movies are not promoting hope without which there is no future, hope that though there is injustice, there is denial, there is disapproval, there is a disappointment, there is deprivation, still, there will be Justice, there will Acceptance, there will be Approval, there will be Satisfaction, there will be Abundance. Hope is very important in life and as cinema has a long-lasting impact on living, it has to give hope and not a disappointment. Bharat Muni in his Natyashashtra laid stress on all stories have to have a ‘Sukhant’ end. However, movies like ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ do more harm to society than good. It is high time that the movie industry goes through a revolutionary change.
- Sandeep Krishnarao Patil (Executive Chief Communication Officer, Vishwa Samvad Kendra, Mumbai; Advisor, VESIM Literati Festival, Mumbai, Khajuraho Literature Festival, Prabuddha Bharat, Belagavi.)