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When Theory Clouds the Eyes

Narendra Panjwani

By Rajinder Kumar Dudrah
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 211, Rs. 280.00


Sociology has not gone to Indian movies very often, and that needs to be corrected. Consider that in India today we breathe movies as a key element of the national atmosphere, second only to oxygen, ozone, bottled mineral water, satellite TV and the internet. Bollywood, the world of Hindi moviedom, is also a big, sprawling social fact—in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and among the South Asian Diaspora in the West.   Popular Hindi cinema needs therefore to be understood much better as a social/cultural force because…well, because it is there.   Several interesting questions arise when you pause and look at our movies as a cultural phenomenon: Why are these films so popular? How is it that this popularity does not dim even after most films are rejected by the mass of ticket-buyers as ‘just trash’? Eight out of ten films flop at the box office every week, and this has been the score, more or less, for the last 50 years! Yet every Friday, the day when new films are released, the public’s hopes re-awaken, and people queue up at the box office once again—undaunted by last week’s disappointment! But occasionally, once in a blue moon, their gamble is rewarded by a gem of a movie, gems with names like Rang De Basanti, Guru, Omkara, Black, Veer Zaara, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Maachis, DDLJ, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Sholay, Mr. India, Amar Akbar Anthony, Umrao Jaan, Chashme Baddoor, Aandhi, Deewaar, Guide, Mughal-e-Azam, Naya Daur, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Pyaasa, Mr. & Mrs. 55, Mr. 420, Awara, Devdas, and so on.   What makes some movies so successful that fans watch them 20, 30 times? Nearly 14 million Indians buy tickets to watch films every day, and on a good blockbuster House-Full day this number touches 20 million. And this is not counting the numbers of those who line up to watch Indian movies outside India…   No other art form has this kind of intimate, active relationship with such a large audience, certainly not in India. This is especially significant considering that our new-born Moral Police does not take kindly to Art and its ‘incorrect’ expressions at all, as the exiled painter, M.F. Husain will tell you, as will dozens of documentary and feature filmmakers. Among recent victims are Rahul Dholakia & Anurag Kashyap, the two young men who dared to make Parzania, and Black Friday, both released last year. Before them, Deepa Mehta’s film ...

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