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Humanism in Hindi Cinema


Narendra Panjwani


ONE reason why popular Hindi cinema is looked down upon in our university classrooms and in most middle class households in urban India is that it’s stories are escapist, its glamour comes dangerously close to vulgarity, and it is devoid of anything but the most trite moral messages - like Good always, in the film’s last 5 minutes, triumphs over Evil.   Its only redeeming feature from this viewpoint is that the lyrics of some film songs are both surprisingly moving and brilliant. There might also in some classrooms be a grudging nod of respect for star filmmakers of the black n white era like Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, K Asif, but never all four. Four would be scandalous! One of them might just squeak through into the classroom’s portal of Art, with a little difficulty. In any case these greats are all dead, so you can take your pick, for they are almost harmless now. And oh yes, recent Bollywood films have succeeded at the international box office like never before, but…they still don’t make the grade as Art.   This is where we are with respect to Bollywood movies; this is where we must start from. I wish to argue that Bollywood films come in many colours; it is wrong therefore to essentialize the entire corpus and dismiss it as a whole. Almost every year Bollywood produces a few films that are deeply Humanist – in a popular sense. Given that talking films have been coming out of Bombay/Mumbai’s studios since 1931,that makes quite a lot of films in the last 77 years. Among the humanist films which come to mind post 2000 are Lagaan, Rang De Basanti, Chak De, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Mr.& Mrs. Iyer, Munnabhai MBBS, and its Gandhian sequel, Munnabhai Lage Raho. To begin with, take Bhavna Talwar’s 2007 film Dharm, for instance, which was chosen to be the closing film at Cannes last year. It was also selected to be India’s entry for the Oscars in 2007, but was displaced at the last minute by Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya – setting off a minor controversy.   Dharm, which happens to be Talwar’s debut film, is a journey into the heart of a Hindu priest’s inner soul. His name is Pandit Chaturvedi, and the role has been played rather well by Pankaj Kapur.   The pandit is a highly respected local ...


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