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Politics On Silver Screen

Indian cinema had not developed a distinct political genre before this election. But times are a changing. Bollywood and southern cinema seem to have proclaimed political wars through this much influential, massively popular and strongly persuasive medium in recent times.

In Bollywood, some recent releases show that the synthesis of patriotism, story narratives and focal point of the contents are totally different from earlier ones. Political films in India are outspoken nowadays with original names in character rather than fictionalising them like those of yesteryears. It is also for this reason that such cinema is being viewed seriously by the Election Commission of India as a part of election campaign. TheAccidental Prime Minister, thebiopic on former prime minister Dr. Man Mohan SinghandPM Narendra Modi on the present incumbent are recent political films that have drawn the ECI’s notice, and the latter has been barred from screening during the ongoing election. Meanwhile, Ram Ki Janmabhoomi, a movie based on the demolition of Babri Masjid, was taken to court before it was released at March end this year.

In the South, it appears as if a ‘parallel war’ of political narratives in cinema is being waged in Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Tamil Nadu. Two biopics on late actor-cum-political legend NT Rama Rao, namelyN.T.R.: Kathanayakuduand N.T.R.: Mahanayukuduby his son Balakrishna and Lakshmi’s NTR by Ram Gopal Verma in Andhra Pradesh created some controversy as the cinematic narratives are politically sanitised. Yatrais another biopic based on the life of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Pradwshlate Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. Udaya Simhatraces the journey of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) supremo K. Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR) in the establishment of Telengana as a separate State.

Tamil Nadu is again moving ahead of other States cinematically, with several projects on former chief minister late Jayalalitha. Aweb series on the iconic leader by Gautham Menon is reportedly moving ahead, while Priyadarshini is working on a biopic titled The Iron Ladysince February 24 this year. Veteran director Bharathiraja, actor Vijay and Vidya Balan are on board in two different projects on ‘Amma’.

Maharashtra too has joined the biopic bandwagon with Thackeray which depicts the life and ideology of Shiv Sena founder Bal Keshav Thackeray. The central character is played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the choice criticised as an effort to whitewash the party’s ideology and gain the sympathy of the Muslim community. The producer has stoutly denied this, arguing that Siddiqui was cast as ‘Tiger’ for his classic acting skills.

In an upcoming movie Tashkent Filesof which the trailer has been released, director Vivek Agnihotri focuses on former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri’s ‘mysterious’ death overseas. In an interview to Outlook, Agnihotri has said, “This film is going to change the political narrative of the country. It is not a biopic but a murder mystery in a contemporary setting”.

Sensitive narrative of subject, over-dramatisation of content, patriotic algorithm are a few elements which have made some films of this genre do well at the box office or become critically acclaimed hits. Aandhi (1975) and Kissa Kursi Ka (1978), and later on Aaj Ka MLA andRam Avtarwere based on controversial political narratives. The National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) sponsored films on the life and times of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.Legendary directors Rittwik Ghatak, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Gurvinder Singh and Adoor Gopalakrishnan have depicted the influence of politics in post-independent India in their masterpieces. Partition movies were also a part of yesterday’s political film narratives that spoke about the asynchrony in society. But from such parallel narratives, political cinema is moving towards commercialisation with different treatment from predecessors, unleashing a new wave of political film-making in the country. Giridhar Jha has dubbed this new political narrative a ‘mahagathbandhanof cinema and electoral politics’.

This is probably for the first time in Indian cinema that the power of the medium is being directly instrumentalised as a part of politics. Youths of the country are considering it a component of electoral campaign. Cinema is a medium of mass culture, dominated by modes of entertainment and social representation. It is a technical art shaped by the views of the director. As such, cinema which is supposed to be layered with the director’s dream, has been established as a propaganda tool, a medium for transmitting political ideologies to different parts of the world. During World War II, Germany and Russia directly used cinema to express political interests.

Are we seeing a new trend of political film making in India? Can cinema mirror the real-life politics of the country? Will there be room for objectivity and credibility in terms of character projection, as well as hard research to profile political times in the world’s largest democracy? These are some major questions filmmakers need to address before taking up a political film in a country as socio-culturally diverse as India.

- Dr. Bharati Bharali

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