From the time the very first feature film “Raja Harishchandra” was produced in 1913, the Indian Film Industry has come a long way. The “Parallel Cinema” movement in the 1940s led by pioneers like Satyajit Ray gave way to the “Golden Age of Indian Cinema”, as described by many film historians. It was in the late 1970s that a criticism arose that the film body wasn’t doing enough to encourage Commercial Films. Then slowly came the rise of the Masala Films as we call it today. Unfortunately, as commercial films evolved, there came a time where content mattered less and viewership mattered more.
To quote Walt Disney, a pioneer of the American animation industry: “Movies are powerful tools that have the ability to influence people. Therefore, it is important to use it in the right manner.” Films are powerful tools that have the potential to accentuate society’s most crucial and existing problems to a large mass of people. Unfortunately, not everyone in the film industry uses this powerful tool in the right manner. Many commercial films play a critical role in implanting and penetrating various stereotypes into people’s minds.
“Movies are powerful tools that have the ability to influence people. Therefore, it is important to use it in the right manner.”
The impossible beauty standards displayed in films and media has standardised beauty among the Indian public, the perfect body showcased in Indian films place some people under traumatic pressure to attain these standards. The age-old obsession with fair skin in India that mainly started during the colonial era persists in Indian society to date and is now mainly propagated by the Indian Film Industry. Despite Indians possessing a varied range of skin colours, most films only portray actors and actresses of fair complexion.
A lot of us would have noticed the common convention of casting a dark-skinned person as a villain or a sidekick. What’s even more disheartening is that these stereotypes are depicted in kids cartoons as well, including popular ones such as ChhotaBheem. Indian cartoons rarely depict diversity, and consequently, we are teaching the young generation the same stereotypes instead of eliminating them.
Indian Films vividly associates beauty, social status, personality and success with something so insignificant and trivial as skin colour.
If you are dusky or don’t have the conventional body, people say it is a privilege to be cast as a lead actor or actress-but is it? One problem here is that being beautiful means being fair or having the conventional body type; the other is that it's high time that looks took a back-seat and talent became the parameter in the Indian film industry.
Indian film industries cannot shy away from the fact that they have played a major role in normalising rape culture. From the 1970s to the 1990s, there was an obligatory inclusion of a rape scene, wherein the hero came to save the heroine. Nowadays, it’s a mandatory dance/item number in most Indian films. The dance sequences usually happen as a celebration; we are teaching the younger generation that commoditising a woman’s body is normal and an act of celebration.
There is a dearth of representation of certain communities in Indian cinema. Moreover, sometimes the representation of certain communities is misleading to the public. From a country that boasts of diversity, we certainly have failed to showcase the diversity in our cinema. A lot of times there has been a misleading representation of certain communities in terms of ethnicity, religion, and even sexual orientation. For eg., the representation of the LGBTQ+ community in Indian cinema. There are very few, or none at all, to represent such minorities.
Another question to be answered is: Should films depict violence? Violence has become an integral part of cinema that most of us couldn’t think about doing away with it. Yes, violence of all forms is present in society and we have to depict the reality in our films, but the question remains; is it portrayed in the right manner?
There is a common practice to romanticise violence in films. Normalising the depiction of toxic relationships where the men are physically or verbally abusive and manipulating. Furthermore, justifying these actions as expressions of love is misleading society as a whole and several generations to come. These practices have normalised the idea of “toxic masculinity”.
Additionally, actors who have called out such misogyny in films haven’t mustered any significant support.
Recently I have noticed a huge rise in crime films that showcase disturbing crime scenes. Moreover, at times the film is depicted in such a manner the crime or murder is justified. The thought that it is alright to commit a crime if the purpose is right is a theory that has been attached to certain films. Consequently, what we are losing is the right and the ability to think for ourselves.
In short, films should encourage people to be averse from practising any form of violence. But unfortunately, that isn’t always practised in films. People end up glorifying violence.
Many actors responded by justifying that these are “R” rated films and the audience should know what to watch and what to follow as adults. Well, we have got to understand that we live in a country where a majority of the population worship and idolize heroes and heroines. We even elect them. We are inspired by the characters that the actors play on-screen and love to imitate them. Hence, these actors have a responsibility to fulfil.
And I absolutely agree with the fact that there are a handful of people in the Indian film industry who are consistently working hard towards eliminating these practices and norms in the industry but they require tremendous support which we are indeed capable of providing.
The film industry ought to realise the power they possess and channelise it in the right manner, I truly hope that they do realise that “with great power comes great responsibility”.