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Indian films provoke more than entertainment
Priyanka Khanna, May 15  [ Sun, May 15, 2005 ]
Indian films provoke more than entertainment
Sikhs are divided over Sunny Deol's latest comedy 'Jo Bole So Nihal'

  • New Delhi, May 15 (IANS): If you thought Indian cinema was just about Shah Rukh Khan romancing in the rain, think again! Viewers and psycho-analysers seem to be getting a bit too serious about Bollywood entertainment.

    "Jo Bole So Nihal", a harmless looking comic-action flick, as well as "Bose - The Forgotten Hero", a biopic based on the legendary freedom fighter that released this week, have ruffled many feathers.

    The public interest litigation filed against ace filmmaker Shyam Benegal's celluloid version of Subhash Chandra Bose's life does not come as a surprise. Biopics and historical films routinely face flak across the world.

    However, protests from a section of the Sikh community against the Sunny Deol starrer were unexpected.

    Controversies are stalking Indian films with increasing regularity. Whether it is animal or women rights' activists or aficionados of historical figures, the dream merchants of Indian filmdom have more than the censor board to contend with.

    Ranging from violent protests against Deepa Mehta's film on lesbianism - "Fire" - to protests against the nomenclature of a Kamal Hasan film, made-in-India films are courting controversy like never before.

    "With the mushrooming of television channels, anybody who has something to say gets a platform and thus we find more and more films getting embroiled in controversies," say observers.

    And this comes at a time when the Censor Board is loosening up and becoming more and more lenient. Indeed, there is a discernible shift away from censorship in the way the board has been conducting business of late.

    A committee was also set up by the information and broadcasting ministry to propose a new policy on censorship and film festivals.

    Though the government's intentions to refurbish the censor policy is welcome, it would change little if creativity is smothered by the self-appointed moral brigade, say filmmakers.

    Bollywood is increasingly being viewed as a reflection of India's diverse and vibrant culture. Says writer Lavina Melwani: "From the 'wah-wahs!' (applause) of the frontbenchers, our beloved, but much maligned, Hindi cinema has gone on to being feted around the world and included in Oscar talk."

    The increasing presence of Indian cinema in film festivals across the world, including the prestigious Cannes festival, has also led to educational institutions dissecting Bollywood and pondering on the effects of this "powerful medium" on human beings.

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  • Bollywood is certainly getting respect, an entry in the Oxford dictionary being one such indicator. Today, Bollywood is of great interest to sociologists and anthropologists, says Lavina.

    At Stanford, it is possible to take a course - 'Bollywood and Beyond: South Asian Histories and Cultures through Popular Film'. As the syllabus states, Indian cinema has been an important site for the articulation of ideas about nation, class, caste, gender and sexuality, community, and the diaspora.

    The class addresses varied questions - how do Indian films represent and reconstitute national culture for audiences in India and the diaspora? What is the role of cinema in the formation of class, gender, and religious identities? What can Bollywood depictions of romance teach us about the complex relationships between desire, pleasure and politics?

    The increasing psychoanalyses of Bollywood underway clearly indicate that it is being taken more and more seriously. Lavina says Thomas Waugh at Concordia University has even done a paper on "Queer Bollywood? Patterns of Sexual Subversion in Recent Indian Cinema".

    And a history course has this offering, "From Mutiny to Bollywood: Cultures of Rule and Resistance, 1857-1954", which also explores how nationhood and partition are shown in cinema.

    "Bollywood/Hollywood: Queer Representation and the Perils of Translation" is the subject of a talk by Gayatri Gopinath, a professor of women and gender studies at the University of California.

    Lavina adds that at the London School of Economics and Political Science, there have been readings analysing cinema as a metaphor for Indian society and politics and scholars there have mulled over the hefty topic: "Bollywood, Globalisation and Indian Cultural Representation".

    Bollywood seems to be turning into fodder for academic researchers, but the latest set of protests back home shows that perhaps it is being taken way too seriously sometimes.