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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Hindi Cinema And Its Current Battle Against Brutality

With commercial hits emerging, Indian cinema is not ceasing to present hard-hitting true stories. In fact, the ‘infotainment’ style of educating/enlighting the audience through cinema has paved the way to becoming a genre of its own. Even if we look at some releases last year in films like The Kashmir Files, Anek and Badhaai Do, some powerful titles tackled marginalised topics and true stories through the medium of commercial cinema.

Of course, there have been potboilers like Pathaan and Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar who performed tremendously at the box office. Note, how even these films highlighted important social subjects that connect directly with Indian and international audiences. It portrays ‘escapism’ as well as a certain sense of nostalgia, which is a huge sellable commodity post-COVID.

Earlier this year, Netflix’s Trial By Fire series awakened to a horrific fire tragedy which took place in an Indian cinema in 1997. It chronicles the parents’ ongoing fight for justice for their children, who sadly passed away during the devastation. The show leaves the audience feeling numb as they continue to fight Delhi’s powerful forces. Simultaneously, we have also seen compelling pictures like Afwaah, Bheed and Faraaz that unfortunately were not given the traction they rightfully deserved.

Cut to slightly later. Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, The Kerala Story, Scoop and now Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai. All four of these contents are inspired by true stories and harsh circumstances.

Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway: Dir – Ashima Chibber 

Rani Mukerji, in a career milestone performance, plays a mother who fights a country to bring back her children from Norwegian Child Welfare Services (CWS). She and her husband were living in Norway with their children until they were forced into foster care by CWS, with rules that parents can’t see their children till they turn 18.

The reason stated by the parents was cultural differences like they used to feed their children which were marked as force-feeding by Norway’s Child Protective Service. It was followed by custody battles with the intervention of the Indian Government. The movie chronicles this emotional war, providing a realistic and hard-hitting insight into an NRI. In the pursuit of the utopian dream, a naive lady is surrounded by a dystopian reality.

Consequently, we see how an external battle with a nation transpires into a hard-hitting internal war. Where a woman is stranded by her own family and husband. Despite being branded as ‘mentally unfit’, ultimately, it is a female lawyer and her native country that stands by the protagonist. The movie is an eye-opener on the cultural persecution of Indians in certain parts of Europe as well as the corrupt system.

The Kerala Story: Dir – Sudipto Sen

If Mrs Chatterjee highlights a corrupt system, The Kerala Story is a punch to the gut in exposing fundamentalist forces, similar to Netflix’s Caliphate series. The grooming and coercion of unassuming women is a concerning issue that is not limited to India, but worldwide too. Especially in the UK, if one recalls the Rotherham abuse scandal and Bethnal Green trio.

This Sudipto Sen picture is inspired by incidents that occurred between 2016 and 2018. Three women played by Adah Sharma, Siddhi Idnani and Yogita Bihani. Two of them are steadily brainwashed by fanatics due to a lack of cultural awareness of their own faith. After converting to Islam, they are brainwashed into leaving their native countries and sent to ISIS. Though one eventually lands in an Afghanistani jail.

Aside from the ‘propaganda’ debate, the movie presents some barbaric visuals of gory violence, beheadings, sexual assaults of women (as known in the cases of Yazidi women) and blasphemous references. Whatever we know about terrorist organisations, this only reinforces their fascist ideologies. Despite the controversy arising from the film, makers have emphasised its message to be anti-terror.

Beyond the parameters of politics, the movie is also a bleak reminder of how even in the 21st century women are still subject to violence by men. Even in the past few days, harrowing cases are spine-chilling to fathom. Moreover, the fact that figures like Shamima Begum are villainised and the male perpetrators and manipulators have gotten away with the media scrutiny ensued. The whole realisation leaves one feeling numb.

Scoop: Dir – Hansal Mehta

When the news pursuer becomes the headline, this can be a very frightening ordeal. Hansal Mehta’s Scoop is based on the Jigna Vora case, specifically her biographical memoir Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison.  

Karishma Tanna plays Jagruti Pathak, a prominent crime reporter. She becomes the principal suspect in the assassination of another journalist. Jagruti has to defend her innocence as she becomes the focus of attention because everyone thinks she used her contacts in the underworld to kill her competitor.

The gripping yet slow-burning six-part series delves into showcasing how an ordinary woman’s life takes a 360-degree turn after ambition and drive for a breaking story. Throughout the series, we see her grappling with misogyny in the newsroom as well as a drive/pressure to deliver ‘breaking news’.

Plus, the series compels one to ponder how influential people are never brought to justice or scrutinised. Yet, an article can make or break an individual. The ‘media trial’ that Jagruti goes through is so dangerously rampant in today’s day and age, where women too are the subject of instant public judgement and verdict.

Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai: Dir – Apoorv Singh Karki

Arguably yet similar to the case of The Kerala Story, ZEE5 Global’s Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai is an anti-extremist movie, that unveils how fundamentalists use religion as an excuse to harm and cause disharmony. This Apoorv Singh Karki courtroom drama seems to be inspired by a true story which shook the country.

It revolves around a minor teenage girl Nu (Adrija Sinha), who decides to file an FIR against a so-called ‘God-man’ in the country for sexual assault and tackles the most dangerous people. Being plunged into a perilous world, a naive but clever lawyer PC Solanki (Manoj Bajpayee), also a strong Shiva devotee, becomes her refuge. Fighting for half a decade, he makes sure Nu gets justice.

Bajpayee delivers his career’s best performance and sets the record straight when it comes to faith used as a weapon to cause harm. Manoj’s powerful monologue about the antagonist’s farce of a saint must not and should not defame Hinduism or faith. Plus, his character fights dedicatedly for truth and the abuse suffered by a young girl. Sadly, such cases are so relevant in today’s day and age.

In addition, not only is the movie about one gender suffering due to another but also its impetus on truth. How common people have the courage to bring power abusers to justice, regardless of their reach and terror. The film empowers the ordinary person and makes a firm stance against extremism.

Final Word

Within these four films, there is a microscope on our society and a gripping perspective on the dark side of humanity. It showcases how even today, women are catapulted to sinister realities due to corrupt systems and patriarchal figures.

Beyond the kaleidoscopic representation, Hindi cinema (across mediums and formats) is embracing real stories which evoke debate or discussion and are mentally/emotionally stimulating. For a while, it has faced harsh criticism by the ‘boycotters’ for compromising its Indic values for Western validation. However, these titles are providing important lessons through art. Such content compels us to retrace our past and learn from grave mistakes. A paradigm shift is finally happening.

Even in the non-Hindi belt, we have seen some hard-hitting stories but pro-humanity ones. For instance, Punjabi’s Kali Jotta and Malayalam’s 2018. Both of these titles also showcase how one, in the face of adversity and horrific situations, is empowered to fight back irrespective of how tough it may be.

But can or will cinema ever be a social justice crusader or an effective catalyst to implement change? The ball is in time’s court.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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