Indian cinema has finally come of age!

by Sunil 1. May 2009 03:41

Indian cinema has finally come of age! This maturity was reached after a long process of experimentation, interpretation, and the challenges of transgressing social taboos that are so entwined with Indian Society. The progression from representing intimacy with converging roses, to depicting sex on screen, has taken the Indian filmmaker over four decades. The filmmaker and actor of the sixties and early seventies risked ridicule if he dared to depict caste and gender inequality or sex.  It was a period when mythological pictures were instant hits, where celluloid heroes were elevated to the position of gods in an instant.


The role of women as objects of sexual desire (who were destined to live under the tutelage of men) was often the central theme. Well-built villains stood little or no chance against lean heroes. Intimacy was always camouflaged by banyan trees or bowers of flowers, and running around trees while holding hands and singing songs, a must! Roses blown together by breezes which inexplicably converged from opposite directions represented a passionate kiss. Although they never had sex on screen, babies destined to be heroes were born, and continued the dramatic tradition of killing villains in gory encounters in the concluding scenes. The police would usually enter the scene only after the villain’s final sigh.


But this was popular cinema, designed to entertain the masses. Parallel cinema was in its infancy then. With parallel cinema, the filmmaker started using celluloid to address social issues. Acceptance of the filmmaker as social reformer took time, but the seeds were sown.  


The film maker’s role as social reformer has seldom been acknowledged. Literature was never a vehicle of social change in India, considering the abysmal rate of literacy. The film closely followed and replicated in part the predominant social ethos of various periods. The seventies inspired the film maker to give the female protagonist an equal plinth and the domineering attitude of the hero was diluted. The eighties were an anti-climax. Chauvinism returned, but in a more refined form, as if to atone for the sacrilege committed by their predecessors in the late seventies. 


The nineties saw a revivalist movement in parallel cinema, and although commercial flicks took centre stage, experimental cinema was accepted and began to attract its niche audience. Today issues like homosexuality, lesbianism, and surrogate motherhood are central themes in many movies.



Attitudes are changing, and the Indian film industry is the largest in terms of ticket sales and the numbers of movies produced.  So the next time you watch a scintillating sex scene, do ` remember to give the humble rose its due.





Sunil & Shayoni

(Excerpt from Best of Delhi,  Globetrotters SA)





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