How would you prefer to wake up in the morning? It might be to breakfast in bed, in the very utopian way that every single tea related advertisement would start or to the way in which most YouTube morning routines are depicted. My superfluous dramatic self on the other hand, would not settle for anything less than a bit of “Kuch kuch hota hai”. A Shah Rukh Khan post upon my feed would just be equal to a fancy English breakfast with an Earl Grey tea for me!
As a person who has always been attracted to the neighboring country’s film industry, I’ve always pondered upon what exactly the reason was for these films to be embraced as flamboyantly as they are. Is it the fact that these movies represent society or is it because it gives the general public a sense of escapism?
“Bade Bade Deshon mein Aisi Choti Choti baatein hoti rehti hai, Senorita!” Said Raj to Simran, in the ever-famous love story of 1995 –Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Ever since, whenever something unexpected happens to any person, a typical Bollywood fan would have used this dialogue in order to console them because it has developed an understanding that whatever/however problematic a situation may be, it will eventually fade away thereby bringing joy and happiness. This seemed like the perfect example of stating the attribution to the role played by the Bollywood movies in shaping, reshaping, and manipulating the worldview of Indians and sometimes self-acclaimed Desis around the world.
India is home to a massive population, which is extremely heterogenous in terms of linguistics, religion, and cultural traits. The cinematic rollercoaster of India, the Bollywood film industry, has brought about a tremendous amount of impact on the community and has played a key role in establishing India on the world stage. The central question that needs to be addressed here is that whether it is Bollywood that affects culture or is it the other way around. Irrespective of the fact that whether the ultimate goal in producing a certain film is to either spread awareness, give a message or strictly for entertainment purposes, there’s no doubt that this form of media is able to influence and shape the way one thinks, behaves, and feels within a society.
Let us dig into the ways in which these factors influence different aspects of the community. Take a Sri Lankan wedding or peep into your teenage sister’s closet to see the ultimate glitz of sarees and lehengas. If you are able to observe the aforementioned types of clothing, well, regardless of whether you are or aren’t into Bollywood, you have certainly been influenced. The Desi movies have had a profound impact on clothing and fashion over the ages. Clothing is commonly viewed as a means of differentiating between class, caste, religion, region, and the culture. Anarkali’s style of suit choice which was introduced in Mughal-e-Azam (released in 1960) is still a popular trend observed among women in India. Going to another extreme Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) boasted brand consciousness and promoted casual sportswear. Shah Rukh Khan’s orange GAP hoodie and Kajol’s DKNY tees became a must-have for many college kids with aspirations toward being ‘cool’. Cheap copies of these clothes have flooded street markets for the less privileged. Even though we think that the glossy wedding outfits worn by the ladies (which weighs a few kilos!) in India is absolute torture, it has been somewhat of a dream wedding outfit for most Indian women at least once in their lifetime. With this and by experience, I can vouch that Bollywood actresses and actors are trend setters and have a great influence on lifestyles of people.
Considering that India is a tropical country, the brown-skinned population is naturally bound to be the majority, Bollywood conveys that fair skin is better than the dark skin in most of these films and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if you aren’t able to recollect a movie without a fair actress in it. With the rapidly booming concepts of globalization and modernization, western outfits have become an integral part of any culture. In that vein, majority of the Bollywood movies portray women who are wearing salwar suits as timid and non-modernized. Not only does Bollywood make a statement through their films on one’s complexion and fashion sense but also the language one uses, especially English, as it is taken as style statement and a symbol of modernity. Bollywood movies have portrayed characters who were unable to converse in English as illiterate and as a theme for comedy. If you have watched the movie English Vinglish for instance, you’d know that it addressed this issue throughout the movie.
‘Live in relationships’, even the mere mentioning of these three words can result in a good old stare from your parents. In South Asian societies, it is no secret that having a relationship without being married is often considered as unethical and inappropriate. Even though the concept of a live-in relationship was criticized in Bollywood, many movies made in the last decade has gone on to normalize this concept. Films such as; OK Jaanu (2017) and Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008) have portrayed this concept. This might have resulted due to the disintegration in the concept of families and also with the emergence of nuclear families rather than keeping up with joint families. I was planning on writing about the effect of ‘Balle Balle’ Bollywood dance and music however, I’m going to pass on that because you know why!
Just like the way a Bollywood movie without at least three songs is considered to be ‘bland’, it is the same with when it comes to scenes of violence. Bollywood has its influence in every nook and corner of the country. In movies, generally, heroes are shown to be physically strong and indulges in fights and violence resulting in the promotion of violence and rude behavior. Movies have the power to shape behavior, thoughts, and feelings and over the years, there has been a slow transformation in how the hero of a movie is projected. Many actions films based on these themes are Sholay, Rowdy Rathore, Dabangg, Singham, and so forth. When talking of violence, it is hard to ignore the character played by Amitabh Bachchan of “Angry Young Man” during the 1970s, who himself was in emotional turmoil and was burning in flames of revenge. Not only does this promote violence and aggression but also a false portrayal of heroism.
Now, it is no secret that, Bollywood has been insensitive toward the community of homosexuals. Homosexuality has been a taboo subject in India up until today’s time and much attention has been shone upon Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes homosexuality, which some people retaliated to by citing that it needed a legislative reformation. Homosexuals are often picturized as a separate part of community due to the cultural build of India. They have never been included in India’s society and have always been seen as a separate entity. Bollywood promoted this by depicting them in a separate manner when compared to the depiction of heterosexuals. Dostana (2008), Student of the Year (2012) and Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania (2014) are all examples which displayed homosexuality as a comic element. Amidst this depiction of LGBTQ+ in poor light, in the last couple of years, few movies have addressed this issue. Movies like; ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’ and ‘Margarita with a Straw’, has bought a twist to this preposterous traditional frame.
Now here’s a rather unpopular note, we have seen many actors and actresses playing the same type of characters in many movies. Well, sure, sometimes this could be due to a conscious choice made by the actors but most of the time at least, it has been proven that this usually occurs as society would not accept certain actors portraying any other types of characters apart from what they are already well known for. For example, Shah Rukh Khan in ‘Zero’ (2018) portrayed a man short in stature and Anushka Sharma portrayed a woman suffering from cerebral palsy. This movie turned put to be a flop and as per many critics’ justification, the movie failed because the actors were cast in roles that were out of their typical agendas.
With this it is of no doubt that the Indian society and certain parts of the international community has been of a direct victim of Bollywood in both a good and a bad way. As much as this may sound as a criticism, the number of Bolly songs on my playlist would outnumber those in every other language of my polyglot life!
– Rtr Gethmi Adikari
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