Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Indians, movies, books.

Note: I mean no offense when I refer to Indians as “they” on occasions in the following post. The reason is simple: I’ve had an identity crisis for as long as I remember which has been made possible by my contrasting outlook, beliefs, interests and character.


Movies have always had a very special niche carved out in most Indians’ hearts. I say ‘most’ because I’ve raised eyebrows each time I admit movies are only as special as a blue sky, thus making me a slightly tasteless exception.

Research for this post goes as deep as extracts from casual conversations I’ve had with my parents and grandparents as they shared their experiences as a young and growing individual. Movies, as I see, have influenced the Indian audience for several decades now. My mother speaks of lover peers of hers, who after watching a certain Hindi movies, the titles of which I do not remember, committed suicide jumping off cliffs, into waterfalls etc, all in their undying desire to be eternally bound by love (and may I add, stupidity).

We, Indians, by nature constantly swim in and out of reveries because reality, more often than not, chooses to be less than pleasant. Recalling from my own experience, one week into college, a friend’s friend woefully disclosed her disappointment at having ended up in a dull, uneventful institute. A little inquiry by us led to her telling us, “I thought life at an engineering college would be like the one in ‘Happy Days’.Happy Days is a telugu movie which was a huge hit with the south Indian audience. The movie captures a very pleasant picture of a bunch of freshmen who fall in and out of love among themselves, set in a pretty-looking engineering college. Anyone who’s studied in an engineering college in India how totally fantastic the movie is. On the contrary, Indian engineering institutes are delightful if you have a taste for dark humor, sarcasm, irony and randomness.

I’ve never watched a movie starring Rajnikanth but in India, he is as well known as the Taj Mahal or tandoori chicken. Indian actors, once catapulted into lasting limelight enjoy a never-failing safety net in the form of a direct entry to politics. Actors who haven’t any more knack or knowledge on this topic than an unnamed professional, go on to get elected to the office of the state and later, to the parliament.

A casual questioning shows that the ratio of the number of people who prefer movies to books is heavily lopsided towards the former category. Let me present my completely amateur, unproven theory as to why. Watching movies is just easier than reading a book. There are only so many Nancy Drew and Sidney Sheldon novels that u can finish reading in under three hours. But the ‘time’ factor isn’t really a factor observing how Indians lead a relatively leisurely life; a claim supported by the undying love and loyalty they harbor for cricket, an annoyingly long sport, being made shorter as years roll on, in an effort to make it pass for a global sport.

So moving on, books require considerably more gray matter to effectively process the substance they hold. But movies or for that matter any motion picture or visual aid is impressed upon one’s mind requiring relatively less effort from the individual as compared to the written word. Books require their readers to read the text, process and grasp the meaning, imagine the setting by mapping the words and their implication to visual cues stored in their brains, until, at last, the reader is able to convert the words into a motion picture inside their respective heads, which most people will agree, by experience, is more ‘real’ than watching a series of fast-moving picture frames.

All this led me to think how different or not different would the common Indian be if he/she read more books, even if it’s only a decent fraction of the number of movies he/she watches. Honestly, no one in my immediate family reads books on a regular basis. This piece of fact in addition to showing my family doesn’t have bookworms hidden away, also shows that qualifying an Indian by education or a decent profession can in no way raise the chances of him/her being a fan of the written word.

When we know, as a general fact, that education for sure develops a country, there’s also the fact that education can only go so far as teaching a person to identify and learn to use his talents and abilities. Who/ what, then, is to take care of the constant necessity to sustain the creative skills and to exercise the imagination centre of the Indian mind? It’s general knowledge that every organ, including the brain, atrophies if left unused for long periods of time. I do not imply that any Indian who doesn’t exercise his brain enough will terminate into an incapacitated vegetable but isn’t a part of us lost -- a talent/ skill with a potential to bring what man desires most: wealth, power, fame, happiness? (I used to draw appreciably well years ago before I stopped drawing. Now, my best ‘face’ on paper doesn’t even faintly resemble that of a human being.

It is a growing concern for me personally as I observe how uninspiring bulks of today’s Indian movies are. A couple decades ago, making a movie was an achievement in itself. Good movies stood as an epitome to human perseverance, resilience, dedication, toil and calculated risk. Whereas now, movies get made with a flimsy screenplay, good-looking faces christened ‘actors’, corporate firms funding the artless project just because the CEO/ proprietor wants to satisfy his whims. The tragedy doesn’t end here; Indians uphold very such movies and ditch the less ostentatious yet artful ones. In a stark and cruel contrast, writers still have only their pens to win them a publisher and hoping to find the right editor in whose heart their writing will strike a chord.

I accept trash movies get made all over the world but only in India do they have a sickly sweet stranglehold over the audience and only here do they afflict a delirium so convincing, it is so often misinterpreted as delight.


A long post indeed.


Karthik Manamcheri said...

I agree with the fact that books require more imagination to grasp the environment and movies make it easier but there are some good movies out there (hollywood) which propagate a strong and positive message to the society .. more so with drama and live theatre ..

Ken said...

this article strictly talks about indian movies :)

Gayathri said...

It is a mark of how addicted i am to facebook that, the first thing i did after reading your post, was look for the 'like' option.. Awesome post btw.. I can't wait to tell madhav... He abhors anything that implies thinking

Karthik Manamcheri said...

there are some good indian movies/documentaries which can convey a stronger message because of the visual stimulus .. for example, the movie 'water' ..

Ken said...

@msk: Yes .. and how many people did it inspire ? .. People torched the movie posters and stopped the shoot at benaras forcing the filming to get shifted to Sri Lanka

Ken said...

@gayathri: madhav .. u ll be wasting ur time