Cinema and Evolution

Ever noticed the rush you feel after coming out of a movie theatre because of few scenes, songs or dialogues? Bringing out the emotions, they sometimes make you smile, sometimes make you ponder, and sometimes make you cry. That’s the power of storytelling and not to forget much credit goes to the movie theatres for elevating those emotions and creating a larger than life experience for the viewers. Unfortunately, the pandemic has led to the shutdown of theatres and those big screens have been replaced by our mobile phones, laptops, tabs and television and we have all shifted towards streaming platforms for our source of entertainment. Watching content on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+Hotstar and many other streaming platforms while wearing your pyjamas and eating homemade pizza seems easy, comfortable and cost-efficient, however, is the essence and magic of the movie experience lost?

I remember my mom telling me how everyone in her locality used to gather together in a nearby ground to watch a movie on a white parda (sheet). It used to be an occasion when she was a kid. People would finish their dinner early, complete their household chores and get ready for the quality time with friends and family. This experience was something very special to her, and I can imagine why; the entire locality sitting together, feeling those emotions, dancing to the same tune and clapping and hooting together for the protagonist, it all sounds surreal. 

Then came the times with small movie theatres where people would wake up early to stand in a ticket counter queue, and watch films with amazement on that screen while munching on their snacks. Over the years, the screen started getting bigger and bigger, making the movie-watching experience better and better with commendable sound systems, lights, comfortable chairs and 3D visuals. Films like Sholay and Baahubali wouldn’t have been few of the most loved movies if it wasn’t for the theatres. 

From sitting with your mohalla to sitting with strangers, the cinema watching experience changed drastically. And then came streaming services that became the saviour of the film industry as well as the viewers in the difficult times of pandemic. We’ve known these platforms for a long time and consumed a good amount of content; however, streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime have seen a commendable growth in terms of their subscribers and viewers in the recent times. Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana starrer Gulabo Sitabo was the first big Bollywood film to premiere on an OTT platform and then lined up other films including Vidya Balan starrer Shakuntala Devi, Sushant Singh Rajput and Sanjana Sanghi’s Dil Bechara and Janhvi Kapoor’s Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl. Not just Bollywood but regional films too have opted for streaming windows to reach out to the viewers; to name a few, superstar Nani’s 25th film and the game-changer of the times Fahadh Faasil’s C U Soon. 

While the film industry is taking small steps towards the online streaming culture, viewers have already tasted a bunch of varieties and are looking forward to more and more. Filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar and Ribhu Dasgupta are no new to this culture. They’ve all created content for online streaming before and have received good response. Coming back to viewers, they have not just limited themselves to Indian movies but are watching world cinema right now. What acts as an advantage here is that people are open to new ideas, different techniques of storytelling, and more than a superstar, people are looking forward to seeing skilful actors.

A reason why actor Anushka Sharma's backed Bulbbul and Paatal Lok have received appreciation not just from critics but viewers too. We hope when theatres open, we get to see such content and stories on the big screens as well and not just the grandeur of the superstar and the sets. 

Cinema also plays a crucial role in shaping the society and bringing a change in it. For instance, when Khaali Peeli’s track ‘Beyoncé Sharma Jayegi’ was released, it came under immense criticism for its racist lyrics, Tujhe dekh ke goriya Beyonce Sharma Jayegi, after receiving a wide backlash, the makers later changed the spelling and made it 'Beyonse Sharma Jayegi and now the entire line has been replaced by 'tera dekh ke nakhra...duniya sharma jayegi'. And in Thappad when Taapsee Pannu’s character Amrita fights all the odds of society to take stand for herself when her husband slaps, it needs an applause. The film industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in our country, and we have seen stories and characters evolve over the years. Most of the characters of a woman earlier were showcased as ‘bechari abla naari’ who is waiting for her hero to save her from all the odds of the society, thankfully today we see that change (well mostly), women characters in movies are fighting their own battles and are not just limited to a subject of beauty; case in point, Vidya Balan in Tumhari Sulu, Sushmita Sen in Aarya, Neena Gupta in Badhaai Ho. We used to have this basic concept in the movies where a man does all the tough work, and a woman takes care of the family and kids. 

The idea of romance and the expression of love too is evolving;from two flowers nuzzling each other to two people kissing on screenand normalizing pre-marital sex irrespective of their genders and age, we have come a long way. Web series like Made in Heaven and films like Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga and Super Deluxe have spoken about the LGBTQ community and their survival challenges in this society. These films have been made to change the mindset of people and give them a new perspective to understand homosexuality. And thankfully we are not using stereotypical ideas of ‘floral kapde,’ ‘lip bite,’ and ‘weird hand movements’ to portray such characters on screen.  

Besides, what is noteworthy is that our film industry is speaking about topics that matter through different stories. Malayalam film Uyare and Hindi film Chhapaak told the stories of acid attack survivors; PinkMaatr, and Mardani spoke about sexual assault; Article 15 showcased the discrimination in our society and movies like Dear Zindagi, and Kaasav touched on various aspects of mental health.  

Having said that, there are a lot of facets that need to be addressed in the movie-making process. Many filmmakers and writers still need to rethink their idea of beauty. To start with, let’s address why the recent song of Khali Peeli ‘Beyoncé Sharma Jayegi’ is a problem. Not once not twice, we have seen films define beauty with fairness and silky smooth hair a countless number of times. To the entire controversy of the song, as per IANS reports, the director of the film Maqbool Khan said, “The term ‘goriya’ has been so often and traditionally used in Indian songs to address a girl that it didn’t occur to any of us to interpret it in a literal manner.” That is the case with most of the films, we as a society have normalized so many unfair things that these stereotypical ideas don’t catch anyone’s attention and are never spoken about.

If nobody pays attention to these things, it will continue to go on for ages. Most of the films these days have item songs, while some work well with the narrative; some are just promotional numbers. The lyrics of such songs often objectify women, and audience (including kids) actually dance to these tunes without even realizing where the problem lies. 

Another factor that the industry still needs to work on is the casting process. When a movie is being made on a dark skin girl or an LGBTQ community person, why not cast a person who actually is one of them and can portray the character naturally? Instead of using makeup on a fair skin girl to make her look dark, maybe an actual dark skin girl could be cast in the movie. Maybe that will help the audience connect more to the character!

Moving on, there have also been films that speak about religion, caste and even nation to a certain extent. In such cases, what the filmmakers need to understand is how people will believe whatever is presented on the screen, and what viewers need to understand is whatever the movie says doesn’t need to be 100% accurate. There are a few elements added to the story for the sake of entertainment. Say, Vicky Kaushal starrer Uri: The Surgical Strike, a few factors including certain Pakistani army officers and their way of handling the entire situation was fictional and just an element added for masala. While making such movies, maybe filmmakers need to focus less on masala and more on facts and be conscious of the message it’s delivering in the end. With viewers consuming more and more content, we hope to see certain positive changes and a balance in the process of movie-making. Once the industry is back on track, makers need to address certain aspects of storytelling to impact society and make it a better place to live in.     --- Srivalli