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A lavish new series, Bhansali’s Heeramandi, promises a glimpse into the lives of courtesans in 1940s India. Critics, however, worry that the show prioritises dazzling visuals over historical accuracy. Will Heeramandi offer a fresh perspective on these complex women, or will she simply reinforce stereotypes with her opulent sets and costumes? Does spectacle trump substance, or can Heeramandi educate while entertaining?

The ongoing buzz around Bhansali’s majestic Heeramandi is for its extravagant depiction of the lives of Tawaifs, which comes across as nothing else but an alternative, deranged portrayal of these women’s lives. Bhansali’s work has prioritised aesthetic representation over the realistic narrative of the courtesan culture. Heeramandi: The Diamond Baazar is set against the backdrop of India’s struggle for freedom from British control. The series delves into the lives of Tawaifs within Lahore’s Heera Mandi. The story revolves around a bitter battle for dominance. Longstanding rivals Mallikajaan and Fareedan are caught in a fierce battle to claim the top spot. Mallikajaan seems to have a successor in her young daughter, Alam. But a surprising turn of events arises when Alam defies expectations. She chooses the love of one man over the admiration of many, throwing the future of Heera Mandi into question while also throwing away our expectations in a deep ditch of disappointment with the abrupt absurdity in the plot that follows the sensitised and well-marketed drama series.

The history of courtesans in India is a story of shifting status. Once respected advisors to Mughal courts, they are now primarily seen as objects of sexual desire. This decline, from revered cultural figures to mere prostitutes, was likely influenced by British colonialism and the patriarchal structure of Oudh society. Notably, women’s contributions, both political and domestic, were often ignored or erased from history. This lack of documentation extends to Tawaifs, who were activists but were labelled as prostitutes despite their notable sacrifices.

The series holds immense promise, stretching across a significant period of nearly two decades, from the 1920s to 1947. While eight episodes offer ample room for development, the true strength lies in the visual spectacle. Every frame—from the opening shot to the finale—exudes grandeur. The costumes are breathtaking, the jewellery is dazzling, and the set design is a masterpiece. Director Bhansali’s signature style is undeniable. However, the narrative itself seems to falter, making the viewing experience less than captivating.

The term “tawaif” has undergone a significant shift in meaning. Once respected entertainers during a flourishing artistic period in India, they are now often associated with sex work in modern times. However, British rule led to their criminalization and social exclusion. Bollywood has long capitalised on the allure of courtesans. Films traditionally showcased their stories through suggestive dances and scenes. As India modernised, these depictions evolved from classical dances to more contemporary styles. Yet, the fascination with courtesans remained, with actresses viewing such roles as prestigious. These portrayals often romanticise the lives of courtesans. Lavish costumes and opulent settings create a fantastical world in films like “Devdas,” “Gangubai,” and potentially “Heeramandi.” This Hollywood-esque exotic depiction is far removed from the realities of these women’s lives.

A Lahore-based viewer raised concerns about the show’s historical accuracy. They argued that the portrayal of events, locations, and costumes doesn’t realistically depict 1940s Lahore. The viewer, identified online as Hamd Nawaz, shared their critique on X (previously Twitter). Their initial tweet stated,

“I just watched Heeramandi. I found everything but Heermandi in it. Either you don’t set your story in 1940’s Lahore, or if you do, you don’t set it in Agra’s landscape, Delhi’s Urdu, Lakhnavi dresses, and 1840’s vibe. My not-so-sorry Lahori self can’t really let it go.

Nawaz further criticised the show’s portrayal of language. They suggested that the creators relied on stereotypes by assuming an association between Lahore and a specific, highly poetic form of Urdu. Nawaz argues that this disregards the reality of the everyday language spoken in 1940s Lahore, which was likely Punjabi rather than formal Urdu.

A recent BBC report sheds light on the historical evolution of Hira Mandi through the eyes of a longtime resident. Ibrar Hussain, speaking to the BBC, described the area’s transformation across different eras:

Hira Mandi has witnessed many phases. It used to be different during the Mughal era; it transformed during the Sikh period; and then it changed again during the English occupation. And after the partition, it transformed yet again.”

He further elaborated on the current state of Hira Mandi, stating, “The government has now turned Hira Mandi into a food street. The women who used to live here moved out, and their families now live in various parts of Lahore. The bazaar was shut down in 1990, after which all the women who lived here left.”

Ultimately, Heeramandi stands at a crossroads. Will it prioritise spectacle over substance, perpetuating misconceptions? Or will it embrace the opportunity to offer a more historically informed portrayal of these fascinating women and their lost legacy? The series has the potential to spark important conversations about Heera Mandi’s complexities, women’s challenges, and the importance of recognising marginalised voices. If Heeramandi can move beyond the glittering facade, it could become a landmark series that educates and challenges audiences, leaving a lasting impact beyond entertainment.

Divya Malhotra

[email protected]

Read Also: DUB Review: Breaking Barriers with Brilliance:’Laapta Ladies’

Picture Credits:  Y20 India

 

Back in the director’s chair after Dhobi Ghat (2010), Kiran Rao takes over the cinema by serving the right blend of simplicity, humor, and wit in a cup of gentle feminism.

Significantly departing from the typical Indian cinema landscape, which often perpetuates regressive and hypermasculine ideals, Kiran Rao’s film embraces a nuanced form of feminism, delicately highlighting the uncomfortable realities within society that often silence women and strip them of agency in various aspects of life. The film beautifully captures the journey of ‘Laapata Ladies’ (Lost Women) who ultimately discover their true selves and emerge empowered by the end.

Written by Sneha Desai, the story is set up in the fictitious central state of Nirmal Pradesh, where Kumar (Srivastava) is on his way back home after marrying Phool Kumari (Goel). Amidst the hurried chaos of changing trains at night, he mistakenly grabs Pushpa’s hand and rushes off the train with her. It’s only upon reaching the village that he realizes the bride swap, setting off a series of comedic and heartfelt moments. Throughout the movie, the ‘tamboo-jaisa ghoonghat‘ or veil remains a powerful symbol of societal constraints, yet it is not held accountable by the elders for the challenges it poses in identifying women, ultimately leading to the swap. As the story unfolds, Jaya finds herself in Deepak’s joint family by mistake, while Phool is left stranded at the charming Pateela railway station. Here, Phool forms a unique bond with the station’s residents, including the firm yet empathetic tea kiosk owner, Manju Mai (Chhaya Kadam).

The two brides, Pushpa and Phool, are portrayed with distinct personalities. Pushpa’s mysterious nature attracts suspicion from Shyam Manohar, who closely monitors her activities. On the other hand, Phool, feeling out of place at the railway station, forms friendships with individuals working at Manju Mai’s. Kiran Rao’s perspective in the film shines through in her portrayal of empowerment for women on both sides of the spectrum: those who venture out to study and pursue their dreams, as well as those who find empowerment and fulfillment in being homemakers, departing from the ideals of a bashing feminism that solely focuses on women stepping out.

Breaking away from the conventional narrative of “aurat hi aurat ki dushman hoti hai” (women are each other’s enemies), the film also beautifully showcases the power of women bonding and supporting each other. Whether it’s through Manju Mai’s direct conversations with Phool, Jaya’s determined efforts to bring her back home, or Jaya refusing to be lost in the monotony of daily life and helping to uncover the hidden artistic talent of Poonam’s drawing in the process, Kiran Rao skillfully explores the theme of women bonding in the film.

Beyond the female characters, it’s also the male characters that become the heart of the film. Shyam Manohar (Ravi Kishan), the village cop, delivers some witty one-liners and punchlines, keeping the audience laughing out loud throughout the film. It was even Kishan’s transformation depicted in the end who proved to be a greasy-police officer but also someone whose conscience has not been completely corrupted. Srivastav’s portrayal of Deepak in the perfect shades is flawless. Despite occasional fumbles, his profound English and responsible actions toward Pushpa, despite missing Phool, define him as a well-rounded character. His stellar performance adds up to capturing the audience’s hearts.

The film not only captures the lows of the village, highlighting pesticide-driven crops, corruption, and the sickened societal mindset, but also artfully captures the nostalgic essence and romanticism associated with railways. It portrays not only the trains and stations but also offers us samosas and chai. Additionally, it transports viewers to the charming aspects of rural life, spanning from the era of Nokia mobile phones in the early 2000s to Mai’s bread-pakoras, with a little scold on asking for extra green chutney again!

The beauty of ‘Laapata Ladies’ lies in its ‘addressal’ of various issues of gender dynamics, marriage, dowry, education, individual rights, agriculture, and scientific thinking, but without becoming overly preachy or trivializing the gravity of these concerns. The essence of Rao’s film is in its carefree spirit, playful and lively tone, and ability to approach serious topics with a light touch. Exemplifying a cinema that is astute and thoughtful yet spontaneous and genuine, “Laapata Ladies” is akin to a comforting chai-pakora experience. It tackles pertinent issues while also embracing the audience with a giant, warm hug.

Read Also: An Attempt at Feminist Validation: Animal

Featured Image Credits: Kindling Pictures/Aamir Khan Productions/Jio Studios

Dhairya Chhabra

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A dissection of Animal, a movie that is Reddy’s toxic alpha ideology wrapped in daddy issues with an honorary bow of feminism.

If your highly stereotypical ‘Men will be Men’ ads were made into a movie, this would be it. Big gun toys (with a pinch of Aatmanirbhar Bharat), one man killing 500 other men while his friends (aka bhai) sing in the background, socially-approved infidelity that gets justified in the end, and crass humour that crosses all lines of decency in the name of being funny are just the tip of the iceberg with Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal.

After the commentary and critique faced by Kabir Singh—for having too much unnecessary violence, for having a female lead that isn’t so much of a lead, and for that one slap—it seems like Vanga tried really hard to be accepted with his latest release. With its narrative of “a strong, independent woman” who is bold and actually questions the male lead, the movie tried to fulfil the “feminism quota” by adapting itself to the taste of its feminist critics but still (somehow) failed horribly. Maybe having the woman slap her husband rather than vice versa isn’t what feminism is about (aw, what a shock).

While the movie with its storyline had the potential to be impeccably emotional (cue a dysfunctional Sooraj Barjatya film), the mirch-masala of misogyny, subtle Nazi imagery (?), and alpha male toxicity only took away from the father-son dynamic the movie was trying to portray.

While Ranbir Kapoor’s character clearly had certain mental issues and a deep-seated desire for validation from his father (in common parlance, daddy issues), in a country plagued by a highly illiterate and influential population (read: padhe-likhe gawar), a movie like Animal became a spokesperson and an enabler, allowing not for an understanding of the character but rather a glorification of him, walking a precariously thin line as the audience fell in love with a son who just happens to be highly problematic. While the portrayal of such characters onscreen shouldn’t necessarily inspire its audience (watching Dahmer—the Monster didn’t make you want to be a serial killer, did it?), Ranbir Kapoor in Animal was advocated as the perfect green flag who does everything right (gaslighting 101), leaving little to be questioned about the “alpha” he was.

In the Vanga universe, the checklist for being the perfect male comes down to being pretty straightforward—raging anger issues? Check. Can it “turn on” with a snap of a finger? Check. Preaches about the superiority of being a man? Check. For a movie that wildly oscillated between a bloody rape scene and the (not so) boyish charm of snapping bra straps and pulling on one’s wife’s hair, it is as if Vanga had only one (albeit veiled) objective: wanting to present a picture-perfect image of all the problematic parts of the alpha male ideology.

As a woman, the movie felt like taking a walk in a shady area with no streetlights while a group of men catcalls you for three hours at regular intervals (as if the streets of Delhi weren’t enough). Under the guise of obsessive and possessive love, the movie tactically parceled and sold off misogyny and toxicity in bulk amounts. Every joke made, every blatant ignorance of the concept of consent, every misogynistic sprinkle of “love” and “strength” received ample validation from the snickers and the smirks of Ranvijay’s (Ranbir Kapoor’s character) friends, not so much different from the reaction of a majority of this animal-loving audience.

A dissection of the movie makes it clear that Animal are nothing if not driven by pure (poisoned) testosterone. The smartest feat of foreshadowing and direction in the movie? Opening with the definition of animal.

Read Also: Taali Review – An Exceptional Biopic Based on India’s Third Gender

Featured Image Credits: Onmanorama, filmfare

Manasvi Kadian

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Should the historically skewed representation of women in pop culture stemming from male dominance in media suggest the need for their alienation from the field, or does the solution lie in battling the age-old perpetuated stereotypes? Do men make insanely horrible movies on women’s stories? Is it intentional or is it a byproduct of our flawed socialization? How do we combat this?

There is no denying that Men have historically been the gender with the upper hand in every avenue known to humans. This historical gendered privilege has not hesitated to trickle down into contemporary scenarios which have resulted in men still assuming control and leadership in both public and private spheres. Mansplaining is a product of this skewed social construct. Many men have, and even today, continue to believe in the superiority of their gender. Even if this complex has been watered down, the mere assumption that their perspective and decisions matter more still thrives.

It is irrefutable, to say the least, that plenty of mass media, since its inception, owing to the lack of female perspective and the obvious dominance of men in filmmaking have repeatedly objectified women. Such media largely caters to the male gaze and is deeply patronizing. Women’s bodies have been commodified and capitalized upon since times immemorial in advertisements – be it selling Maaza, bikes, or the angels falling for a macho man in axe deodorant ads. The narrative of a “good woman” and a “bad woman” also largely stems from the historically perpetuated male-dictated ideals of an ideal woman. Be it our soap operas or the big screen media, a good woman is always shown fully covered from head to toe, draped in a saree, adhering to all customary norms. Whereas the villainess is always shown to be wearing promiscuous attires with a “pick-me-girl” demeanor. The latter is also the women who generally are independent, shamelessly unapologetic, and break away from the shackles of stereotypes. But does this historical defect justify the absolute abstention of men from making movies on women?

Let us first talk about what these women-centric films look like. These definitely as the name suggests are films with female protagonists, aimed at breaking the age-old gender stereotypes. They move away from the conventional ancient media which has largely portrayed a cis-male as the hero. Such media become channels for marginalized women whose stories have long remained unknown. Witnessing the long-due representation has been nothing short of empowering for all women.

The primary argument presented by proponents of those who believe men shouldn’t make women-centric movies is that men being the historical oppressor will fail to understand the nuances of the struggles of being a woman. They barely share common experiences, and any man attempting to recreate their story on the big screen is bound to trivialize their hardships. Also, men have a greater propensity of projecting women in a way that sexualizes them, thereby creating something appealing to the male gaze and patronizing women in general. But, one also needs to realize that media as an entity is itself vulnerable to being scrutinized or called out for anything problematic being exhibited. The onus then falls upon the general audience to hold the troublemakers accountable. This is a struggle against gendered stereotypes and not gender. Mere exclusion of men from a particular domain will not solve the problem.

Also, the sheer assumption that everyone belonging to a particular gender identity will have shared experiences is flawed. A rich upper-class woman will never be able to actualize the harsh realities of the life of a poor Dalit woman. Intersectional identities cut across and shape the experiences of people from the same gender in very diverse ways. The thriving misconception that a woman will always be empathetic to the oppressive experiences of another woman is broken when one looks at how in many parts of the world, it is women who have kept age-old patriarchal misogynistic traditions alive. Be it child marriage, dowry, sati, or female foeticide – women often emerge as the biggest perpetrators in these crimes against girls.

Additionally, the exclusion of nearly half the population from indulging in making films on a particular subject does more harm than good. The number of people indulging in unraveling the stories of these women immediately gets reduced to half. Secondly, when one propagates the narrative that – only women should be allowed to direct women’s movies because of their shared gendered experiences, all women’s issues get reduced to being only “women’s problems” and not the “society’s problem”. Combating deeply entrenched patriarchal norms requires society to take a stake. Such issues cannot be solved in isolation by one gender alone. Be it the feminist movement, LGBTQ movement, Dalit rights movement or Black lives matter; no battle can be won by a single identity alone. Collective action is critical for a successful outcome.

It is also important to note that many of the strong female characters that we celebrate were either written or directed by men. Be it Kangana’s character in Vikas Bahl’s Queen, Katarina Stratford in Gil Junger’s 10 Things I hate about you, Elle Woods’ in Robert Luketic’s Legally Blonde or Mark Andrew’s Brave – the female leads in these movies are known to be headstrong, unapologetic and at every step assert their autonomy thereby breaking stereotypes.

Furthermore, when men who take up the initiative to make such movies gain accolades and appreciation for their work, the resultant domino effect leads to a greater number of people now pedestalizing sensitive feminist men, as opposed to idolizing a patronizing Macho man. Come on, who doesn’t love Imtiaz Ali for giving us characters like Geet from Jab We Met or Veera from Highway? Such movies with strong female leads often have a caring, sensitive, and extremely lovable side male character. Be it Shah in Dear Zindagi, Irrfan Khan in Piku, Vikrant Massey in Chapaak, or Pankaj Tripathi in Mimi – all these male characters are very hard to not fall in love with. Writing, and directing such roles becomes a cathartic and liberating experience for the scriptwriters, movie makers, and in general everyone involved in the movie-making process. The amount of sensitization delivered through such experiences is unmatchable.

Ergo despite conceding to the fact that to date, even though some men continue to be the biggest flag bearers of male chauvinism, others willing to change should be given a chance for redemption. Our battle lies in fighting the stereotypes, and not the gender. Simply denying men such experiences only based on their gender would be nothing short of criminal.

Feature Image Source: Pinterest

Rubani Sandhu

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How does it feel to see those familiar lawns, walls, canteens and classrooms of your college on silver screens? Perhaps, it is not something new for a Delhi University kid, or is it?

In contemporary times, nothing has been left un-bollywoodised. From ambitious “apna time aayega” (my time will come) posters on the walls of our rooms to those trying-to-be-quirky truck drivers bearing “has mat pagli pyaar ho jaega” (don’t smile or I’ll fall in love with you) at the back of their vehicles to finding equal proportions in meme culture, the Bollywood fever has swept over the entire array. In such a culture, how could premier institutions like Delhi University be left untouched by bolly-baptization?

Heaving with overwhelm, jittering with anxiety not without a truckload of anticipation – this is a common description of any first-year student, especially those who make it to the “coveted” corners of DU. The Bollywood bandwagon has seeped so much into the college culture that even these nervous “facchas” are treated to Bollywood-themed fresher’s parties followed by the onslaught of Instagram reels documenting the whole event.

A scene from the film Fukrey (2013) shot in Miranda House,  Image Credits: Celluloid: The Film Society of Miranda House

Why is the college trope so famous?

There seems to be a sort of symbiotic relationship between college and Bollywood, which has of course, found its nexus in the glamorisation of college life. From college friendships to college romance, the trope of college life has been reproduced to an extent that now it seems oversaturated. Yet, it is one of the most popular genres, earning a bloating box-office collection everytime. From Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) to Rang De Basanti (2006) to 3 Idiots (2009) and more recently Chhichhore (2019), the list goes on. The changing demography of the target audience has allowed film industries to extract their careers out of our nostalgia. We often yearn for the bygone days and certainly, the college years occupy one of our fondest memories. After all, for many of us, college is the time when we experience most of our ‘firsts’ – crushes, heartbreaks, fights, and countless other memorable experiences. And through these films, these eccentricities of college life we get to experience again. 

A scene from the film Half Girlfriend (2017) shot in St. Stephen’s College,   Image Credits: The Times of India

The Politics of “Privileged” Colleges

We all love and undeniably feel a sense of pride seeing the cameo of our colleges in our most cherished films. But why do some DU colleges make it to the screens while some do not? The Hinduite Jordan and the Stephanian Heer became the college Romeo-Juliet romance. The “itni si chutney me do samose khau mai?” (how do I eat two samosas in so little chutney) graffiti on Hindu canteen’s wall from the same film Rockstar, Fukrey in Miranda House, Dil Dosti Etc in Hindu College, DevD and Band Baja Baarat in Hansraj and Half Girlfriend in St. Stephen’s College. The Ananya-Panday-effect of these North Campus colleges is very evident in the Bollywood milieu of nepotism. For filmmakers, shooting in DU mainly means shooting in the North Campus. The number of shoots in North Campus particularly has also increased in the past few years, from 3-4 shoots to 10-12 shoots per year, possibly because of easy permissions. These shoots in North Campus catch the fancy of many students and thus continue to uphold the existing hierarchy of colleges in Delhi University. According to an interview conducted by The Times of India in 2018, Ravi Sarin who was a part of the shooting of the film ‘Mom’ at SRCC said, “It’s the architecture of the colleges of North Campus that attracts filmmakers.” The charming red brick buildings of North Campus colleges are a major attraction to the filmmakers. It provides a sense of historicity to the location, an amalgamation of the new and the old, past and present. 

A scene from the film  Raazi (2018) shot in Miranda House,  Image Credits: The Times of India

The Fallacy of Masti ki Paathshala 

Common expectation told to us by elders and popular media often fosters a fallacy premised upon hopes for better days in college, better life, better opportunities and better friendships. The American threesome of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll is replicated in Bollywood as maal, masti and mohabbat (substance, fun and love). However, this alliteration fails to capture the unglorified realities of DU- hectic timetables, strict professors, boring lectures, stifling competition and everyday metro hustles. Colleges in Bollywood are nothing less than any theme park that has to sustain the assortment of fake paraphernalia of coolness, fun, richness, style and other cliched fancy adjectives. Only if college life was a Dharma Production you can expect to find an SRK-type boyfriend or a hot professor like in Main Hoon Na. In reality, there will be no falling in love with violin playing in the background, wind brushing past the hair and romantic slow-mo moments. Neither, in fact hardly our yaad-karegi-duniya-tera-mera-afsana (the world will remember our story) kind of friendships will permeate our nine-to-five reality. Will we even care for our lost Rancho inhabiting some far-off part of Ladakh after 10 years? In times when everyone seems to be guilty of repeatedly postponing Goa plans until it dies on a vine, it’s a bitter realisation that we all shall be made Arjuns uttering Moshi Moshi to a Japanese client on a road trip to Spain with friends (if at all the trip transcends the precincts of our plannings). 

A dialogue turned meme from the film Rockstar (2011),  Image Credits: Indian Meme Template

Hmm, so we can say, our much loved DU (and colleges in general) have had its own multiplicity of moments – as a main character, as a side-kick, as a decorative prop (like female characters in KJO films), as a misrepresented character (like LGBTQ characters in Bollywood) and sometimes as an anti-hero (like those in Anurag Kashyap’s films). But in everything, maybe DU is our Geet from Jab We Met who does not shy away from claiming “Mai apni favourite hoon”

Feature Image Credits: ScoopWhoop

Read Also: Bollywood Imitates Life and Vice-Versa

Samra Iqbal

[email protected]

According to an estimate, approximately fourteen million Indians visit cinemas daily to watch films. In 2012 alone, Bollywood sold around 2.6 billion tickets as opposed to Hollywood’s 1.36 billion tickets. This article attempts to look into how Indian Cinema came into being and has evolved over the decades to become what we binge-watch on our screens every day now. 

Cinema as an art and aesthetic has always been integral to Indian culture. More than that, some would even go on to call it a predilection which connects us Indians, in a rather transcendental manner. Most of us feel connected anywhere and everywhere because of these shared memories – then be it the uncountable times when Raj swept us off our feet or Amir’s Pehla Nasha, we all mutually yet exclusively share the sentiment. From artists to celebrities, big screens to web series, the stereotyped hero to the now not-so-conventional protagonists – Hindi cinema has infused distinct colors in all of our lives. 

https://twitter.com/FilmHistoryPic/status/1357970141200449536

  • Let’s turn through the pages a little bit to set the tone for this inexplicable journey that we are going to look into, shall we?
    The history of Indian Cinema goes back to the nineteenth century. In 1896, the very first films shot by the Lumiere Brothers were shown in Mumbai (then Bombay). It was not much later that Dada Saheb Phalke, a scholar of Indian languages and culture ventured India’s foremost full-length silent Marathi film, ‘Raja Harishchandra’ in 1913, and thereby laid the foundation of a regular feature film industry in India. India’s first talkie, ‘Alam Ara’, directed and released by Ardeshir Irani in 1931 was an instant hit and paved way for future successes.

 

Satyajit Ray’s classic film ‘Pather Panchali’ released in 1953 proved to be a major breakthrough for the Indian film industry in the global scene that won the reputed Cannes award in the best film category and led to several international and domestic honors and awards. Several films from that era, for e.g. Bimal Roy’s ‘Do Bigha Zamin’, Mehboob Khan’s ‘Mother India'(1957), Raj Kapoor’s ‘Shree 420’ (1955) and ‘Awaraa'(1951), Guru Dutt’s ‘Pyasa'(1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), set new records at the box office. These films highlighted social themes mainly dealing with the working class. Ever since the social realist film Neecha Nagar won the Grand Prize at the first Cannes Film Festival, Hindi films were frequently in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film festival throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, with some of them winning major prizes at the festival. 

The Golden Age

The late 1940s to early 1960s are what the film historians refer to as the Golden Age of Hindi Cinema. Parallel Cinema, an alternative to the mainstream Indian cinema, originated in Bengal in the 1950s. It is known for its serious content realism and naturalism. The social films of V. Shantaram, more than anything else, paved the way for an entire set of directors who took it upon themselves to interrogate not only the institutions of marriage, dowry, and widowhood, but the grave inequities created by caste and class distinctions. Some of the social problems received their most unequivocal interpretation and expression in Achhut Kanya (“Untouchable Girl”, 1936), a film directed by Himanshu Rai of Bombay Talkies. Bimal Roy’s ‘Do Bigha Zamin’ (1953), which shows the influence of Italian neo-realism, explored the hard life of the rural peasantry under the harshest conditions. 

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In the meantime, the Hindi cinema had seen the rise of its first acknowledged genius, Guru Dutt, whose films critiqued the conventions of society and deplored the conditions which induce artists to relinquish their inspiration. From Barua’s Devdas (1935) to Guru Dutt’s ‘Sahib Bibi Aur Gulam’ (1962), the motif of “predestined love” remained in the epicentre with a mawkish sentiment characterising even the best of the Hindi cinema before the arrival of the new or alternative Indian cinema in the 1970s. 

The Masala Movies and Trendsetters

By mid-seventies, love stories gave way to the violent action themes about gangsters. Hindi Cinema,  more or less came to be characterised by conventional and stereotypical storylines, item numbers, and verbose drama. Amitabh Bachchan is the iconic star known for his angry young man roles. He dominated the silver screen with other male leads like Mithun Chakraborty and Anil Kapoor and female actresses including Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha for several years. The 1970s, thus marked the upsurge of commercial movies with trendsetter films such as Sholay (1975). Some would even go on to call the seventies, the era of the advent of ‘masala movies’ in Bollywood. The prominent actor and director, Manmohan Desai became the father of such Masala movies – 

“I want people to forget their misery. I want to take them into a dream world where there is no poverty, where there are no beggars, where fate is kind and god is busy looking after its flock.”

In the late eighties and early nineties, once again the trend changed in Indian cinema and there was a marked shift from gangster movies to romantic musicals. Family-oriented films such as Mr India (1987), Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). A new breed of stars emerged from these films including Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla and Kajol. It was also the age of action and comedy cinema and film stars such as Govinda and Akshay Kumar and actresses like Raveena Tandon and Karisma Kapoor often cast for the particular genre of the films. 

https://twitter.com/FilmHistoryPic/status/1358718854529179649

Return to Political Sensibility 

The nineties was known for the launch of unique artists and independent filmmakers who also acquired commercial success with critical acclaim. Satya (1998), directed by Ram Gopal Varma and written by Anurag Kashyap was the best example of it which marked the beginning of a distinctive films category recognized as Mumbai noir, metropolitan flicks projecting societal issues in Mumbai city. 

Ghatak went on to serve as Director of the Film and Television School at Pune, from where the first generation of a new breed of Indian film-makers and actors – Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, and Om Puri among the latter was to emerge. These film-makers, such as Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta, Govind Nihalani, and Saeed Mirza, exhibited a different aesthetic and political sensibility and were inclined to explore the caste and class contradictions of Indian society, the nature of oppression suffered by women, the dislocations created by industrialism and the migration from rural to urban areas, the problem of landlessness, the impotency of ordinary democratic and constitutional procedures of redress, and so on.

 The 2000s: Our-Generation-Cinema

The decade of 2000s saw significant changes in terms of the cinematography, storylines, artists, and even the themes explored. Hindi Cinema witnessed a gradual digression back to the themes of exploring the day-to-day lives and challenges of the common man, so much so that the masculinist macho Raj Kapoor of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi became Balram, the drop-out from The White Tiger. The focus, then, became not turning it into the dreamy blockbuster but an artwork that can resonate with the working middle-class. The leading production houses in India including Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions experimented with innovative contemporary films such as Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Chak De India (2007), and My Name is Khan (2010). Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008), which has won four Golden Globes and eight Academy Awards, was also directly inspired by Bollywood films and is considered to be a homage to Hindi commercial cinema.

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With the Hindi Cinema resonating with not only the people within Indian borders but also beyond, the picture has drastically shifted in contemporary times. Newer broadcast mediums such as Alt Balaji, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, Indian Cinema has something in store for each and every one of us – every genre, every sentiment. The advent of new pop culture terminologies such as “binge-watch” and “Netflix and chill” has made possible for both the filmmakers and the audience to explore and experiment with unconventional belief systems and artforms, paving way for new normatives. For instance, the recent Netflix buzzes The White Tiger and Sir explore an unconventional protagonist, alternative storylines and breaking out of the stereotypical taboo systems. 

Perhaps, instead of calling it a new normative, it can also be looked at as returning to our roots instead. From Lagaan (2001) and Rang De Basanti (2006) to Tamasha (2015) and Thappad (2019) – all break free of the conventional set norm to venture into what really needs to be talked about, something that not only resonates with the common man but also leaves space for discursive ideas and advancement. Pink (2016), Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016), Badhaai Ho (2018), Mardaani 2 (2019) and the list goes on. 

From giving us romance goals like Raj Kapoor in the 40s to portraying six-pack abs as a must-have for the primary male protagonist like John Abrahams and Salman Khan to eventually venture back into the idea of exploring with unconventional storylines only to break out of the norm and create relatable binge-worthy content – Indian Cinema has come a long way. Now our lead can be just as lost as we are, trying to make sense of what life is like our Ved of ‘Tamasha’ or as ambitious as Balram of The White Tiger whose only intention is to rise up the social ladder and make a name for himself (pretty much all that we are trying to do here)! Even women characters have gradually stepped out of the confines of their kitchens and homes to venture into more humane powerful personas like Priya of Kya Kehna (2000) who is resilient at the face of “log kya kahenge”, Shashi of English Vinglish (2012) who steps out of her confines to regain her identity, Rani of Queen (2014) with roaring hopes and aspirations, Pink (2016) telling the nation that when a woman says ‘no’, it means ‘no’,  and Amrita of ‘Thappad’ (2020) who steps out of her seemingly perfect life to ask uncomfortable questions. 

Therefore, a considerable amount of credence for infusing Hindi Cinema with an altogether new life, sentiment and diaspora goes to the OTT and one can only wonder what else does this enormous abode of talent, art, and impressions has in store for us. 

Image Credits – CitySpidey.com

Annanya Chaturvedi

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Owing to the Constitutional Amendment where Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was decriminalised  Bollywood is trying to be inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community. However, have they really been able to?

The LGBTQIA+ community has been ridiculed in Bollywood for decades. Bollywood has been minting money by its dehumanizing depiction of the community. In a broader sense, the entire queer community in Bollywood is misinterpreted because of an actor or director’s notion of the community.

Bollywood movies based on LGBTQIA+ theme were released as early as the 1970s. The film, Badnam Basti, portrays a love triangle between a woman and two men. However, the film disappeared into oblivion shortly after it was released in the theatres. In 1996, Fire was condemned because of the movie’s ‘alien’ depiction of lesbianism that led to protests in many parts of the country.

The LGBTQIA+  representation in Bollywood has peculiar similarities in all its characters. All gay characters have been added to movies for comic relief. For instance, Suresh Menon’s gay character in Partner cracked double meaning jokes, was feminised to match every other gay character in Bollywood films. The Indian society has stigmatized the queer community, and by portraying LGBTQIA+ characters without substance, the chances of the community being ridiculed increase exponentially along with heightened homophobia in the society.

All gay characters are either dance instructors or fashion designers. Many professions have been gendered and this internalized gendering is clearly depicted in Bollywood films. Boman Irani’s character in Dostana is a fashion editor. These stereotypes are affirmed by society which leads to people forming wrong notions about several professions and the community as well.

Apart from a handful of movies, a gay couple in films consists of one partner being extremely feminine and the other partner plays a tough, macho character. The ‘feminine’ partner is seen dressed in ‘colours for women’ such as pink, purple or floral shirts.

Tejasvi, a student of Lady Shri Ram College opined, “Many people in the society refuse to accept the fact that same-sex relationships can be real and due to internalised homophobia, the movies that portray LGBTQIA+  characters having healthy relationships are often condemned. Bollywood has come a long way in terms of representation of the queer community, but it completely depends on the viewers and whether they are ready to accept the relevance of same-sex relationships.”

The coming-of-age web series and movies have taken into account the faulty depiction and stereotypical nature LGBTQ characters and have made an effort to correct these practices. These peculiarities have significantly reduced since the decriminalization of Section 377. Television shows such as Made in Heaven and Four More Shots Please have carefully addressed how the queer community in a country like India faces multiple issues. These shows did not portray its characters in the usual ways that the LGBTQIA+ community is portrayed. They made efforts to apprise the viewers about how bisexuality and homosexuality are absolutely normal and not unnatural unlike how they were portrayed in films earlier.

Ayushmann Khurana’s Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan is being considered a milestone as it is Bollywood’s first gay romantic-comedy film. For many years, homosexuality has been denounced as a disease by many people in the country. The director Hitesh Kewalya made use of comedy to send out an extremely powerful message of societal acceptance of the community. The LGBTQIA+  community has been discriminated against for many years and with the Supreme Court’s ruling on decriminalization of Section 377, the director ensured that the viewers understand that same-sex relationships are as relevant as heterosexual relationships.

Feature Image Credits: Pinkvilla

Suhani Malhotra

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Having been let down by women, two egoist and patriarchal characters go down the path of self-destruction, although one is heroic the other is not.

In a contemporary urban location, there is a rich egoist male who falls in love- this is a very common heroic pursuit in mainstream Bollywood, and the 2009 Anurag Kashyap (who has a certain Samuel Fuller and Aronofsky vibe to him) directed the movie Dev.D, and took on this trait to reveal very ironically how flawed a hero can be.

Image Credits: Film Week
Image Credits: Film Companion 

Adapted from Sarat Chandra’s Devdas, this movie is a romantic black comedy musical, with more preference to music than dialogues. Music by Amit Trivedi  fits perfectly with the scenes in the movie.

Dev is a chauvinist who took his childhood love Paro for granted, at one time slapped and embarrassed her, and thought that he actually loved her. He also once believed that she would be the only woman he’d ever love- again a common narrative that there’s just ‘the one’ and no one else.

Dev later realises that his love was flawed, he was flawed, and Paro never returns back to him. It’s not just the utter vulnerability in Dev’s character, but a fresh empowering effervescence of strong female characters which makes the film stand out.

Image Credits: Film Companion
Image Credits: Film Companion

A decade later, comes the movie that proves we are back to square one. Sandeep Vanga directed Kabir Singh which is a remake of Telugu film Arjun Reddy is a story about an egoist, entitled, chauvinist with anger issues who falls in love. The sound track went popular and so did the problematic aspects wrapped up nicely as the charisma of Kabir Singh. As a promoter of independent cinema, and appraiser of a film like Dev.D, I would never object to the portrayal of a problematic character like Kabir Singh who is after all, inspired from our society. An added bonus with Kabir Singh was that it was made with intention to appropriate his flaws and was received largely in the same horizon.

In my personal opinion, I feel that Kabir Singh did teach us a thing or two. It validated that the popular opinion still is to plaudit the hero with underlying misogyny and the success of such a film is representative in the profits it made. Also for all the wrong reasons, it did start a big discussion on male chauvinism. There’s a parallel in the society itself which is depictive of the two kinds of films discussed above, and the popularity and financial success of such movies will always reflect the popular status quo of us as a society.

Feature Image Credits: Filmistaan

Umaima Khanam

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This piece is an overview of Stan culture in India, from the lens of Bollywood Stan Twitter.

The way in which pop culture has been consumed in 2010s has changed the landscape of, what means to be a fan of an entity or a production. Social media has drafted a hyper reality based conundrum, which is responsible for bridging the gap between the idol and the fan but, stitching itself into the aggressiveness and hostility of online trolls.

Stan Twitter is a section of Twitter dedicated to celebrities, even to the most harmful lengths. It is a by-product of a widespread Stan culture, which took its roots in the appreciation and love for a person, but has now reared its ugly head to become a pressing issue for those who surf the Internet.

While some say the term is a combination of a “fan” and “stalker,” “Stan” was first coined in 2000, when Eminem dropped a twisted allegory in a song called Stan, about a man who was pushed to the edge when his idol wouldn’t answer his fan mail. The word used to be synonymous with overzealous or obsessed. But nearly 20 years later, it’s become a badge of honour for fans, who show enough commitment to go all out for their favourite star on the Internet.

Bollywood Stan Twitter, contrary to popular opinion, consists of a worldwide audience, all of whom are part of pockets of fandoms where they spend time celebrating their favourite artists.

In the conditions of anonymity, a Stan Twitter user said, “I once tweeted that I didn’t think Tamasha was a good enough movie that warrants such appreciation. Never had I thought, that a harmless opinion I had tweeted out whilst in a conversation with a friend would become a source of violent threats, from the fans of the movie; ranging from death to me and my family.”

They added, “Twitter has blessed me with some really good friends but after a point it got extremely toxic for me and started to affect my mental health real bad. For instance, I tweeted about Salman Khan’s criminal records once and his fans crowded my mentions with rape threats. I had to lock my account and delete it for awhile. The place is filled with negativity and, yet most of us are addicted.”

Kalyan, who has been a part of Bollywood Stan Twitter for 7 years now said, “Stan Twitter is a great bonding experience for us, a kind of escape from our gruelling personal lives where we can find dependable friendships. However, it gets taxing because of the blind way people defend their idols, despite their wrongdoings. There’s both a negative and positive side to it, both of which can’t be discounted.”

It’s a rarity that fans ever hold their idols accountable, in a lexicon as infused by toxicity and immaturity. However, little over a year ago, fans of actress, Deepika Padukone, started a trend, #notmydeepika after she and Ranbir Kapoor, were spotted with Luv Ranjan, a director who’s been accused of sexual harassment and is infamous for his movies based on misogynistic ideals. The trend reached national publications and, as of today, Deepika is not doing the movie, even though Ranbir is.

This entire Culture raises some pressing questions, “Why do these things happen? Why do hordes of fans maliciously attack critics? Why do Stans behave in such an obsessive manner?”

Haaniyah, Culture Critic explains, “Some say that social media is to blame and that isn’t a completely ludicrous view. As stated earlier, Stans existed long before the age of the Internet, but the anonymity and the mass reach of social media, allows harassment and stalking to be extremely harmful while sheltering them from consequences. You can’t get a restraining order against an anonymous person who could use various accounts to stalk you. If Stans are harassing those critiquing their favourite celebrity, blocks may prove futile, as they could make uncountable new accounts, and online harassment may continue until the aggressors get bored or the target finally gives in and deletes their account, whatever.”

The over-saturation and popularisation of Standom has cemented a kind of obsessive behaviour that earlier existed at the fringes of society – one which was punishable by law, by the widespread nature of social media prohibits that too. The invasion of privacy, obsessive fantasies, aggression and possessiveness, absolute disregard for others’ well being- these are not the marks of a true fan. Stan Twitter, however, will troll me for saying this.

Feature Image Credits: NME

Paridhi Puri

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It’s been 12 years since one of Bollywood’s biggest Rom-com took over our hearts with a beautiful chemistry after Jab we met was released in 2007

Imtiaz Ali has always managed to portray extraordinary stories about love, life and friendships that always have a heartfelt impact on us walking out of the theatre. Jab we met is one of those few Bollywood movies which had a Hollywood remake. A Hollywood movie called “leap year” was inspired by the Bollywood classic and also won several hearts. This story about two completely different people and their journey of finding love in each other in extreme circumstances sounds cliche but in this movie, there’s a lot of craziness and laughter with moments of self-realisation and tears.

Geet, a charming bubbly girl who has unrealistic dreams and doesn’t think much, makes stupid decisions and then endure them like they weren’t the consequences of her own actions, a character we can all relate to. She lives her life unapologetically and doesn’t seek anyone’s validation no matter what the outcome. When she comes across Aditya, a serious guy who always had everything planned out for him and had real pride in his thoughtful way of living. You’d think for a man who reckons so thoroughly about everything and is a lot more serious in life wouldn’t face any sort of setbacks and awful times. That’s when the movie teaches you that you could choose to live either way but life would surprise you in every aspect and you would have to face terrible times no matter what. There’s no winner or loser here. 

This movie has also taught us that no matter how hard you hit the rock bottom, tough times don’t last forever and things work out eventually. This might sound like a utopian thought but it’s just all about perspective. The movie took the common problems of the audience and gave a viewpoint for the way out. The hardships of heartbreak, rejection, being cheated on, issues with family, and career problems. How many times have we seen a future with someone and planned everything with that person and witnessed it turning out a lesson for life? It’s true that things don’t work out the way we always want them to. And it’s fine because there’s always a better side to it. It doesn’t always have to be with the person you’ve had a history with. Jab we met made me realise that it’s not about your first love, but the love of your life.

One’s never too grown-up or proud to try the most childish ways to get over things if it makes them feel better. If it makes you feel better to flush down a picture of a toxic ex, DO IT. If you’re not happy with what you’re doing in your life, it’s never too late to start over, go with it and turn things around. And you don’t always have to hate the people who are not in your life anymore, you can always learn from them and thank them and ace in life. 

Let’s not ignore the unrealistic romantic standards the movie has set for us. If the movie was a happy ending for Aditya and Geet, it was a disastrous end for Anshuman. But let’s face it, we have all been at both ends and after seeing the movie, I definitely do not want to be at the third end where I miss my train at Ratlam station and get lectured about how “Akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai“.

Twelve years and no other story beats that combination of love, laughter and tears. Thank you for all the life lessons better than any Tedtalk.

Feature Image Credits: IMDB

Avni Dhawan

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