Bollywood: A Political Pawn

Prior to 2014, there were propaganda movies, but they didn’t last long.

When a person is born in South Asia, they inherently connect with several cultural elements, such as vibrant festivals, religious practices, and spicy cuisines, which distinguish them from the rest of the world. Finding common ground in South Asia over these aspects remains complicated, as culture and its traditional values vary from country to country and among communities. However, there is another thread that coherently unites the entire South Asia, and that is ‘Bollywood’. It is an additional ingredient used in the upbringing and nourishment of children in South Asian households. Though It’s not imposed on human lives here, but more like background music continuously playing in our lives; neither do we stop it nor does it become exaggerated. On a low volume, it adds value to our lives, and when it becomes a cultural part of life, no one actually anticipated or realized its significance. Such elements of nourishment not only shape the ideas of individuals but also simultaneously influence the entire society, or in a broader context, the entire region. This phenomenon is what we refer to as the “Bollywood effect.”

Cinema, along with other forms of art such as poetry, literature, paintings, and music, is very delicate in nature. The less they are influenced by external forces, the more profound impact they have on individuals and society as a whole. However, when they are controlled by individuals or institutions, not only does the quality of art deteriorate, but the communities associated with it also suffer irreparable damage. They become vulnerable to societal evils, and thus, the quagmire of problems emerges. This is what’s happening in India: the medium behind the unnecessary extremism in religious perspectives and hyper-nationalism is post-2014 Bollywood. It’s the real elephant in the room.

Prior to 2014, there were propaganda movies, but they didn’t last long. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that they fizzled out quickly. As the spectators were vigilant and chose to watch and praise films meticulously. That’s why movies like ‘My Name is Khan’ and ‘Chak De India’ were wholeheartedly welcomed by the people, despite the fact that both characters were played by none other than Shahrukh Khan. It was characters like Rizwan and Kabir, both Muslims in the movies, who unabashedly broke the stereotype of Muslim characters leaving an indelible mark on the audience. These films are just the tip of the iceberg and represents a traditional approach that resonated deeply.

Importantly, the filmmakers had the utmost freedom in writing the scripts and developing the characters. The intriguing part is that the film audience wasn’t too naive; they had enough intelligence to decide the fate of the films. This was a crucial element that catapulted Indian cinema to great heights, capturing adoration worldwide. However, in 2014, when Narendra Modi became the premier of the country, he gradually put the brakes on the growth of Indian cinema. He explicitly used soft power to control the minds of the people, which was a stroke of evil genius. That’s when the control of cinema by the Hindutva folks began, putting the industry under their thumb. Modi is not the first leader to pull such strings, nor will he be the last, as it has become par for the course worldwide to manipulate the masses remotely.

In the past, we have the infamous example of Hitler’s era, where he handpicked ‘Goebbels’ to orchestrate his regime’s propaganda. Goebbels controlled the mass media, radio, and cinema with an iron fist, ensuring that only their narrative reached the masses. They meticulously, yet bluntly, banned American-British films, giving rise to a renaissance of “German cinema.” Before the rise of Nazism, Germany boasted a rich legacy of cinema, with its directors, screenplay writers, producers, and camera technicians being the cream of the crop. However, with the advent of Nazism, Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, unapologetically purged Jewish filmmakers and installed their own loyalists. The main idea behind controlling the medium was to disseminate information that would mold like-minded individuals who would blindly follow ultranationalism, jingoism, and war-mongering. Unfortunately, they succeeded in brainwashing the populace. For example, “Ich Klage” or “I Accuse” was a pro-euthanasia propaganda film Goebbels commissioned to drum up public support for Aktion T4, a project aimed at involuntarily euthanizing people and conducting experiments on coerced concentration camp prisoners. And tragically, it came to fruition.

Modi’s sway on Bollywood is no less than that of Hitler’s regime. For Hitler, there was one Goebbels, but Modi has many. He understood the essence of cinema’s power and completely harnessed it. His deep relationship with the film fraternity isn’t hidden at all. Some knowingly and some unknowingly are working as Goebbels for Modi. For instance, in recent times, thousands of propaganda movies have been produced in India, and their taxes are waived off at extreme levels, which not only benefits the producers and distributors but also works as a lure to bait them into producing more of the same cliché stories. Movies like Uri, Kashmir Files, and The Kerala Story are just a few of many that hit the theaters. What’s more fascinating is that these rotating pictures of reels were completely endorsed by Modi himself, and he encouraged people to watch these movies to understand the real truth of the incidents. However, when the filmmakers were asked about their involvement in such vile business, they came to the opinion that they are documenting the truth so the general audience would get to know this. Sadly, they weren’t only made with the misinformation that they received, but the way these emphasized Modi’s involvement in these occasions, and that too unbiased and in the interest of the country, speaks volumes about the places where the scripts of these movies were being written and who actually the true director of this new so-called cinema is.

To be continued....

Usama Asghar
The writer holds a degree in International Relations. He tweets @usama_1599 and can be reached at usama.maverick@gmail.com

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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