Is Hindi Cinema’s Creativity for Promoting Relevant Social Change Drying Up?

Do Bigha Zameen

While surely the main concerns of the Hindi film industry have always related to entertainment as business, nevertheless there has been generally a significant space also for taking up and promoting issues of high social concern.

Such a space may have been more in the early post-independence years and may have decreased with the passage of time, but surely such  concerns have always been there. However in more recent times, there seems to have been a sudden drought of any outstanding films in this category. In the recently announced  National Film Awards the award for the best Hindi film has gone to Chichhore while another important award has gone to Panga. If this is indeed the best, then one can imagine the general state of the industry. Even those like Aamir Khan who have been delivering some really good films ( like Taare Zameen Par, Lagaan and Secret Superstar) on a fairly regular basis in the relatively recent past have been rather quiet lately.

In this  season of drought, it may be useful to remember some of the best film-makers who contributed very good films of social relevance over a longer time-period.

Bimal Roy was a highly talented film-maker who contributed some of the best films of this genre, including Do Bigha Zamin, Bandini, Sujata and Usne Kaha Tha. His films are marked with a seriousness of purpose,  very good stories ( often based on reputed works of literature),   memorable characters  and great songs which see a confluence of  very poignant lyrics with great  music, all qualities which attract the more discerning viewer.

On the other hand Raj Kapoor is a film maker with somewhat different but equally great qualities. He has very good understanding of entertainment, and has this very valuable  talent of presenting highly relevant social relevant issues in ways where there is room enough also for a lot of  joy, for  romance which is at once intense but may also have a funny side and entertainment value for the audience is very high.

Also his talent of song picturisation is of a very high caliber and almost all his films stand out for high quality of lyrics and music. Raj Kapoor has contributed outstanding films on social relevance including Shri 420, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Awara, Jagte Raho and Boot Polish. Among his last films Premrog and Henna ( which was completed after his death) also stand out for their high social relevance.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee had a  long innings in this genre of film making, from Anuradha to Anand. His films often show the dilemmas of idealistic persons in sympathetic ways. His understanding  of society enables him to bond well with audience on serious themes and he combines serious issues well  with entertainment aspects.  Apart from his better known films like Satyakam , Anari and Bawarchi, there are lesser known gems like Aashirwad which should not be missed.

V. Shantaram belongs to even earlier days, yet he had the courage of taking up very bold, new and unconventional subjects, as is evident from his films like Do Ankhen Barah Hath,Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Aadmi and Duniya Na Maane.

Guru Dutt started with lighter films on social relevance, but soon sprang a big surprise with Pyaasa, one of the most intense and well-made films of all times. In his last film (Baharein Phir Bhi  Aayengi) he again  comes very close to social concerns but he did not live long enough to complete this film.

Brothers B.R. Chopra and Yash Chopra have been involved in several films of high social concern including Dharamputra, Kanoon, Aadmi Aur Insaan,  Dhool Ka Phool, Sadhana, Humraaz, Kala Pathar, Veer Zara and Chak De India. These are films which use the trappings of commercial cinema like the star-system but without disturbing the social content of the film. As Sahir Ludhianvi was very  regularly used as a lyricist in these films, several outstanding songs of social change  are available in these movies.

Mehboob as a  leading film maker was known for his strong social commitments. His film Mother India can never be forgotten as the most important film ever made on the lifelong struggles and deep commitments of rural women in India.

Gulzar has made several films on social relevance. Koshish is perhaps the best known among these but Achanak is also a very important film although it did not attract much attention.

K.A. Abbas had the longest commitment with cinema of social concern. His films often did not follow the trappings of box-office success but still quite a few like Dharti ke Lal, Pardesi, Do Boond Pani, Munna and Shahar aur Sapna are still remembered for certain aspects.

Asit Sen is another talented film-maker remember for such important films like Mamta, Khamoshi and Anokhi Raat, different and  unconventional films with important social concerns and excellent music.

Chetan Anand is another senior film maker who contributed well  with several films of social concern including Neecha Nagar, Haqeekat and Hindustan Ki Kasam. His younger brother Dev Anand was more of a star, but also contributed to social concerns with films lie Kala Bazaar and Hum Dono. The youngest of the three brothers Vijay Anand collaborated with Dev to create an  outstanding film like Guide.

What is  common to many of these film-makers was that they had  social concerns, they wanted to take these to people but were also well aware of the constraints of the overall commercial orientation of the film industry. Hence they gave a lot of  thought  to working out how they can succeed in taking their message to people within the existing constraints. They may have been forced to make some compromises but they accepted this and often ( but not always) managed to reach a wide enough audience with their social message.

Another important aspect is that several of these film-makers created their own film units. They were very good at recognizing talent and creating conducive conditions in which several very talented persons ( with their own egos!) could work together with a good team spirit over a longer time period. This was certainly true of Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt and Bimal Roy. Their units became hubs attracting a lot of talent, contributing to creating great films.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author who has been writing on public interest issues for several decades.



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