Social Cinema

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With societal issues becoming the theme of everything from films to tv commercials, Paurush Kumar investigates the effectiveness of using film to make an impact.

 

Films have the tremendous power not only to entertain but also to bring about social change. Big films have the power to reach large numbers around the globe and can be used as a helpful medium to educate audiences. Films which bring up taboo topics can be challenging because the audience wants entertainment; the primary purpose for which films were initially intended.

Sometimes it can be difficult for a person to understand what discrimination, poverty, or suffering feels like until one experiences it.

Sometimes it can be difficult for a person to understand what discrimination, poverty or suffering feels like until one experiences it. Films can act as the medium to make people realise how it feels because they have the power to transfer the person to an altogether different realm, while still making the point hit home. They make you empathise with the characters that may or may not exist in real life and they make you realise hardships which audiences may never have known existed.

Social Cinema began in the middle of the last century and has been aimed at penetrating the communal issues of society from then on. Movies like Ordet (1955) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) spoke about societal issues post-World War II. The story of a person willing to die by choice against the societal norms was well depicted in the film A Short Stay in Switzerland (2009) and the Bollywood film Guzaarish (2009).

Made in Dagenham (2010) speaks about the unequal pay of men and women that was prevalent in the 1960s and still remains an issue in today’s society. The firing of people because of their sexuality was well portrayed in the Tom Hanks’ film Philadelphia (1993). This is also seen in the Indian film industry where movies such as My Brother Nikhil (2005) made people aware of the mistreatment and sacking of people because of their disease.

It is essential for a film dealing with social issues to also be interesting and entertaining and this is where the writer’s role comes into play.

It is essential for a film dealing with social issues to also be interesting and entertaining and this is where the writer’s role comes into play. The recently released movie Ribbon (2017), the comedy 9 to 5 (1980) and Disclosure (1994) all spoke about harassment at the workplace. They portrayed the issue in different lights as a drama, a comedy, and a thriller, respectively. This shows the many ways a writer can tell an important story. The films must be entertaining or else nobody will go to see them and then the impact they could have on society is wasted.

Many films have attempted to portray social issues but have failed to capture the eyes of large audiences. The failure of these movies suggests that audiences were not ready to digest the on-going evils prevalent in society, especially if they were made with a serious undertone. It is also possible that one does not want to face the hardcore reality of today’s society. This might be because the people want to ‘escape’ from reality and venture into a world where nothing is real.

However, the recent critical and commercial successes of the highly controversial yet entertaining Udta Punjab [Flying Punjab] (2017) and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) have paved the way for more cinema which deals with serious issues in a funny way, at least in India. Pink (2016) was a film that made a huge impact on audiences all over India as did Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016) which dealt with some taboo topics such as desire and a woman’s consent.

Lately, the environment has been a huge cause for concern.  Films such as The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 2012 (2009) show highly dramatised versions of the destruction climate change can have on our planet. These films, while being exaggerated and over the top, make viewers consider how they are impacting the world around them with their actions and consumption.

Off-screen, actor Leonardo DiCaprio is just one of many who have spoken about their concern for the rising temperatures due to global warming and have tried to change the world for the better. Bollywood actors like Aamir Khan, Priyanka Chopra, and Amitabh Bachchan have appeared in films or TV commercials for free to raise awareness of the social evils that are still prevalent and need to be eradicated from our society for the better. Not only that, celebrities have refrained from celebrating certain festivals because they can cause immense pollution and also joined forces with a few NGOs to help eradicate certain social evils of the community.

However, it is not the actions of big film stars that are going to change the world. Actors, screenwriters, and filmmakers, use their platform to call the rest of us to action. We must listen and rise up against the evils at play in today’s society.

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