The Bollywood Message

3314697478_72a7ac41f9_oStereotypes in Indian cinema do no favors for a traditional nation.

By S. Saheb.

India is a land of many splendors: gorgeous geography, a rich, storied history, and the world’s largest functioning democracy. But despite the whirl of colors and life that jump to mind, the country is supported by a teeming underbelly of corruption, poverty, and social stratification that is appalling to unearth. In a country of more than one billion inhabitants, most struggle below the poverty line. Worn out by attempting to improve or even sustain their meager daily existence, many are eager for an escape.

Enter the Bollywood movie industry. In 2009 alone, there were 2.9 billion admissions into theatres, equaling almost three movies for every single person alive in India—yet this is averaged across age and social status and does not count DVD sales or other methods of screening, meaning that the average number per movie-fan is much higher. Bollywood films are released at the rate of more than a thousand per year, screening stories of hope, love, and happy endings that transcend time, space, or even logic and allow for a much-needed escape from reality. Beyond escapism, the booming industry is India’s jewel. It offers employment, massive revenue (both internal and external), an area where to foster ideas and creativity, and a national identity of sorts in a diverse country under constant change.

So many positive outcomes of the Indian film industry may preclude most from criticizing it, but in an unfortunate mirroring of the governmental system, closer examination of the movie industry reveals cracks that cater to some of the long-running negative aspects of society. In a very traditional country, its film industry only further propagates concerning social mores through stereotypes, casting choices, and general attitudes and stances on important issues.

With increased urbanization and education, the movie audience tends to split into two groups. Multiplexes in city centers attract the urban demographic, and village cinemas, often just a screen outdoors, allow for the rural population to catch a glimpse of the more advanced, globalized world. Following the divide in demographics, films often match one of two halves of society: there are those with more westernized outlooks and attitudes and those with rural settings, stereotypes, and behaviors.

While this seeming personalization of cinema has its positive aspects, including opening dialogue on hitherto taboo topics when audiences cross over, the results are often unanticipated. The more modern interpretations often have a liberal, Westernized, view on sex and love, which causes scandal among the rural and older population. But youth who consume this overly fantastic view of romance have …

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