Does Indian Cinema shape our popular culture or merely reflect it?

Does Indian Cinema shape our popular culture or merely reflect it?

With reduction in the physical and temporal distances, Indian Cinema is only one of the factors shaping our popular culture. On other lines, from fashion to lifestyle it is more of a mirror reflecting our culture.

Popular culture of any society is defined by the common values and themes that any society seek to build. Indian Cinema is one of the forms of in which the culture can be viewed. Cinema along with characterising reality of a society, helps in evaluating social norms /value/ customs /beliefs.

Culture itself is not static it is dynamic. As a society moves with time, connotations of culture take different meaning as well. A lot has changed in our culture since the first movie Raja Harishchandra came out in 1913.

The Indian cinema has always reflected, what people believe in at large, and where the society is going to stand in future.This can be enlarged as we take an odyssey from past to present.

In the pre-independence era, when Britishers left, Zamindari and exploitation of labourers was widely present. This was very evident in the movies like, ‘Pyaasa’ and ‘Do Biga Zameen’. India’s vibrant culture which thrives on kinship and family was evident. Also visible was the immense poverty that abject distress. Gandhian and Nehruvian ethics were dominant in these movies. Everything happening in society was reflected on the silver screen clearly. Also, this was an era where superstition propelled as in the past, more movies based on mythologies like “Jai Santoshi Maa", became epics of honesty and idol worship.

With changing political conditions of the country, and coming of Ms. Indira Gandhi in power Indian society changed. There was unemployment and ‘imposed emergency’ on the people. This anger of the crowd was manifested with Angry young man in the Cinema. Movies like ‘Deewar’ and ‘Zanzeer' showed path of integrity in such turmoil and it also showed the anger of honest working class. It showed how the youth of the country had a lot of suppressed ambitions, frustration and rage against the corrupt system. And this gave birth to a superstar, Amitabh Bachchan, who gave a voice to the masses and masses were able to resonate with him.

The uncertainty after death of Rajiv Gandhi, was visible on the screen, as no good movie came to implement any new wisdom. There was no development or improvement in the Cinema. Like the condition of our country, it deteriorated.

Movies, in the new millennium brought newer narratives into public domain. Newer patterns of protest and the power of youth was seen in ‘Rang De Basanti’ in 2005. Protest via candles in India Gate was popularised later in other national protests across the nation.

Then there were movies recently like Namastey London, which showed not much has changed since 70s when ‘Purab and Pashchim’ with Manoj Kumar as the lead actor came, that highlighted the differences between western and native Indian culture with great sarcasm.

Heroes, who made India proud were brought alive in movies like, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Their popularity gave us an idea of the demographic dividend of our country, as more people in the 19-45 years of working age could resonate with these stories on the path of dedication and hard work.

New patterns of understanding child psychology and problems of children were seen in movies like, ‘Taare Zameen Par’, ‘Stanley ka dabba', etc. This showed evolution of our state into more developed one, as now we had resources to spend on mental strength of our people. We can have more research on unexplored areas, as India’s economic growth was more than 8% for few years and nation could afford more. Also, making of grand budget movies like Jodha Akbar tells us the development in economy and spending power of people due to growth.

For long time north and south India have been treated as different regions, Cinema had reduced the gap as actors from bollywood worked in tollywood/kollywood and vice versa. These were seen more vividly when north Indians sang ‘Why this kolaveri di?’.

The reduction of this gap was an example of growing wisdom of people above regional lines.

There has been a paradigm shift in the way the popular culture has been reflected over the years. At each stage it has represented the pertinent values and lifestyle of society.
Cinema, being a popular mode of media has also played an important role in shaping our culture as we learn a lot from this resource. The lines of reflection and influence is a thin one. Cinema is shaped by the popular culture then saying otherwise.

So, it would not be wrong to conclude that Indian cinema is not a prism but only a mirror which mostly reflects what is happening in society and only marginally modifies or influences the popular culture.
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