The Elusive Idea: Impressions of Social Justice in Hindi Cinema, 1940s-70s

Nilosree Biswas in this CASI article reflects on the role of Hindi Cinema on portraying social justice:

In the decades since the release of these films, the popularity of hard-hitting, violent Hindi cinema, devoid of much realism, grew manifold. Concurrently, labor movements have been crushed, small farmers have lost their land holdings, and gender violence and discriminations have been on the rise. Stifling social repression offscreen has only heightened bullish violence onscreen. By the 1990s, mainstream Hindi cinema only churned out films where heroes single-handedly delivered justice by way of bloodbath, reaffirming the breakdown of India’s social fabric.

With 2012’s releases of Anurag Kashyap (Gangs of Wasseypur), Vasan Bala (Peddlers), and Asim Ahluwalia (Miss Lovely), Hindi cinema’s storytelling took some gritty turns. The following years saw Rajit Kapoor’s Ankhon Dekhi (Through My Own Eyes) in 2014 and Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (The Crematorium) in 2015—movies that raised incisive questions about India’s complex caste system and rampant corruption. Netflix soon brought forth content infused with spurts of social justice, such as the 2018 premiere of Sacred Games, India’s first Netflix original series. Web series like 2019’s Delhi Crime, based on rising violence against women, emerged from this notion, breaking away from the nomenclature of New Wave Cinema’s 80s and 90s films. As entertainment trends continue to move toward streaming services, it would seem that present day India is no longer interested in big screen films rooted in social justice, but are content watching the justice-seekers from the convenience of their smartphones.

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