Taramati, the wife of Raja Harishchandra, and other female characters were represented in the picture by males disguised and attired as women. Hardly would or could anybody, then even imagine that actresses would not only be acting but that they could go to any extent of nudity and sexual overtures — cuddling and kissing and wildly shaking hips and getting into close embrace with male actors — as of today.
Nothing of today could ever be in the yesterday. Gradually, with the advancement of technology and with the invasion of the West on our culture and on our ways of life, coloured — rather technicoloured pictures began to be produced and all social inhibitions were cast aside.
The first talkies, black and white film was Alam Ara, screened in 1931; Devika Rani acted as the heroine in the Himanshu Rai production and that set in motion the female actresses queuing up on the screen.
Devika Rani playing the role of Achuut Kanya with Ashok Kumar as the hero opposite to her brought her a great fame for her role and acting.Thereafter the duo became a hit as hero and heroine and acted opposite the each other in several other films.
That film also created a social flutter as it was the story of a Brahman youngman — Ashok Kumar in love with an untouchable girl —The Achuut Kanya Devika Rani. Nadira was still another lady who acted as a villain-bashing heroine and excelled in her role which virtually became her traditional role ever after.
‘Patita’ was one other film on the social scene of the then society where a woman — victim of physical assault, is accepted by the hero as his wife with full knowledge of the background of her life.
‘Dahej’ was one other film which attacked the dowry system and its ill- effects. Social themes, particularly the social problems which the social order of the times was facing caught the imagination of the producers. Films were made with a mission and left their impact on the masses that thronged the picture halls.
Cinema always had its impact on the minds of the spectators — that was the only means of message carrier along with the entertainment that it provided Crowds went to the cinema halls and even the illiterate could understand the spoken word and learn from the theme.
And gradually when Technicolor was added to the show, the charm heightened still more. Thus cinema has come to stay as a great trend-setter in all fields — the thought, the ways, the looks, the dress — virtually in everything.
Though it is all a made-up story that is presented on the screen but the young mind of men and women, even that of the children gets deeply influenced by what they see on the screen and they even try to enact it in their real life.
The dream theme very often does not turn into a reality and so many young men and young women it is learnt have gone off the track trying to convert the dream into a reality and suffering frustration and even disaster in life. This only goes to prove the point how and to what extent cinema casts its influence on society.
Indian film makers have fully exploited this malleable mental make-up of the masses. Sensuality, sex and eroticism are the common attractions of the common man and pictures after pictures have been produced and are being produced — the themes remain practically the same, nothing very original in them but the hackneyed mistaken identities, kidnapped children restored to parents after a long suffering, struggle, violence and torture, heroes and heroines supposed to be dead found living; they unexpectedly meet and ultimately get joined together in the nuptial knot.
Impossibilities are made possible — how and why one does not understand but the audience revels in the single hero all bruised and bleeding and virtually dead, suddenly springs back on his legs to give a sound thrashing to a horde of assaulters on the other side.
One feels as if it is Hanuman of the mythology who has been reborn in the form of the hero. Even the most muscular of the assaulters are turned into pulp by a much less muscular hero.
All this can never happen in real life but it is a common thing to happen and re-happen in the Indian films. Violence, rape and such hair-raising sensational scenes are a common sight; people pay for the high rates of tickets — as they today are — only to see the impossible to happen.
Very common is the scene when the fight between the hero and his opponents leads them to some godown full of empty drums which come tumbling down over the opposite group, opposite to the hero.
The body language of the heroine is yet another attraction presented on the screen — how much of the concealed stands revealed — that makes for the success of the actress and the director.
And then, where and when do we find the hero or the heroine with a horde of his or her associates dancing for time unlimited on the broad roads of a city or even over the top of the running train. Shahrukh Khan’s dance sequence on the top of the toy-train in Darjeeling became a hit and the song — wholly unrelated to any part of the theme of the story — a perfect catch song.
How many have ever been found dancing over the train top but in Indian cinema all this is possible and permitted. In one the pictures — and this has been in not one but in many — that the hero can overtake a car going on a circular winding hill road by running on foot and taking short cuts and tumbling down from the hill top over pebbles, stones and thorny bushes and jumps straight over the car where the villain is carrying away the heroine.
The car loses balance and goes down the ridge hundreds of feet below overturning half a dozen times but all the occupants come out, though bruised, still quite alive — living and kicking. Even if the car on the normal road skids and falls into the way side ditch, the occupants have been reported to get killed but hurrah, to the Indian film maker nothing of that sort happens in the above- noted scene.
One only wonders how the film makers can afford to befool their audience in this manner but they only say and rightly too that when the audience is prepared to believe and prepared to be befooled why should they not exploit them.
There has recently been lot many films produced with ‘Dil’ — being one of their watchwords in the titles. Even fresh titles are being found hard to find — that is the paucity of imagination.
But there is the other side of the whole scenario too. Right from the thirties, film makers have struck upon the social and historical themes with success and those are really films worthy of praise. ‘Achuut Kanya lChandidas’,’Punarmilari of the thirties then ‘Mughale Azam ‘Sikandar’Anarkali’, ‘Mirza Ghalib’, ‘Pukaf ‘Mother India’,’Do Bigha Zamiri had the social and the historical genre very well brought forth—there one found the art in every form — acting, dialogues, songs and settings and conveyed the message that they were set to convey.
In the later scenario, ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje’, ‘Pakeeza’, ‘Manthari, ‘Bhumika’ ‘Umrao Jaari have been pictures with a theme and with a lot of art.
This recent age while on one side has to its credit so many cheap catchy themes to be named — there are pictures with a nationalistic and patriotic fervor, ‘Garam Hawa’, ‘BorderJ, ‘Hey Ram’ can be named as just a few specimen of the new thinking that cinema is not just a means for entertainment but with its mass appeal, it must give to the society some food for thought, it should serve to arouse some higher and nobler sentiments and thoughts.
Let this mass media uplift the masses — let some message be conveyed — it is a mighty task that the film makers should realise and rise to. They can contribute a lot to the making of the new India.
We have welcomed the new millennium with ardent hopes — the nation looks up for something great and the film makers should not only revel in the thought how they can mint more and more money; let them, just for a while, sit and think — Do they have any commitment to the country of their birth with the great weapon in their hands? Something for sometime but something for all times — that thought alone can give to the present producers and directors to niche for them a place in the history of modern India.