Sensitization or Stereotyping?

By Rhea Grover

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It is difficult to distinguish between art and life in modern day society; they no longer imitate each other but appear to have merged.  Political philosophies, social values, group behaviour, speech and dress in society are reflected in the cinema and, like a true mirror, reflect back in society. And the most prominent form of reflective art it cinema. Because of the fact that a movie appeals to us through imagery and sound at the same time wherein it creates the idea of watching real people and living their experiences with them, it is the art form which comes closest to reality for us. And it is because of these very aesthetics that give movies their influential nature which allows them to shape certain opinions in society. Because of the way information is packaged in films, it slowly seeps into our psyche very subtly and affects us at a very subconscious level along with the ideas we imbibe from them consciously.

It is because of this very reason that today movies are the most powerful medium to send messages to the masses about issues ranging from gender discrimination to corruption. This century has seen a sudden upsurge, especially in India movies trying to depict and deal with complex issues of the time. Even in India, people have finally started delving further into topics like sex, homosexuality and infidelity, which are considered taboos here and are quietly brushed under the carpet every time. While these films have been successful in removing the invisibility cloak from above such issues which everyone knew existed but no one really spoke about and brought such topics to forefront, the question that arises is that are these movies successfully addressing these issues in the way they are supposed to be addressed?

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To answer this question let’s analyze a few things about cinema, and particularly Indian cinema. First, it is highly commercialize, everyone is looking to enter the 100 crore club and more importantly even people are mostly willing to watch such commercial movies which make little or no sense over meaningful cinema.  Second, what this commercial cinema depicts is mere stereotypes in society rather than addressing the main issues at hand. Let us take the example of ‘Dostana’ which is considered to be a landmark movie when we consider the depiction of homosexuality in Indian cinema. Now, while this movie was able to talk about a concept which was alien to ‘and average middle class Indian’ (go BJP!) but it wasn’t able to do so successfully. While we all laughed as Abhishek Bachchan ran with his hands in the air like a constipated penguin, what was the image that this scene subconsciously instilled in our minds: that all gays are supposed to wear floral t-shirts and act funny because they are such misfits in any case. So you just take a neglected community and turn them into an ostracized one instead, really a landmark movie there! On the other hand where a movie called ‘Fire’ which depicted homosexuality in a very real sense, as something that could happen to anyone, could not gage the kind of interest from the audiences as ‘Dostana’ could and in fact faced huge problems during its release.

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So even though movies are touching the right issues, they aren’t doing it correctly and this is particularly problematic in a society like ours where such topics don’t exactly make dinner time conversations and so the ideas we form about homosexuality come from the movies we see. The very fact that the word ‘dostana’ (which means friendship) has certain different connotations proves how deeply these movies can influence us. And the irony lies in the fact that on one hand women are shown in extremely powerful roles and on the other hand a movie can’t simply be a hit without an item number.

What I’m trying to say is that there exists a big difference between sensitization and stereotyping and what our cinema is doing today is furthering stereotypes instead of tackling some tangible issues. It is helping reflect back a distorted view of what we see as idealistic today and the fact remains that this mirror of movies is deeply clouded by issues as complex as the ones engulfing the society it reflects. I guess we should all have paid attention when heard the tale of ‘Snow White’ lest we would have known, all that reflects is not always good.

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