Politics in cinema

When we were assigned to come up with a couple “political” films to talk about in class on Thursday, I came to a realization. I Googled “American political films,” and found several links to the “25 best America. political films” and similar titles. The films on these lists are what I would assume to be totally explicitly political, though I had literally seen none of them. I found another link with a list of movies that I had never seen. When I came to class I had planned to share that I had a hard time finding anything I had seen that was political, and that apparently I wasn’t a very cultured film viewer.

Once I got to class and heard everyone else’s examples, I realized I wasn’t as unaware as I thought. What came as the biggest “shock” to me was when someone mentioned the Lion King. I had always thought of it as a kids movie about being strong in hard times and overcoming evil, and never from a political lense. Film makers can hide politics in almost any movie, as someone mentioned in class that even Mean Girls has a political agenda. The political target isn’t the young people watching these movies, it is the older audience, parents and older siblings who might be able to grasp the political undertones. Wall-E wasn’t made because the director wanted to influence children’s ideas, but rather their parent’s ideas. Realizing all of this made me understand how prevalent politics really is in cinema, not just in the movies mentioned here, but in the movies we watched all semester in class along with most movies that are released in the present day. 

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Women in Bhumika vs Mirch Masala

For my open blog post, I wanted to talk about the role of women within the Bollywood films we have seen in our class thus far. Take, for example, the differences in the roles of the women in the film Bhumika versus the film Mirch Masala. In Bhumika, Usha is forced into marrying Keshav, only to find herself unhappy. She is an actress and has affairs with her fellow actors and even with some producers. Sonbai, the lead female character in Mirch Masala, is quite the opposite of Usha. It is not clear whether she is in an arranged marriage to her husband or not, but she does remain faithful to him even while he is living in a different city for work. The subedar wants to force Sonbai to sleep with him, but she refuses as she is already married.

Though the storylines of these two films are seemingly unrelated, the roles the women play work nicely with one another. Why is it that Usha would marry Keshav if she did not want to? Her family? Financial stability? Because he was her manager? She clearly knew before marrying him that she would be unhappy, but went through with the marriage and even had a baby daughter with him. She was submissive to him in almost every way, except for sexually. Her affairs eventually caused her to leave Keshav only to marry another man who would oppress her in similar ways that Keshav did.

Sonbai is an extremely encouraging lead female character in Mirch Masala. She remains faithful to her husband so much so that even when the subedar, a man in a position of high authority, wants to sleep with her, she resists him. As she resists, she enlists the help of the women and her “uncle” in the spice factory that is in their village. She stays locked in the factory to avoid the wrath of the subedar, though some might contend that she just sleep with the subedar in order for him to essentially leave her alone. The women of the factory eventually help her to “defeat” the subedar and remain faithful to her husband.

These films show the opposite roles of two women in Bollywood films. These films were made about 10 years apart, but had the same female lead character. Both movies are good examples of the extremes of the roles of the woman in films.

Slumdog Millionaire

I was thinking about Slumdog Millionaire in terms of it being a “Bollywood” movie. I had obviously heard about Slumdog before our class but had never seen it. Because it was such a successful movie in America, I would probably not have considered it a Bollywood movie before actually viewing it.

There seems to be a large debate on the Internet about whether it should be considered a Bollywood film or not. Some people maintain that it is absolutely not a Bollywood film, because it has a British director and these people considered it a British film that was filmed in India. They say that the film being based in India does not automatically mean that it should be called a Bollywood film.

A lot of other people take the opposite position. They say that because the film was made in India, and has mostly Indian actors and actresses, it should definitely be considered a Bollywood film. These people usually maintain that it doesn’t matter that the director of the film was a British man, what matters is where the film was made and who was in the film.

After researching both points and becoming more informed, I have changed my opinion. Though there are several different things that make a film “Bollywood” or not, I believe that because the film was made in India, had Indian actors and was inspired by Indian culture is enough for it to be considered a Bollywood film.

Nationalism

In Lagaan, all of the people in Bhuvan’s village do not necessarily get along. When the British want to impose a much higher tax on Bhuvan’s village, he comes up with a plan to play a cricket game versus the British. Though the people of the village aren’t friendly with each other before the game came along, their sense of nationality comes to the forefront so that they can work to defeat the British. Nationalism is basically a sense of pride in the place you live. People can have a sense of nationalism for the same place without living the same life as those around them.

There are people of different ages, from different classes, and different religions all come together to support a common cause. They probably would not be able to get along in any other setting except for this one. Their sense of nation and nationality comes out when there is a promise of no tax if they win the cricket game. No taxes would not only benefit each person individually, but the whole entire village as a whole.

Bombay

Bombay really struck me as a film, maybe the most of any that we have watched thus far in the class. I was not aware that such hate existed between the Hindus and the Muslims until this class. I know that the movie is over twenty years old and that things could be different now, or they could be the same. Obviously I haven’t studied either of these topics, but the movie makes it seem like it is a completely huge deal, and clearly something I should have known about before now.

While watching this film, I was trying to think of a way I could relate the themes back to our own American culture. I thought about African Americans marrying whites, and in current day I understand that this is not as big of a deal as it used to be. Then, I thought of someone who was Catholic falling in love with someone who is Jewish and wanting to be married. The parents of each of these people would probably strongly disagree with the decision, but if the two really loved each other, they might run off to Las Vegas and have a  fast wedding without any family being present.

What is different, though, about the story from Bombay, is that it is likely that the parents of the Jewish and Catholic children would not have threatened to kill each other and kill each other’s families, as did the fathers in Bombay. When traveling to visit their children, the Catholic and Jewish parents wouldn’t have been killed themselves because of their religion.

I do not know the current relationship between the Muslims and the Hindus in India, but if the relationship is still any like that in the movie, the country is probably very dangerous. I’m thankful this movie made me realize the differences in the seriousness with which we practice religion in America vs. other countries.

 

Class

Slumdog Millionaire is the first movie we have seen in this class that is really focused on separation by class. In Lagaan, we see separation through nationality, in Bhumika, we see separation through gender, and the same rings true for Mirch Masala, though there was a little class separation there as well. Though these films highlight different separations, they all show how a group can come together and eventually come out on top. The villagers in Lagaan and the women in Mirch Masala, along with Jamal and the lower class in India. In Slumdog Millionaire, we see the poverty stricken class cheering for Jamal, because he is “one of them.”

I read an article about Slumdog Millionaire that talked about the middle class in India. The middle class believed that the film was a bad example of India. They wanted their country depicted as a rising economic power, and one of the most famous Indian films was about a boy raised in poverty and only escaping that poverty by winning money on a game show. The felt the film was a bad representation of their country, but rather Jamal’s life was a sad reality.

 

Gender, Sexuality, Family

As we talked about Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in class on Tuesday, I began to think about the way the Anjali was portrayed during her time in college versus how she was portrayed when she is engaged later on in the movie. Being a female athlete, it is enjoyable to be able to identify with a character who might be somewhat like myself. Though the way I dress now might not be considered as “tomboy” as Anjali’s dress was, female athletes are still often seen as acting like “tomboys.” I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing – I like to watch most sports and talk about themand if the only person with which I had to talk about sports was a man, I would still have something to say.

Again, for a movie to have multiple characters with which to identify is a good thing. But, when viewers meet Anjali in the “present,” she has lost that sense of “tomboy.” In fact, her whole persona has changed. It is almost as if the writers and producers of the movie felt as if they had to show that a girl could grow out of the tomboy stage. In college, we never  saw Anjali wearing the traditional dress, instead more popular and “in style” clothing. She has the short hair cut, she plays basketball, and her best friend is a man. Now that she is engaged, it seems extremely far fetched that she would do any of these things. Why can’t a young girl watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai see that Anjali was able to find a someone to marry without changing who she is? It seems as though she has to completely alter herself to find love.

While thinking about Kuch Kuch Hota HaiI was reminded of a movie I used to watch when I was younger, called Bend it Like Beckham. This movie is about an Indian family living in London. The youngest daughter in the family is not like her sisters. She plays soccer, wears sweat suits and t-shirts instead of a sari, and has a white best friend. The movie involves the soccer playing daughter trying to break free from her traditional family. They do not approve of the way she dresses, or that she plays soccer. Her family even goes so far as to question her sexuality because of the way she dresses and her status as an athlete. She is straight of course – the movie wouldn’t take it that far, but it has a different ending than Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. At the end of the movie, we find that the girl has found a relationship with a white man, without changing the way she acts or dresses. I think Bend it Like Beckham does a much better job of portraying a “tomboy” than Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, showing that a girl does not have to change to find love.