Poverty in Bollywood cinema

For all the commotion that Slumdog is causing in India, including allegations of “poverty porn”, we should recognize that poverty, and its associated ills, have rarely been depicted by bollywood cinema, new or old. The great masters of the “old” Bollywood such as Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt were not really mainstream popular cinema. They were considered parallel cinema in their time. Films made by Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Raj Khosla, and Navketan films were considered more mainstream.

Parallel cinema has been imbued with far more realism, and pathos, in the depiction of Indian society and poverty. Bimal Roy’s movies evoked a real sense of rural India, and even as recently as the 80s, movies such as Paar and Manthan gave a clear picture of the poverty in the Indian hinterlands.

The bustees of India have generally gotten a romanticized treatment. Pure hearted people, warm and fuzzy lighting, joyous dwellers ready to break into song and dance, ever virtuous, ever helpful. It makes sense, since the largest audiences for hindi movies come from these very localities, and movies are about making one feel better. Why alienate one’s largest revenue pool? These folks are coming for entertainment, not for plot structure, innovative camera use, or intellectual mastification.

An old acquaintance, Hesh Sarmalkar, who hails from a premier Bollywood family, puts it very well in his blog jounal:
About Indian films

A couple of primers on parallel / art cinema in India. Or as the Americans like to call it in the land of the free – “independent cinema”.
A summary of art cinema in India
Wiki entry on Parallel cinema in India
Wiki entry on art cinema in India

Let’s end with Shah Rukh Khan’s golden words on the slumdogs of India

Isn’t that (poverty and slums) a reality? If you (critics) have a problem with the word slumdog, why don’t you look positively and see that there is a word millionaire or crorepati also


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