was the opinion that seeing stars smoke on screen was
leading people astray, everyone agreed with this, and
no one seemed to differ. Tobacco’s prevalence
in society was attributed at least partly to cinema
and its stars. While this may not be without an element
of truth, I feel that its magnitude is grossly miscalculated.
The point here is not smoking, drinking or any other
form of addiction. It is about how at all times cinema
and sometimes TV is the favorite punching bag when it
comes to looking for reasons for something bad in society.
How many times have you heard that on-screen violence
is making the younger generation more disposed towards
violent behavior? Or, how often has TV been accused
of making couch potatoes out of children and people
of almost all age groups? How often have we heard about
cinema weaning the youngsters away from the Indian way
of life and infusing western tastes in them?
Claiming that cinema has bad influences is not completely
wrong. It has its share of fallacies. Cinema, the medium
and the stars in it, have the power and stature to influence
the way we think. But is too much being made of this
influence. Can one point to a particular movie or a
star and place on it the blame for the manner in which
some people choose to conduct themselves? If the influential
power of cinema and stars is so great then why don’t
the good things shown on screen get adopted in real
life? Why does it have to be only the tobacco, alcohol,
teenage romance and violence that influence people?
Why not social activism, patriotism or honesty?
There is a tendency to think that cinema shows and encourages
only the ‘bad’. That is far from the truth.
We have had many wonderful films over the decades, many
of them commercially successful, that have tried to
inspire us to do good and great things. We have had
movies that raised pertinent social questions and shook
our very consciences, but no one ever claimed to have
got inspired from any one of them.
Movies like Roja, Rang De Basanti, Aayudha Ezhuthu,
Swades, Anbay Sivam, Bombay, Taare Zameen Par etc. are
ones with tremendous potential to inspire us and to
make us think (if not act) about issues like national
integration, youth activism, rural-urban divides and
child education. The movies are watched, appreciated
and forgotten. Why, even Superstar’s Sivaji had
something to tell about corruption and black money (of
course, the director did have his own style of telling
it) and more importantly NRI activism in our country.
In spite of such huge positive messages, what is remembered
and recreated in real life is the hairstyle, the cool
costumes, the swank sunglasses, the cigarettes, the
one liners and many other elements that haven’t
an iota of substance. What is meant to be left inside
theaters is carried home and what has to be carried
home is forgotten in theaters! Now, we can’t blame
movies if we choose to be influenced by only the superficial
In the movie Swades, Shahrukh Khan plays the role of
Mohan Bhargav, a NASA scientist who leaves his job to
return to his village to help alleviate its suffering
uneducated people. In normal course, every single action
of Shahrukh has a million emulators, be it in the clothes,
hairstyles or brands. But one never heard of Mohan Bhargav
being emulated. The most that has happened in terms
of a positive influence being taken out of cinema is
the formation of Lok Parithran, a political party founded
by IIT alumni to ensure zero corruption. The inspiration
seems to have come from Yuva and Rang De Basanti. But
that too melted away into oblivion, and not having heard
of it in a long time my guess is that it is now defunct.
If stars can make youngsters take up smoking, drinking,
fighting and ‘sighting’, why can’t
they inspire the same kind of enthusiasm in education
or blood donation? India still has an alarming rate
of increase in HIV + individuals and there are still
polio affected children, while stars of all sizes have
tried to raise awareness. Why does this happen? Because
it is not cinema that has the wrong influence on people,
it is people who choose to be influenced the wrong way,
the easier way. Ultimately, it is about an individual’s
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