India is a country that has strived to combat its rampant poverty over the past few decades. It is also one of the most well-known countries on earth, not just because of its population, but also because of its cultural influence. India’s poverty and cultural significance intertwine with its massive and diverse film industry, which comprises several languages and genres and which has an extensive history within the country. There are several smaller “sub-industries” within India, the most profitable and recognizable among them being Bollywood, which caters to a Hindi-speaking audience. There is also Parallel cinema, which is more of a movement than an industry. This article is going to examine various aspects of Bollywood and Parallel cinema relating to poverty. Here is some information about the relationship between India’s cinema and poverty.

Bollywood’s Impact

Bollywood represents mainstream Indian cinema, and as a result, has more influence regarding Indian poverty and its representation. Bollywood represents 15% of India’s film industry and produces 40% of the entire industry’s income, meaning that it is a significant driver of economic growth. Since it is almost as large as Hollywood, Bollywood provides plenty of opportunity for people from low-income backgrounds to find within the industry a job that can lift them out of poverty. Some prominent examples would be actors such as Johny Lever, who had to drop out of school in seventh grade and had to work odd jobs until he found resounding success in Bollywood comedy films.

Exploitative or Ground-Breaking?

Parallel cinema represents India’s independent, arthouse cinema and strives for more realistic portrayals of poverty. While its content generally attracts a limited audience, Parallel cinema can still have a tangible effect on poverty in India. A prime example of this would be the film “Salaam Bombay!” (1988), the debut of filmmaker Mira Nair. This film takes place in the slums of India and focuses on the daily lives of the children living there. The film features real children living in these slums instead of child actors, adding to the film’s social realism and commentary. The film became an internationally recognized work of Indian cinema and went on to win several awards in film festivals worldwide.

A much older Parallel film is “Awara” (1951), which Raj Kapoor directed. This film tells the story of a man who turns to crime so that he can financially support his mother, but then he attempts to lead a better life when he falls in love. Parallel films like “Awara” and “Salaam Bombay!” might not be able to influence India’s economy on the same level as Bollywood, but they do an important job by not only bringing global attention to poverty in India but also by representing it through realism as well.

Despite the awareness India’s film industry has raised for the country’s poor, there have been concerns about the exploitative and reductionist nature of such films. This criticism focuses mainly on Bollywood, but some Parallel filmmakers have garnered attention for this as well. Bollywood’s films have represented poverty, but have often received accusations of romanticizing it because of the use of dance numbers in numerous films. There are also films, such as “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), which make poverty peripheral to the plot.

Parallel Cinema’s Depiction of Poverty in India

Whereas Bollywood has received accusations of exploitation, people have called out Parallel filmmakers for cultivating an image of a poverty-stricken India. Nargis Dutt, a contemporary of the late Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, criticized his Apu Trilogy films for his depictions of poverty. She argued that they were only popular because Westerners “want to see India in an abject condition.”

To summarize, the relationship between India’s cinema and poverty has a long history and many tangible consequences. In addition to raising awareness and bolstering the economy, Indian cinema is also capable of misrepresenting poverty in India by either trivializing it or exaggerating it.

– Wesley Mba
Photo: Flickr

Media Misrepresents India
India is a vast South Asian country, not only with diverse terrain stretching from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean Coastline but also with significant socio-economic contrasts. It is understandable how the media misrepresents India because it tends to shed light only on the rural and urban poor and the struggling.

With a population of more than 1.3 billion, there are stories of unfortunate and inhuman events that occur in the country but those events don’t represent India, as a whole. India needs to be looked at through fresh lenses to dispel the following ideas.

How the Media Misrepresents India

  1. Poor India: India is a developing country with 22 percent of its population living in poverty, but only about 5 percent of the Indian population lives in slums. The International Monetary Fund confirmed that India will be the fastest-growing major economy with a growth rate of 7.4 to 7.8 percent in 2019. In terms of GDP, India is now the world’s sixth-largest economy. 
  2. Uneducated Nation: This is another example of how the media misrepresents India, as an uneducated country. India has more than 1.5 million schools with more than 260 million students. Currently, India produces about 9 million graduates and 26.5 million students enrolled in Indian higher education per year. The country is set to produce the world’s largest number of engineers. The first ever Global Report commissioned by the Queen Elizabeth Prize has revealed that 80 percent of Indians aged 16 and 17 have shown interest in engineering, compared to 30 percent in the U.S. and 20 percent in the U.K.India is also the only country after the U.S. and Japan to build a supercomputer independently. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) also became the first country to orbit around Mars on its first attempt at a cost of just $74 million, which is just a fraction of what other nations have spent.  
  3. Dirty and chaotic: The media overlooks the fact that the country has luxury malls and hotels too. The number of malls has increased drastically in the past few years. With no malls in 2002 to 308 malls in 2017, India has improved a lot. The Government is also taking various actions like Swachh Bharat to bring out a better and clean India.
  4. Bollywood is a Zumba class: The Indian film industry is actually the largest film industry in the world, releasing more than 1,000 films each year. In 2015, there were two thousand multiplex theaters and the following year, 2.2 billion movie tickets were sold, which makes the country the leading film market in the entire world. Indian movies are not Hindi movies alone, but a variety made in different states and in different regional languages.

These are just a few examples of how the media misrepresents India. Hopefully, in the coming years, the media will shed more light on the brighter side of the country.

– Shweta Roy
Photo: Flickr

Bollywood, the large Hindi-language film industry based out of Mumbai, India,  is speaking out against rape and the abuse of women. Seeking to spread awareness about these issues within and without the industry, the campaign’s targeted audience is all people throughout the country. The initiative is led by a top radio station, with actor John Abraham as its ambassador. The entire movement utilizes the slogan, “Now the nonsense ends, change begins.”

The focus is on women’s safety at work, at home and in public spaces, which builds on previous campaigns emphasizing the need to change sexist language and to stop acid attacks against women. Bollywood is attempting to draw pressing issues within Indian society into the spotlight.

On the radio, celebrities like Abraham have begun to use their influential positions to voice their backing for the anti-rape movement. This comes as a pivotal change because in the past, stars normally avoided speaking on any pressing social issues.

The public outcry and protests after the 2012 gang rape and death of a young woman in Delhi are in large part responsible for the change in attitude. While a number of celebrities were advocates for social change before, the shocking Delhi incident resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of movie stars and individuals in the general public taking a stand against rape culture.

Celebrities’ participation in the anti-rape effort helps maintain the pressure to change both social and political views on rape. In India, like in many countries, rape is a critical problem. The number of reported cases increased by 902 percent from 1971 to 2012. Due to social stigma and shame, many cases still go unreported.

Although the backbone of India’s anti-rape movement remains predominantly with the public and the media, Bollywood stars’ involvement is helping to strengthen and sustain it. For example, actor and director Farhan Akhtar is using many different media outlets to lead the MARD, Men Against Rape and Discrimination, which seeks to redefine the perception of masculinity.

Others are making movies that directly address the issue of gang rape, such as producer Siddhartha Jain’s film “Kill The Rapist?” Scheduled to premiere in October 2014, the movie allows audiences to participate in deciding what should happen to the rapist in the story. The overarching message of the film aims to deter potential rapists and engage the public about the need to report rapes.

And all of these efforts appear to be bringing change. In the capital alone, the number of reported rape cases increased dramatically from 433 in 2012 to 1,036 in 2013.

The film industry, though, has often reaffirmed misogynist culture on screen by objectifying women and even, at times, condoning sexual harassment in their movies. Despite the fact that not all of Bollywood has completely shed its sexist and male-dominated ways, the stance many stars are taking demonstrates that both the industry and all of India can change their attitudes about women.

Although completely redefining public opinion about rape and the role of women in society will not occur overnight, the positive steps taken in the public, the media and in Bollywood have made the issue part of the mainstream dialogue. With continued efforts to raise awareness and encourage conversation, the people of India seek to better protect and value the rights of women.

– Kathleen Egan

Sources: Aljazeera, The Scotsman, The Washington Post
Photo: Curry Culture

India has two faces. The first is the one we can see in Bollywood movies: beautiful actresses, extravagant costumes and dances, romantic scenarios, love. The second is closer to reality. Women forced into marriage because their parents cannot support them, waves of femicides, sexual harassment – a few examples on a long list. So, between the romanticized image of women and that of women as victims of society, what is it really like to be a woman in India?

Among the G20 nations, a 2012 poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the worst place to live for women. Why? In a highly religious and strictly stratified society, women have the lowest status, without a doubt.

In traditional Indian society, women are perceived as inferior to men. Mere housewives, they are expected to stay at home, bear children, and take care of household chores. Most women, even nowadays, are forced into marrying a husband that their family chooses. Furthermore, although female literacy rates have increased, only 65.46 percent of women could read and write in 2011 as compared to 82.14 percent of men. This 16.68 percentage-point gap can be attributed to the traditional view that women do not need to go to school.

This patriarchal mindset is still deeply embedded in Indian mentalities. Even before their birth, women are the victims of discrimination due to the hefty dowry the girl’s family must give the husband’s family upon her marriage. Because women cannot inherit from their families, parents have a strong sex-selection bias towards boys to ensure the survival of their descendant line, triggering waves of femicides. Indeed, femicide has been a great plague in India. Research conducted by economists Siwan Anderson and Debraj Ray found that nearly 2 million women are missing in a given year, due to female foeticide and girl killings.

Despite this appalling observation, femicide was only officially recognized as gender-related killing on March 15 of 2013, during the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). For the first time, governments are urged “to implement or strengthen national legislation in order to punish such killings of women, and girls” according to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). For the first time, femicide is seen as a crime in itself, and governments ought to “end impunity by ensuring accountability and the punishment of perpetrators of such crimes and reparation for the victims”.

The CSW resolution arrives in a time of social turmoil after the gang rape and subsequent death of a 23 year-old medical student on a New Delhi bus. The wave of rape protests that occurred in New Delhi after this incident spread across Asia, with demonstrations in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But these protests did not end sexual harassment in India: in April 2013, a 5 year-old girl in New Delhi was raped and tortured for 40 hours before dying.

But it is really the recent scandal involving an American tourist gang-raped by three men in Northern India that drew more widespread international attention to the issue. In the face of these deplorable incidents, women across India and beyond have been mobilizing for their cause, and the heightened international awareness offers hope that Indian women can look forward to a better future.

– Lauren Yeh
Source: BBC, UN Women, Reuters, Guardian
Photo: JNM Journal