K. M. Munshi is the founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. In this essay, “Indian Cinema” he talks about the evils that have plagued Indian cinema, and expresses dissatisfaction at the growth of cinema in India. He choses the Hindi movie titled “Hunterwali”, a 1935 film featuring Nadia as the heroine, as representative of the malady of Indian cinema, and how Nadia makes a mockery of Indian womanhood in the film.
Sweet Sixteen without its Sweetness:
This wandering homeless orphan girl, though by appearance thirty, tries to play the pranks of ‘sweet sixteen’ but without its sweetness, charm or modesty. She rushes about on horse-back, and then goes around performing stunts like jumping over a moving carriage and then defeating 20 soldiers in one sweep with an irritating style.
Disgusting and Indecent:
A zamindar’s son, also looking about thirty, attracted by her, acts like a vagabond. They are shown as making love to each other, but without charm, grace or dignity. Their love-making takes the form of shameless freedom of bodily contact, difficult indeed to find in real life, except among the ill-bred. They both jostle each other, throw each other down, fling sand in each other’s eyes. In short, they do everything which would be enjoyable if they had been a boy and girl of eight; it is disgusting to adults, and unthinkable as a normal relation between men and women of decent upbringing.
Imitating the Mannerisms of an American School Girl:
Later, the zamindar’s son secretly enters the room of the princess as a teacher of manners in a clownish dress of a ridiculously bearded ustad. He starts teaching her the mannerisms of an American school girl, carrying a book on her head. Again, they start their athletic variety of love-making in the palace.
Absolute Ugliness vs Absolute Beauty:
The whole film, according to Munshi, was too absurd for words. Unable to stand the scenes any longer, her came away very sad. Quoting Plato from memory, he says that, men go from:
beautiful things to beautiful ideas;
From beautiful ideas to beautiful life;
From a beautiful life to absolute Beauty.
But such decadent exhibition of vulgarity, in imitation of an ugly aspect of the Hollywood tradition, leads us from:
ugly things to ugly ideas;
From ugly ideas to ugly life;
From ugly life to absolute Ugliness.
Money-making by Pandering to the Basest Human Nature:
He also wonders if the men and women who participate in this ‘immoral racket’, many of them who are decent, cultured people in private life, realize what a degrading picture of life they place before people and particularly young men and women? And the answer is, to make money by pandering to the worst human nature.
Crime and Violence are made to Look Attractive:
Yet another sinister aspect to the menace of cinema is that, it makes crime and violence look attractive. In our culture, the value of truth and non-violence is supreme. Gandhiji made of them the foundation of our new strength. Even Panditji (Nehru) a recognised champion of peace and justice, warns the nation against the cult of violence. But, in Indian cinema, day after day, in a thousand theatres, hundreds of thousands of people are educated in the ingenious ways of crime and vulgarity; their finer sensibilities, which crave for decency and beauty, are being undermined. Even many of the comic strips in our newspapers in which shooting, murder, kidnapping and house-breaking are almost accepted as a normal condition of life, tend to develop this crime and violence. This is the main reason for the spreading of crime and violence all over the country.
Cinema, by altering the traditional forms of narration, has threatened the literary and moral framework of society. Cinema, therefore requires careful interrogation before being assigned a proper place within the domain of cultural production. If good cinema were to be made in India, it is necessary to develop a critical approach to the medium. This in turn would restore the balance between cinema’s quest for providing healthy entertainment as well as realising its educational goals.
Manju Jain, Ed. Narratives of Indian Cinema. Delhi: Primus Books, 2009. Print.
Munshi, K. M. “The Indian Cinema.” New Vistas. An Anthology of Prose, Poetry and Writing Modules. Chennai: Department of English, Madras Christian College, 2013. Print.
Image courtesy: commons/wikemedia