A group of men walk towards a young boy being carried by his father. As the boy notices that the men are Muslim, he frantically rubs the stripes off his father’s forehead, trying to conceal their religious identity from the hostile group. Another clip reveals a woman questioning why she has to feel incomplete without a man. These aren’t scenes from an Oscar line-up with themes of terrorism, gender equality or the intricacy of human relationships. These are excerpts from regional Indian films that reveal an India far removed from popular perception created by commercial Bollywood films. The themes and messages are very close to not only the film makers’ hearts, but a reflection of the reality in different regions of India. There are a thousand movies produced in this country annually. To most of us this would translate to Bollywood, as the Hindi film industry is popularly known, churning out a majority of these films. However, Anu Radha’s ‘Cinema with a Purpose’ reveals the lesser known facts about the film industry outside Bollywood, which in fact dominates 70 percent of the film production in India.
It would be unfair to say that Bollywood only produces big budget commercial fare with a focus on style rather than substance. There is a lot of originality and experimentation within Bollywood today, but ‘Cinema with a Purpose’ suggests that regional cinema has long been ahead of Bollywood when it comes to realistic or controversial themes. The documentary is peppered with excerpts from Tamil, Bengali, Telegu and Marathi films that focus on everything from communalism to hierarchical relationships in society. To believe that these cater to a well educated or urban niche audience is also a misconception. Interviews with film makers and actors like Nandita Das and Amol Palekar reveal that regional film festivals are well attended by a cross section of rickshaw pullers to local homemakers to students. These films run for a considerable time in theatres with their inspirational messages and a reality that many in the audience have experienced.
The commitment and responsibility that many regional film makers feel towards their audience is also touched upon. Family relationships dominate several films as it is an important part of Indian life. The interaction between a father and son is portrayed in an identifiable way, influencing and inspiring the audience. Renowned actors and directors like Kamal Hassan felt that in a country like India, where cinema is a religion, one’s iconic status should be used to help society, like bringing your fans together to work as “social servers”. The documentary reveals how regional film makers focus on making their work more regional, deep rooted and distinct, striking a chord with their audience. A country as large and diverse as India needs to have stories and themes from each of its regions to reveal the bigger picture.
‘Cinema with a purpose’ gives us a quick glimpse of this picture, encouraging one to discover the story of India that lies in its various regions. In a crisp 30 minute capsule, Anu Radha manages to convey the variety and innovation in regional cinema in an interesting and quick-paced style. For those of you who are cinema buffs or are looking to explore and understand a country as large and diverse as India, regional cinema and ‘Cinema with a Purpose’ is definitely a starting point.