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Jan 17, 2011

Movies that changed US; what about us?

Image Source: www.brightlightsfilm.com
The intensity with which Hollywood dominates the movie world and thereby plays a vital role in reflecting or inspiring public opinions or social values and norms is inconceivably huge. Any film aficionado regardless of his/her nationality or language is more or less bound to reach Hollywood movies at some stage of movie watching. Having watched over a 1000 movies, most of which are from Hollywood, I feel the reason behind the domination of Hollywood isn’t just about the technological edge or the huge investment or merely, the language. One reason among many is also the way its products reflect the social trends of the time and influence the direction of opinions for better or worse in many ways. It’s a quality we rarely find in the so called industries of "Kollywood" or "Bollywood". There’s very little, if any reflection of our social or political consciousness in our movies. No wonder we find it very hard to relate ourselves to our movies.

I recently finished reading a book called “The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen” by the famous movie critic Nick Clooney. In the book, he talks about the 20 movies (19 from Hollywood, 1 from Germany) that sparked something in the country's social or political consciousness.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) changed the way Americans and Europeans viewed US’s involvement in the Second World War giving the viewers a glimpse of what the war was really like and what it was like to be a young man during the war. Star Wars (1977) changed the way movies were made and the way technology was used in the movies.

Taxi Driver (1976), which inspired a guy to attempt an assassination of President Reagan, helped to tilt the public opinion towards the support of strong gun control laws. The public opinion had been the opposite previously. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) contributed in dismantling the shackles of the Hollywood Production Code which was a nightmare to any director trying to stretch his/her creativity or imagination or their artistic ability. Those set of censorships which prevented movies from depicting any sexual scenes, sexual perversion, ‘lustful’ activities and comedy movies from having seduction as their theme prevented many directors from exercising their artistic freedom. Thanks to ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, movies like Superbad (2007) or The Hangover (2009) or American Pie Series can breathe life in screen at our times.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) changed the way world viewed the nuclear arms mania of the cold war period. Through humor, it gave the public a glimpse on the real threats posed by the nuclear race to the human civilization. Similarly, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator(1940), challenged Hitler’s image of invincible ruler bound to conquer the world depicting him as an insecure clown and thereby changed the way the world thought of Hitler.

Looking back at our cinemas or even Bollywood, I find very few movies that were instrumental in creating or influencing changes in the society. Tulsi Ghimire’s Balidaan could be one and Bhusan Dahal’s “Kagbeni” could be the second. Such state of affairs is a sad one for a film industry (?) that has been making films for about 6 decades already. Our rich history that consists of numerous revolutions, our culture that encompasses numerous ethnic groups with their own traditions, norms and language, recent civil war and the thousands of stories and characters it has created whose stories remain untold, the transition that our country is going through, they all demand a clear stand of the public on major issues. Numerous social issues such as untouchability, marginalization of certain groups, the immense diversity of the people all over the country, these issues that could highly be celebrated remain untouched by our movies. If the movie makers and the stakeholders knew where to look for their stories and had a little more trust on the taste of the public, Kollywood too could boast of masterpieces. We could find many movies that would change us, for better or for worse.

-Surath Giri

(Published  in the Republica daily of 18th January 2011 as "Fledgling Nepali Cinema needs more wings")