From people travelling to Ladakh after seeing its beauty in 3 Idiots, trying to recreate the La Tomatina scene in Spain from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or the Switzerland craze that followed Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Indians have treated film as a religion.
While the creation of Hindi cinema may have started in 1913, it wasn’t until the 1990s that it would become a more appealing and lucrative form of entertainment for the middle class. This newfound interest was due to factors such as the liberalization of the Indian economy and the rise of Hindu nationalism.
Hindi cinema became a popular topic to study because of its history and the key role it played in shaping a creation of national identity among the minds of citizens as well as the place it had created in the imagination of the masses.
Indian political psychologist and social theorist, Ashis Nandy, reportedly once said, “Studying popular (Hindi) film is studying Indian modernity at its rawest, its crudities laid bare by the fate of traditions in contemporary life and arts. Above all, it is studying caricatures of ourselves.”
While for most Indians, cricket might be their first love, it is very closely followed by a love for films. This love is so intense that over the years it shaped the thoughts and beliefs of Indians, made them emulate the behaviour of a lot of their favourite characters and even travel to the locations where the films were shot, just to share the feeling that the characters might have experienced.
Hindi films began portraying a symbol of an expatriate Indian who was an achiever and might sometimes be rich and spoilt like Raj Malhotra from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. The passionate Hindu male who was able to assert his ethnic and national identity in a globalized world. This character would also happen to be successful, capitalist and family-oriented.
While films such as Dil Toh Pagal Hai (1997), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) were very popular examples of such characters, the precedent had been set by Yash Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Such films gave their Hindu protagonists a pride of place and generated new practices (fashion trends, tourism in the locations shown on screen).
Members of the film industry are very aware of the role that they play in influencing individuals and the image they portray of the country. Yash Chopra himself once said, “Our moral responsibility is to depict India at its best. We’re the historians of India […]. The Indian Diaspora must maintain its identity, its roots”.
This brings us to the topic of Karva Chauth. Karva Chauth is a Hindu festival, in which married women fasts from sunrise to moonrise, praying for the welfare, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. After a day’s fast the woman views first the rising moon through a sieve, and then her husband’s face. He then gives her the first sip of water and morsel of food.
The festival was originally practised by married Hindu women in North India, particularly in Punjab and parts of Uttar Pradesh. But the festival was unknown to most Indians and owes its widespread popularity to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
In the film, at the end of the Karva Chauth sequence, the married women are given water by their husbands to break the fast, and Simran decides to play out a scene. She pretends to faint in order to avoid drinking the water offered to her by Kuljeet, the groom chosen for her by her father.
Raj promptly intervenes reviving her with a sip of water, and so she breaks the fast, with a significant wink for him. Simran and Raj later complete their bonding rite in the moonlight, exchanging food with each other, and Simran learns that Raj has reciprocated with a day’s secret fast, demonstrating just how much he feels for her.
This scene made the festival so famous that it spread throughout the rest of North India and as of today, is celebrated in Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.
Keeping in mind the impact films can have, it is important for Indians to be more perceptive and analytical of what they watch and not let art influence them, especially in a negative manner. The recent ban of the Tanishq ad is also proof that art can influence mindsets which is why some might want to ban certain art forms. This is also the reason why artists should have a responsibility regarding what they create. Art like everything else can be molded to help society or harm it. What it is eventually used for, depends on society.
Edited by Jasmine Singh and Sakshi Jain