Six decades and seven years after India gained independence from the British rule, Independence Day and freedom has come to mean many different things to the generations that have followed ever since. And interestingly enough the tapestry of Indian films at large and Hindi films in particular is a ready reckoner for anyone looking to understand the freedom struggles that have followed India’s tryst with destiny since the stroke of that fortuitous midnight many moons ago.
Long after the toil against social evils like bonded labour, the plight of widows, untouchability, the scourage of class and caste, wretchedness of poverty, freedom from the shackles of communalism and so forth, the battles are now fewer and far between. And ever since the arrival of the new millennium, matters both social and filmic have settled into a whole new space.
Sharply in focus this year, as evident through our films, is the fact that woman-power is here to stay. Run an eye over this year’s roster and it is a pretty encouraging one—Dedh Ishqiya, Queen, Gulaab Gang, Ragini MMS 2, Bobby Jasoos, Mardaani, Finding Fanny, Khoobsurat and Mary Kom—from partners-in-crime and affection, social vigilante, the girl-next-door, to a fledgling sleuth, porn star turned actress in a spook fest, fashionista, a tough cop and a world champion boxer—the spectrum is quite wide spanning one. Happily, the feminine side of the story is becoming more and more evident in our films finally giving women in the film industry a greater creative say, something they had only in a limited measure earlier. It’s perhaps a reasonably big step forward in women’s ongoing struggle for respect and dignity.
Another freedom conflict, though it may not have the halo that other movements have had, and is making its presence felt strongly on screen, is about the freedom to choose your companion regardless of their gender, caste, class or religion. That gay and lesbian relationships are beginning to come out in the open in our films hints at another social breakthrough in cinema. Who would have thought that makers of mainstream cinema will begin to explore the taboo subject in all earnestness as they have?
There is, of course, a clear breakaway from the tradition of sweeping sex under the carpet too. This farewell to kissing birds and thumping flowers has resulted in far fewer cringe-worthy moments on screen than all of the last five decades put together. The censor board in its efforts to keep up with changing times and yet keep all sections of society happy, does trip up but given that lot more cinematic profanity, violence and intimate scenes have been allowed in a significant number of films albeit with an A rating, suggests that there is hope for the audience to be able to watch different kinds of cinema, no matter how disruptive.
The freedom to depict real-life politics and political characters remains a distant dream but enough film-makers are now looking to find ways to do so without stirring a hornet’s nest.
And then there is the million dollar question —whether creativity remains slave to commercial gains or can the two co-exist in a mutually beneficial relationship with no strings attached? Well, given that plot-less, starry moneymaking tent-poles continue to ride the wave, that creative freedom is still some way off but then again, one man’s freedom (to express and create as he pleases) could be another man’s cause for declaring bankruptcy! However, to give studios their due, one must concede that it is heartening to see them take a few risks with films such as Ship of Theseus, Paan Singh Tomar (Disney UTV), The Lunchbox (Disney India), Gangs of Wasseypur (Viacom 18), among others. The freedom from absolute categorisations of art and masala films has also given makers and the audience a huge relief.
Given this brave new world around us, in our Independence Day Special, we bring you opinions from a cross-section of the film industry as to what, creative freedom means to them. So read on and feel free to share your opinions with us too. One of the purest blessings of independence you would agree dear reader, is that comment is free!