See the good, the bad and the ugly of India through the Bollywood lens

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Alam Srinivas’ digital book, “Reforms: How Liberalization Affects Us; How Bollywood portrays them, “reflects” the good, the bad and the ugly “as it exists in India. Read the book at the end of this review.

The book not only dwells on the changes in India economically, but also talks about how caste, family and class play a role in business; the Indian obsession with brands and how the affluent middle class evolved into a cohesive entity starting to dress and behave alike.

The ugly faces of politicians, the lack of justice for the voiceless poor, the powerless justice or the lure of crime in urban cities – Bollywood, for all its songs and dances, sometimes manages to reflect all of these facets of society. Indian and more in their films. Sometimes it might be overkill, but the message hits home.

In addition to exploiting the timeless and timeless plot of the triumph of good over evil (as a hit hit “Karan Arjun” did, about two brothers who even reincarnated to eliminate evil), Bollywood looked at religious harmony in the with the 1977 hit “Amar Akbar Anthony” and praised the working class in “Kaala Pathaar” (1979) and “Coolie” (1998).

The corrupt world of politics is a perennial favorite like the 2010 hit “Raajneeti” and “Satyagraha” in 2013 to name just two. Today, Hindi films are on a wave of denigration of Pakistan, as seen in “Bhuj”, “Ek Tha Tiger”, “Bell Bottom” and more. Does this film reflect real life or the real life that pushes an agenda?

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Alam srinivas, a seasoned business journalist and prolific writer, however, believes that Bollywood doesn’t just present what’s going on around us on an obvious level. He has somehow managed to convey in his films the powerful transformations in India that have taken place after liberalization over the past 30 years.

Entitled “Reforms: How Liberalization Affects Us; How Bollywood describes them“, The book reflects” the good, the bad and the ugly “as it exists in India and shown on celluloid. But as the credits roll in, the bottom line, Srinivas says, is that the Indians have both “won and lost” in this frenetic race for reform.

And this theme runs along the book like a background score as he uses films, characters, storylines, their situations and more to convey his ideas.

Srinivas referred to about 100 films in this book, 70 of which he actually reviewed, he claims. He went through Hindi movies (and some web series) released between 1991 and 2021 and analyzed them in detail. He spilled over into their “scripts, scenes, dialogues, critiques and academic writings, and constructed, deconstructed and linked them to real socio-economic transformations of the past thirty years”.

Srinivas begins his book by writing about the new poster boys who stormed India Inc after liberalization. This is a new India, where making a lot of money is encouraged, not frowned upon. It’s no mystery who these big business titans are, but he uses movies like 2009’s “Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year” and makes a comparison between Rocket (actor Ranbir Kapoor was highly regarded for this. role) and first-generation entrepreneurs like HCL’s Shiv. Nadar.

Even as Nadar ostensibly used “unusual” methods of selling computers in the 1980s, especially to government departments, Rocket Singh, working in a computer hardware company, clandestinely set up a side-selling agency to beat his competition. . There is nothing sneaky about it, in the business “sab kuch chalta hai” (everything is fine) the mood had set in.

Srinivas sheds light on how Dhirubhai Ambani changed the rules and laws of socialist India too much to “pole vault over high walls to enter lavish palaces,” as he writes in the book . Obviously, he uses Mani Ratnam’s ‘Guru’, based on the life of Ambani senior, to show how India began to bow down to the altar of the Goddess of Wealth.

In the second chapter, he shows how ‘Upstarts’, one of the first Bollywood films shot on the Indian start-up ecosystem, portrayed young Indians, who created thriving businesses with a great idea, tons of ideas. confidence and an investor or two in their pockets.

He also weaves the Indian flair for “jugaad” through Akshay Kumar’s “Padman”, which is based on the story of Tamil Nadu social activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, the innovation of a revolutionary manufacturing machine. low cost sanitary napkins and its attempts to generate basic mechanisms. to promote menstrual hygiene.

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This is just to give you a taste of what to expect in the next 14 chapters. The book, however, not only dwells on the changes in India economically, but also talks about how caste, family and class play a role in business; the Indian obsession with brands and how the affluent middle class evolved into a cohesive entity starting to dress and behave alike (immersing yourself in movies such as “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”, “Zindagi na Milegi Dobara” to explain this point).

To discuss the “most significant change” that has occurred due to liberalization for Indians, which the author believes is technology, he cites examples from films such as “Rajma Chawal” , ‘Hacked’, ‘Ragini MMS’ and ‘Mickey Virus’. (not heard of this last film but he also digs deep to choose obscure films).

Srinivas also devotes a chapter to India’s sprawling middle class, whose numbers he claims are controversial. According to him, it varies between two extremes of 25 million and 700 million. Srinivas says: “In fact, many experts believe that the Indian middle class was conceived as a concept, packaged and sold in an exaggerated way. Despite claims to the contrary, this section is fragmented and divided, which can be seen in films such as Khosla Ka Ghosla, Swades, and Gully Boy.

The penultimate chapter titled “Oye lucky lucky Oye” stems from Srinivas’ belief that we are all behaving like the crook (Abhay Deol) in this Dibakar Banerjee film. The plot revolves around this con artist’s rise from a petty thief to a big operator, who continues to live the glitzy, king-sized lifestyle that Indians aspire to today.

Explaining why he chose this movie, Srinivas says, “As people, whether we like it or not, accept it or not, many of us behave like crooks in our own way, like Bunty, Babli and Lucky. in both films, Bunty Aur Babli, and Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye!

Well, it’s not quite a flattering portrayal of a nation of 1.4 billion Indians, but the book sums up major events and socio-economic changes in an easy-to-read essay format. It helps that Srinivas has been writing on these topics for years and even wrote separate books on these topics.

If it winds here and there, and some connections with cinema may seem forced, it is a quick read framing an India which has blithely swept away socialism, Gandhism and spirituality.

“Reforms can be a dry subject”

On what prompted Srinivas to attempt this book, he says that for decades he has been fascinated and intrigued by the links between the real and the real, the links between popular culture and society, and the intellectual, psychological bridges. , social, economic and political. – both imaginary and constructed – between these two realms.

“Intuitively, I knew that the real and the reel merge and converge in surprising and shocking ways,” he says. In addition, he had read World and Indian articles, studies and books on these issues.

Some of them are also mentioned in this book, notably the two articles by economist Bibek Debroy and academic Amir Ullah Khan, one jointly and the other individually by the latter, on the links between films. Hindis, political economy and agriculture, he reveals.

In fact, Srinivas’ second book on the Indian middle class, The Indian Consumer: A Billion Myths, A Billion Realities, contained a chapter that described and analyzed how this section was described by Bollywood.

It can be easy to match films with broader topics such as politics, economics or gender, caste and class, but embark on this exercise with economic ideologies such as reform, socialism or the various inconsistencies that have emerged as a result of the reforms can be difficult. .

One of the great ironies is that Indians generally associate market policies with the creation of wealth, explains the senior journalist.

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“There is a huge body of literature on how income and ownership of various assets increases when a society adopts reforms. However, what we do not record is that most of this wealth is ephemeral and ephemeral since it comes largely in the form of paper valuations, or fluctuating prices of assets (stocks and real estate) ”, he said.

Therefore, HCL’s Shiv Nadar and the protagonist of “Rocket Singh” embody the generation of wealth and the decline of several business families like Dalmia and Kapil Kapoor of King Chips in “Mantra” represent how money can disappear in the tunes, he adds. .

Another major irony behind the reforms is the fact that some social assistance schemes like MNREGA empower women but at the same time liberalized policies have forced a majority to stay out of the labor market.

“The state of the farmers, shockingly and deplorable, remains the same, which is portrayed in recent films such as Peepli Live, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and Kisaan,” he emphasizes.

In addition, the reforms democratize too much an area like sport, especially cricket, allowing people from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed, he says. But it also leads to gambling, betting, match-fixing and spot-fixing to thrive. The illegalities of cricket can be directly attributed to developments due to market-oriented policies, he argues.

The reforms have helped and encouraged global corruption at the societal and individual levels, he says emphatically. And it is these gray and amorphous consequences of liberalization that he manages to associate with films that give them life. The reel and the real seem to be in sync for Srinivas, at least most of the time.


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