Picturing the political

In Prakash Jha's new film, Chakravyuh, two friends find themselves on either side of an ideological divide as the film ventures into the hinterlands of the Maoist struggle in India. It is part of a small but growing crop of films that tackle political issues, voices within the mainstream in search of new questions and new stories. For, as India's growing middle class has come of age, it has changed who the filmmaker is. Often, this new filmmaker is from the middle class, voicing its dissidence. Many of these filmmakers are from small towns Anurag Kashyap is from Gorakhpur, Imtiaz Ali from Jamshedpur, Vishal Bhardwaj from Meerut who bring their sensibilities into stories that subtly subvert the mainstream of Hindi cinema.

Small towns, no longer cut off from the rest of the world, have come into their own, and men and women from these places want to see themselves in cinema. The new breed of directors often tell stories from here, and depict their life struggles. Much like the early filmmakers of post-Independence India, such as Guru Dutt, and unlike the second generation of directors who tended to look to Hollywood for inspiration, they are rooted in a very Indian reality. These new filmmakers have turned their cameras away from the endorsement-addled Indian dream that Bollywood sells and on to the other India outside it. And that is a political act.

In a way, all cinema is political. A very personal love story, for instance, could become a deeply political film. Political cinema is about how we are controlled by the systems we live within. The mainstream of Hindi cinema is committed to the aspirational India, its characters wear a certain kind of clothes and speak a certain kind of language, which is a political choice. Much of the mainstream is dominated by an upper-caste male mentality that comes through in several ways in its treatment of women, for instance, which is still very regressive. The act of taking the woman out of the cloistered space she has been confined to, is political.

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