There was a time when cinema depicting realism was labelled as parallel cinema or bracketed under art-house cinema. Under the aegis of Shyam Benegal and the likes, the art-house cinema flourished and found its own loyal base. Where on one hand, the kitsch Bollywood mainstream films made for escapism, here was a cinema running parallel that found its roots in realism and social issues thrust in your face.
However, the mainstream — commercial cinema as it is broadly referred to — has come a long way since. Not only is reel content getting closer to real life, but it is increasingly picking up subjects straight off the society menu and also being inspired by real incidents and people! What is most notable though about the realism seeping in our films today is that they are being accepted more whole-heartedly than they would’ve been years ago. The audience, thanks to their exposure to world cinema, or their need to chew on something substantial while being entertained, has today become the calling card of the filmmakers. The lines that were blurring between the two cinemas is almost on the verge of disappearing completely, thanks to filmmakers who are taking the route of serving real issues wrapped in entertaining garb.
Take for example Abhishek Chaubey or Anubhav Sinha. Abhishek’s Sonchiriya addressed real and hard-hitting issues, but mainstream stars Sushant Singh Rajput and Bhumi Pednekar lent it that commercial flavour. Even Anubhav. The filmmaker —who has for the longest been associated with his films Tum Bin and the big-budget Ra.One — has made a shift and a smooth transition in his kind of films recently. His cinema off late seems to be attempting to bring about some change or make an impact on the society by raising a debate and starting a conversation. He did that with Mulk earlier and now his Article 15 is also being discussed.
But ask Anubhav about the realistic subjects being explored in mainstream cinema and he says that’s really not the case. He explains, “The earlier hits from my childhood or before have been Aawara, Shree 420, films by Basu Chatterjee, Basu Bhattacharya, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Bimal Roy and many more. Later even Prem Rog, Masoom...It’s actually the 90’s where we drifted to more escapist cinema with larger-than-life people and circumstances. I look at this as the ‘post OTT phase’. Now there is serious segregation. TV is very different from OTT and cinema has gone back to more Indian stories and so real issues.”
Just recently Kartik Aryan and Kriti Sanon featured in Luka Chuppi that was set in a small town of Indore. But the subject that was picked up by the director of the film was of live-in relationship which is still a big issue in smaller cities. It was very well-accepted by the audiences in the way the writer and director did push the envelope with a subject that would not have been acceptable a few years ago.
Writer Rohan Shankar shares, “I come from a small place like Kalyan and in such places the girlfriend-boyfriend cannot meet each other outside the college. I remember I was dating a girl who wanted me to come and live with her. Though my family is not so strict, I come from a middle-class family and it would’ve been shocking for them to find out I was living-in with a girl. So it was a disturbing issue which I put in the film with humour. You know our line producer of the film in Mathura told me that he used to meet his girlfriend near the shauchalaya that are built in public places as there is no other place and that is probably the connect the cinema of today is making with the audiences.”
Shankar goes on to add, “But I also want to say that Katha and Chashme Baddoor kind of stories continue to connect even after two decades. For me, a film like Article 15 is also very important today. That a mainstream actor like Ayushmann Khurrana has done such a film, hats off to him and Anubhav Sinha for a film like that in today’s time. It too has connected so well with the audiences from all classes. And last but not the least it is the exposure and the connectivity that has finally bridged the gap between parallel and commercial cinema — both parallel and commercial have been dropped and it is just cinema now.”
In fact, Ayushmann himself has spoken about the impact of a mainstream actor doing a film like Article 15. He spoke about how an issue like this needs to reach a wider audience and that’s exactly what has happened. The classes and the masses divide, the caste discrimination and the divide between the haves and have-nots is not being brushed away anymore. It is being acknowledged and accepted by multiplex audience as well as in single theatres. This is a huge step forward for the cinema overall. This is also in support of content gaining favour over starry trappings.
Also in line is Super 30. Though it is a biopic of a mathematician, there is a huge connect that the film starring Hrithik Roshan is carrying to the audience and it is aspirational. The film is based on the life of Math genius Anand Kumar, who started the Super 30 programme in Patna for underprivileged students aspiring for IIT. Mrunal Thakur, who plays Hrithik Roshan’s love interest in the film, says, “Indian cinema is changing and that is why films like Love Sonia, Veere Di Wedding, Luka Chuppi and Article 15 have been appreciated and accepted. Article 15 and the role Ayushmann has done are commendable. Stars are role models for their fans — if they see Ayushmann fighting caste discrimination, they are only learning from their idol. Today, the audience is looking forward to stories that are happening around them and sometimes inside them.”