National films cultures are determined by the common history of the people. They are determined by a common religion, and traditions of art and literature that have evolved over time (Nochimson, p. 14). Until the British arrived in the late 18th and early 19th century, national culture in India enjoyed a rich tradition and unique culture. The arrival and rule of the British that lasted until the mid-md 20th century had a significant impact on the cultural identity of the native inhabitants. They struggled to retain their culture, sometimes under direct resistance to British law. National culture in India was a dual culture, but one in which one of the players tried to subjugate and dominate the other. Even after India gained its freedom, it found that its national identity has been restructured by the lengthy occupation. This research will explore the role British colonization in Indian Film.
Censorship in India was introduced by the British rulers in 1918, when it was decided by the British that cinema should serve and support their colonial interests (Bhowmik, p. 3148). It is not surprising that the films produced directly after the colonial period rebelliously rejected these ideas and returned to traditional Indian themes. Post-colonial Indian films often center the plot on traditional values and ideals. The husbands are often seen as Gods and the women are dominated in the movies. The first post-colonial films celebrated Indian culture and ideals, but in the 1950s, these ideas gave way to fears about the future of India (Notchimson, p. 258). The themes became more contemporary. During the dictatorship of Indira Gandhi from 1975 to 1977, films that addressed the collapse of democracy were forbidden (Notchimson, p. 258).
Early post-colonial film in India addresses many themes that are associated with traditional Indian themes, rather than British influences. For instance, “The Vagabond”, produced in 1951, addresses the struggles of the classes (Nochimson, p. 247). In this film, the main character thinks he is of a lower class, but finds out that he is the son of a wealthy man. This film explores the Caste system as the reason for the troubles that the main character endures (Notchimson, p. 248).
Early post-colonial Indian film often uses the cultural icons of Indian mythology to reconnect the people with their traditions (Notchimson, p. 248). Postcolonial film was a form of rebellion and an attempt to restore Indian nationalism and pride (Sengupta, p. 19). Post-colonial films often have hidden meanings in the test, genre, and social ideals that they portray (Anjaria and Anjaria, p.125). These themes reveal themselves through intertextual comparison of postcolonial films. It is possible to find themes of change and desire within their texts (Anjaria and Anjaria, p.125). Post-Colonial film struggled between preserving the traditions that define Indian national identity and building a new India, one that is filled with promise for the future.
Bollywood songs and dances function as parallel realities to the narrative events (Nochimson, p. 239). The songs and dances often conflict with the plot and narrative (Nochimson, p. 240). This provides conflict, as it gives the audience an insight into the inner world of the characters. The audience sees the conflict within the character as they try to resolve their inner conflict and reconcile their feelings with the norms of Indian society. One of the common themes in post-colonial Indian film is forbidden love. This is a marriage where the couples are in love, but the marriage is forbidden by one or the other of the families. Often, these plots are set against realistic violence, such as the clashes between Muslims and Hindus (Nochimson, p. 245).
Indian directors have had a continual struggle to make Indian films on Indian terms. This becomes increasingly difficult as actors travel abroad to make films in other countries (Krishnaswamy and Hawley, p. 207). Some films that can be considered national films due to their funding and production in India, fail to meet the ideologies embedded in postcolonial film. They avoid the controversial political and cultural issues (Featherstone, p. 100). Post-Colonial films portray modern metropolises as the answer to the end of India’s suffering. For instance, in the film New Delhi, the introduction of an infrastructure brings promises of the good life that will become India’s future (Srivastava, p. 149).
A study in post-colonial film in India becomes a study of the struggle between the past and present. Early post-colonial film was a form of rebellion when the Indian nation was trying to find its new identity. These films often has themes of rebellion and fantasized scenes of Indian mythological entities. They seemed to have an agenda in mind. This agenda was to remind the Indian people of their roots. As time passed and the fevered rejoicing and celebration that ensued when Indian won back their freedom began to die down, India was faced with the challenge of what to do next. They needed to find their footing in how to move forward.
Indian film reflected the stages of changes that Indian society experienced and expressed them through the big screen. At first, Indian films celebrated the ability to revive their national identity. Later, the film industry led the way in promoting the idea of a new vision for India, one in which they became a thriving part of the global culture. They promised a new prosperity and an end to the suffering of the past. They promised that this new vision of the future could only be paved through modernization.
Indian films promoted modernization as the promise of a new, more vital future, but this also meant being exposed to ideas that were not in alignment with traditional Indian thought. This brought them to a decision point of what to do with these new ideas and how to address them. Filmmakers struggled between allowing western ideas into their films and continuing to produce films that were uniquely Indian in nature. Bollywood was a direct rebellion against the ideals of Hollywood. The styles of the films might have been westernized to a certain degree, but the concepts and themes remained uniquely Indian. It might even be that these films were even more uniquely Indian, as Indian filmmakers made a conscious effort to keep it that way.
Post-colonial Indian film mirrors the changes that were taking place in the whole of Indian society. They embodied the struggle to find a new national identity. They needed a new identity that both honored the past and that provided hope for the future. The film industry in India never enjoyed the freedom of expression found in western cinema due to censorship and the viewpoint that film should be used to promote national agendas. Filmmakers still found a way to promote their ideas through layering of meanings in the context of the film. They found a ways to retain their unique voice, but to do it in a way that did not cause political backlash.
The film of post-colonial India managed to retain its own identity, while continuing to help India move along to become a new nation. Film served as the voice of the people and a rallying point for the promotion of post-colonial ideas. Filmmakers still struggle with the idea of how “westernized” they will allow their films to become. This struggle has resulted in a blend that is still uniquely Indian. Post colonial film makers refused to allow their national heritage to be compromised and they are careful to limit the amount of western influence. They are proud of their national heritage, but continue to struggle to maintain it against a backdrop of increasing international pressures. They will have to continually redefine themselves in order to continue to avoid the homongenization process with which they are familiar after over a hundred years of British occupation.
- Anjaria, Ulka and Anjaria, Jonathan. “Text, genre, society: Hindi youth films and postcolonial desire. South Asian Popular Culture. Vol. 6., No. 2. pp. 125-140.
- Bhowmik, Someswar. “From Coercion to Power Relations: Film Censorship in Post-Colonial India.” Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 38, No. 30. Pp. 3148-3152. Web. 28 march 2016.
- Featherstone, Simon. Postcolonial Cultures. University Press of Mississippi. 2005. Web. 28 march 2016.
- Krishnaswamy, Revathi and Hawley, John. P. Nochimson, M. World on Film. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 2010. Web. 28 march 2016.
- Sengupta, Aparjita. Nation, Fantasy, and Mimicry: Elements of Political Resistance in PostColonial Indian Cinema. UKnowldege. University of Kentucky. 2011. Web. 28 march 2016.
- Srivastava, Sanjay. Constructing Post-Colonial India. New York, New York: Routledge. 2005.