In an era where we fetishize opinions we don’t own, the weekly ‘Moderate Mahila Mandate’ presents unadulterated and non-partisan views on what’s happening to women in India today.
A still from Hum
The first thing my parents did, when we moved from Delhi to Mumbai in 1989, was to take my brother and me to a film set. Despite it being the rather salacious Jooma Chumma De song, meeting Amitabh Bachchan and watching the shoot was one of the most memorable moments of my childhood.  Bollywood had come into my life, for real.
I don’t know about you, but I love Bollywood. Despite growing up in Mumbai, where you bump into movie stars, the way Delhiites bump into politicians, I am still completely and hopelessly enamored by our actors and our films. Like the millions and millions of other Indians, watching Hindi movies for me is an amniotic experience, like being back in the womb––a safe place to lose myself before being found again.
Yeah, yeah I know. It’s not cool to say this out loud nowadays. Because we’re all too intellectual, too defeated, too brittle. Because you either ‘love to hate Bollywood’ or ‘hate to love Bollywood’. But, as I always say, you can be cerebral about the things you hate, but ultimately most of the things you love can be amorphous.
It has therefore been heart-breaking to witness the recent schadenfreude-driven urge to take down the Hindi film industry. #BoycottXYZFilm and #BoycottBollywood campaigns cannot, of course, be dismissed. They have to be taken seriously since they have the potential to affect any film’s box office performance. Everyone is cognizant that the industry is at an inflection point that will affect the fate of film business forever.
We also know that thanks to the advent and ubiquitousness of social media, the era of the infallible movie star is over. Yes, movie stars are smart, intelligent, talented, and, of course, gorgeous. They work hard under immense pressure that is unfathomable for most people. And, yes, they deserve all the fame, money, accolades and adulation that comes their way. But in today’s world, no creator lives in an ivory tower. For example, earlier authors would be read more than they were seen or heard. Now authors are read only if they are seen and heard. Earlier we would conjecture their private life, from snippets revealed during say book release interviews. Now readers have an insight into their private lives every single day. So too, the glamorous movie star has to now become the intellectual, sensitive, thoughtful and glamorous movie star. Like modern mothers today, who are doing everything––holding high-pressure jobs, raising kids, running nuclear households, making gluten-free chapatti, taking care of the in-laws etc ––movie stars have to become superstars who are everything to everyone. Stars for their fame, money, accolades and adulation, but also relatable human beings for being aware, sensitive, accessible and earthy. Viewers today don’t want actors to just entertain. Much like our films, they want them to entertain and educate. To make them dance and to make them think.
Social media has, of course, misled people into believing how intimately they know celebrities. They think of them as their buddies, over whom they are entitled to have an opinion on everything they do, say and wear. But people are growing weary of cancel culture. As a society we need to recognise that we will have differing opinions, that we need to agree to disagree, respectfully. And people make mistakes. Of course, we need to draw boundaries, but we shouldn’t make them so high that they are impossible for anyone in public life to constantly climb.
Fortunately, that’s also the raison d’être that star power is not going away, as the international success of Laal Singh Chaddha demonstrates. Because even in their criticism, Indians are obsessed with celebs. Celebrity actors have a hold on public imagination that is unparallel and un-cancellable. Like Hindi cinema. Because love it or hate it, you certainly cannot ignore Bollywood. It is a passion, a popular tradition and a shared national conversation. Despite its recent glitches, it is important to both the economy and culture of India. Yes, even its cancel culture. So, where do we go from here?
What has to change, drastically change, is the way we tell our stories. Audiences expect films today to not just be a sensory and visceral experience, but also a semantic and temporal experience. Thanks to OTT, people have access to phenomenally written shows and movies from around the world at the click of a button. Viewer discretion is advised, especially since viewers are discrete. So give people what they’re seeking! Good stories.
Because good stories travel far and wide. A gripping and moving tale can silence the harshest critic and shut the most miasmic conversation. We have phenomenal actors, directors, producers, editors and technicians. But we are still lagging behind our content, which is the soul, head and heart of any film. Bollywood needs more good writers. It needs writers who don’t create art that makes fun of anything that further ties into the narrative of a disgruntled artist. Writers who can practice mindfulness and remain cognizant of not hurting people’s sentiments. Writers who understand that movies capture our inner lives in all that is emotive and amorphous, that movies are as much an escape from life, as they are an understanding of it. Writers who can write good films, and make the star and director and the film shine. Everyone wins.
Not everyone can survive the maelstrom of fame, power, money and beauty. But those whose hearts are set on the game and whose heads are in the right place, not only survive but also thrive. The girl on the film set in 1989 certainly hopes so!
Meghna Pant is a multiple award-winning and bestselling author, screenwriter, columnist and speaker, whose latest novel BOYS DON’T CRY (Penguin Random House) will soon be seen on screen. 
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