Emaciated farmers ploughing the fields, parched fields, scheming land sharks, broken down huts – these may reflect the reality of many Indian villages, but seldom get captured in Bollywood films.
Audiences prefer an escape from the hard life of rural, agrarian India on screen, while filmmakers resort to idyllic, picture postcard landscapes in films with villages as their backdrop.
Actor-producer Sohail Khan’s attempt to revive the forgotten rural essence in Hindi cinema with “Kisaan”, which released Friday, has got a lukewarm response and not-so-encouraging reviews. It revolves around farmers being forced to sell their lands to rich businessmen.
“Such films are appealing only if they are packaged in a viewer-friendly manner. Movies like ‘Mother India’ and the lot were epics and brought about an absolute change in movies thenceforth…The audience will only watch such films when the right minds work on them and make them in an authentic yet mass appeal manner,” Madhur Bhandarkar told IANS.
Agriculture’s share in India’s GDP has plummeted from 46 percent in 1960 to 20 percent at present despite the fact that about 70 percent of the population is still engaged in the rural sector. Simultaneously, films on the rural economy have also dwindled.
Puneet Sira, who has directed “Kisaan”, says his movie is a tribute to the country.
“India is going through an economic change and today more than ever, people are paying attention to the problems of the country… I am sure after ‘Kisaan’, we will realise that the audience is aware and ready for such issues to be brought on the big screen. We owe a lot to our motherland and this movie is a befitting tribute,” said Sira.
Arbaaz Khan, who plays one of the male leads, said: “Farmer deaths have reached an all time high in our country. It’s not like it’s a problem that has just started. On the contrary, it’s a problem our country has been facing for centuries. We just decided to make a film on the basic difficulty faced by our motherland.”
If “Kisaan” hasn’t got an encouraging response, “Summer 2007” by producer Atul Pandey last year that focused on the issue of farmer suicides in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region was also a no show.
In fact, Bollywood has only had a handful of successful movies throwing light on farmers like “Do Bigha Zamin” (1953) and “Mother India” (1957) apart from “Upkar”, which was made by Manoj Kumar on late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s request.
The 1965 slogan of “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan” hailed the soldier and the farmer as icons of patriotism and hard work. But today the Indian farmer is no longer counted upon as a hero in the nation’s growth, not even on the big screen.
Bhandarkar blames “lack of audience” as the main reason for the rural theme getting sidelined in Bollywood.
“Movie viewers usually go to cinema halls to escape reality. Most of the audience is made up of mall-hopping youngsters who will not be able to relate to the topic and hence will not enjoy it,” he said.
“These films should be presented in a way that best suits people’s mentality. Urban India is very unaware of the problems faced by farmers and unless they (films) are presented in a particular manner they will not work,” he said.
Mahesh Bhatt too feels that such films are not commercially viable.
“They are very appealing but not very financially viable. They are viable only if the names making these films are big or intelligence is used in making such projects. Filmmakers don’t want to use topics which might have any chances of not making it big and would rather stick to money minting projects,” he said.
In recent times Aamir Khan’s “Lagaan”, which was set in a village in pre-independent India, did exceptionally well. But many feel the film’s success was due to the sub theme of cricket.
Apparently, Bollywood perfectionist Aamir has shown interest in producing a film based on the plight of farmers in Bhopal. Anusha Rizvi, a former journalist with first hand knowledge of the issue, is going to direct it while Raghuvir Yadav has been roped in to play the lead.
“It’s not that these issues are irrelevant; on the contrary, they are more relevant now than ever before. These topics are very good and should be touched upon more often. There would be a large audience which would be interested in watching such meaningful cinema,” said Bhatt.
(Robin Bansal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)