By David Asta Alares
New Delhi, Dec 30 (EFE).- Think of the Indian cinema and the first image that comes to mind is of a boisterous and colorful mix of songs, dance, and love stories.
But the paradigm maybe shifting for Bollywood, the lucrative Indian film industry, which has a wide variety of languages and cultures to make its content choices.
On the International Indian Cinema Day, both critics and industry insiders agreed that the diversity of local films is getting increasingly noticed on global streaming platforms.
The outgoing year was marked by stories about discrimination against the Dalits, people at the lowest stratum castes in India, formerly called “untouchables.”
“Things have changed exponentially because of Netflix and Amazon Prime, because streaming just sort of exploded over the last three, four years,” Roopa Swaminathan, an award-winning writer and film-maker, told EFE.
Access to loads of content produced in India is just a click away for global viewers as viewership grew exponentially during lockdowns as movie theaters closed due to the coronavirus.
Some streaming platforms have specially focused on India, where 1,986 domestically produced feature films were approved by the censor board in 2017, the latest data available showed.
“Streaming platforms don’t put up with any nonsense, because otherwise you know, in Indian cinema, you can get away with certain formulas. People in the West probably thought they were ridiculous but for us, we have grown up with that,” Swaminathan said.
Film critic Shubhra Gupta summarized the formulas. “Nearly childish romances” of young lovers but who cannot be shown making love on screen.
It is not as if the streaming platforms have resurrected Indian cinema, where the cinematographic tradition is over a century old and hundreds of films are produced every year in multiple languages like Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Punjabi.
Gupta told EFE that Indian cinema operates in different spheres. On one side there is popular cinema starring superstars in each language, while movies with smaller budgets are often big on ideas.
Bollywood, a word that juxtaposes Bombay (Mumbai’s old name) with Hollywood, dominates the global imagination of Indian cinema with blockbusters such as “Dangal” (2016), “Secret Superstar” (2017) or the classic “Disco Dancer” (1982).
However, cine historian Sundararaj Theodore Baskaran, who shuns the term Bollywood like many others and prefers to speak of films based on language, told EFE that Tamil superstar Rajinikanth was also very popular in Japan.
He highlighted production of quality features in Tamil, such as Jai Bhim (2021), which temporarily upstaged classics such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Godfather,” as the best-rated film by users on film and TV review website IMDb.
It is a film based on repression against Dalits, situated on the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system, who have found little representation in the popular cinema in Hindi.
“Hindi cinema is not culture specific. That is, it is faceless. It is not rooted in specific culture. Because of this reason it did not handle specific socio-political issues,” Baskaran said.
He added that “Jai Bhim” was part of a Dalit cinema movement that had gathered steam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
He mentioned movies like “Pariyerum Perumal” (2018), which had won both critical acclaim and commercial success, produced by young Dalit directors such as Gopi Nainar, who directly tackled the caste issue in their films.
No matter what the style, ranging from vibrant saris of Bollywood to the new-found realism of Tamil and Telugu cinema, as well as classics made by renowned Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Indian cinema is now within reach for everyone, more than ever. EFE