At midnight, when the date turned to 15 August, 1947, our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation and India was reborn in its new avatar as a sovereign socialist democratic republic following the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. 65 years have passed since and today, we stand at the threshold of becoming an international powerhouse constrained only by the twin evils of corruption and social inequities. And these are no small constraints. With film being such a deeply ingrained part of our history, it was only natural that new India's growth and the evolution of Hindi cinema often went hand in hand. Here, we trace the story of this nation through the movies we watched. After all, aren’t movies a reflection of what the nation dreams?
In 1947, the nation was a small child learning the ropes in a rapidly changing world. The nation still clung tightly to its past. The numerous popular movies of the time such as Chandralekha, Aan, Baiju Bawra and Anarkali, all set in the time of kings and queens, reflect this tendency. The films displayed an innocence and faithfulness to the values given to us by the father of our nation: honesty, self sacrifice and loyalty. Dilip Kumar, the most popular hero of those times, was an embodiment of these values.
In the next 10 years, the country grew up to become a well nourished healthy pre-teen kid under the care of able leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. So the nation no longer had that need to cling to the past. It was a time of curiosity and exploration. This is reflected in the themes of movies such as Awaara, Paigham, Barsaat Ki Raat and Phool Aur Patthar that questioned the society. Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, the leading heroes of this period demonstrated the energy, innocence and curiosity the time.
As the country matured into its late teenage years, it grew from strength to strength and was intoxicated by raw power. Under the leadership of the iron lady Indira Gandhi, India of the late 60s and early 70s was beginning to assert itself in the world. This trend reflected in the movies too with the emergence of macho men wielding raw power: Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra. Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Sholay, Pratigya and Dus Numbri were some of the popular action movies of this era.
With the passage of years, the raw power of youth came up against the wall of practical realities, manifesting into a rebel without a cause. The unforgettable angry young man. The nation seethed with anger and was clearly in a mood for rebellion after the emergency and the autocratic regime of Indira Gandhi during the 70s. It was a time of "License Raj", corruption and scarcity. The nation looked to someone who would stand up against the unholy nexus of the politician, the businessman and the bureaucrat. Amitabh Bachchan emerged as the hero to don this mantle in the tinsel world. Laawaris, Ram Balram and Zanjeer were some of the movies that successfully portrayed this kind of theme.
Skipping a few years after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, when the country was in political confusion, leads like PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh emerged with their agenda for reforms. It was the time for the country to lead the life of a middle aged person well settled in life in a cushy job. This was the era of economic liberation. All old ideas of nationalism, idealism, and patriotism were relegated to the background.
Over the 90s the country was rapidly turning individualistic and consumerist. This was the era of the three romantic Khans – Sharukh, Salman and Aamir. People were more interested in glitz and glamour and romance. One can see this trend in movies such as Hum Apke Hain Kaun, Mohra, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Raja Hindustani, Dil to Pagal Hai and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
Now the nation has seen money for some time. Now it seeks respectability. At the same time, there has been the emergence of crusaders against corruption such as Anna Hazare and Baba Ram Dev. On the international stage, we want to be seen as a cool respectable nation with a symbol for its currency, nuke bombs and missiles and Indian industrialists looking to take over where the East India Company left off. But we also have to fight our internal issues, much more aggressively than before. Recent films also portray this dichotomy of style that the Indian seeks paired with crusaders for a country free from corruption and evil. We are seeing the revival of the crusader action hero in movies suc as Wanted, Dabangg, Dhoom and Singham.
Instead of the angry young men, we are now seeing wily old men who don’t lose their cool too easily. What remains to be seen is how Hindi cinema will continue to evolve in the coming years and decades. How does it react to India's growing prominence globally as well as the growing issues internally of a country fumbling between past and future? Reflecting a nation's struggles and aspirations isn't always so straightforward, and over the years, Hindi cinema has not only been a mirror but also emerged as a commentator on the country's state. And a commentator with such mass appeal is eventually a voice worth listening to.