How to treat bad movies

Should our history and culture not be strong enough to withstand a fourth rate work?

A recent Indian film from the production company Yash Raj Films is causing quite a storm. It is hurting sentiments and offending Bangladeshis far and wide. Some of those deeply offended are even respected artistes and professionals of the entertainment industry themselves.

There is no reason anyone should have to sit through Gunday – the Hindi film in question. Those put off by the synopsis can make the informed decision of staying away, unless they really just want to watch it out of some perverse curiosity. That decision is for the grown-up viewer to make.

Unless you have a job like, say, reviewing Bollywood films for a living, or for some odd reason have been physically coerced into viewing the film, the power is in your hands to stay away from bad movies.

Summaries suggest some lines of revisionist history that might indeed cause serious ire to patriotic Bangladeshis: the movie begins with a narration that describes the creation of Bangladesh as a result of a war between India and Pakistan. It shows Bangladesh being formed after a 13-day war.

Following the uproar, the makers of the film apologised, saying the movie was and is meant to be a work of fiction.

Nonetheless, activists and politically conscious coteries are infuriated. Using social media, they have called for a ban. No less a cultural authority than Asaduzzaman Noor has said his ministry would send a letter to India in protest.

Many Bangladeshis remain dissatisfied – they think the apology is not enough. They think that feelings have been hurt, so surely banning is the only way to go about it, right?

But banning works of fiction, printed or celluloid, has never been the hall-mark of a progressive and developed society. Artists should be free to produce bad art, it is up to the rest of us to have the taste and the judgment to either embrace those works, or put them at the centre of our culture and let them define us, to laugh at them, or to relegate them to the rubbish bin. It helps no one if we are out for blood at the slightest provocation.

The number of movies India produces annually is mind-boggling, and the quality of a vast chunk of those films is indeed brain numbing. Bollywood, in particular, reeks of exploitation and plagiarism. The very name “Bollywood” is testament to the inauthentic nature of the industry.

This industry has rarely been interested in depicting the social realities of even India. In Bollywood’s products, in movie after movie ad infinitum, people spontaneously break out into song and dance in luxurious houses and in backdrops that switch from Europe to North America to the idyllic hills of New Zealand.

So, if it has so little interest in getting present-day India right, why should we expect Bollywood to give a damn about the history of Bangladesh?

Bangladeshis have, for a very long time, made these unrealistic and god-awful movies the staples of our culture. Our collective consciousness is flooded with the tacky fantasies perpetuated by movies that get made by half-literate Bombay moguls to satisfy an uncritical audience that is thirsty for titillating images and little else. So, when they come up with a movie that begins in 1971 – surprise, surprise – they get the history wrong.

To my mind, messing with history in and of itself is not a major crime for a work that openly declares itself to be a construction of imagination. Stanley Kubrick placed a monolithic object near our ape-like ancestors as a meditation on how mankind’s technological progress may have been spurred in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Luckily, there, it was not a particular nationality or ethnicity was mocked, but all of human civilisation.

Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds fantasises about blowing up the Nazis before they can rise too far in an alternative history of the Second World War. Offensive to the Jewish people? Possibly. Offensive to Hitler? Sure. You may have a distaste for that sort cartoonish revisionism, but argue for getting it banned, and you are likely to get laughed at.

We have been engaged in a love affair with Bollywood’s ridiculous dream world for decades now. We have been okay with its inaccuracies so far. Now that the industry has dared to include our history in one of their stupid wish-fulfillment movies, all of a sudden all hell must break loose.

The movies that Bollywood churns out are the artistic equivalent of gummy bears, and even less nutritious. Should our history and culture not be strong enough to withstand a fourth rate work from third rate artists? If historical integrity in film really is so important to us, maybe it is time for us to make something of our own, instead of expecting foreign countries to do justice to our past.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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