India is one of the world’s major film producers, next only, in respect of the number of motion pictures produced, to the U.S.A. and Japan. Moreover, in a country like India where the literacy rate is only 36, the cinema and television (TV) are the best and the most effective audiovisual media; they open the flood gates of communication and heighten the effectiveness and acceptability other message sought to be conveyed. The cinema in particular is the easiest medium to reach the masses in the country because television is confined largely to the urban areas, the community reception centres in the rural areas being very limited and these, too, not in full working order.

But the quality of Indian films is distinctly poor; the stories and the method of presentation of various situations are hackneyed and obsolete. They conform to a set, all-too-familiar formula, the departures being few and far between, and where certain film producers show initiative and try to present make a bold breakthrough in a bid to create pictures of great social utility, the lack of adequate responses by the audiences (poor box-office returns) act as a damper and a source of discouragement. The result is a return to commercialization, the craze for the box-office, cheap popularity and the demand of the masses so as to make profits or at least to ensure satisfactory returns on the heavy investment generally made in the productions, partly because of the fabulous fees of the top “stars”, the attractive—leading heroes and heroines, who dictate their terms and whose names attract large crowds.

It is indeed unfortunate that our film producers forget their social responsibility—the duty of imparting real education and instruction to the masses, to rid them of superstitions and false beliefs and notions. While films should enlighten them on various issues and thus promote the causes, which the Government pursues, they concentrate only on entertainment, dances and songs, cheap love scenes and lilting, catchy tunes. Instead of presenting life as it is and as it should be in a country such as India, our film producers create false values, generally present stories of affluent classes, of life in bungalows and palaces, gorgeous dresses and costumes, eye-catching dresses and artificial situations far removed from the actualities of Indian life. The craze for Western styles of dress and living, the cabarets and the dances, etc., also reflects a failure to discharge the film producers’ social responsibility.

The cinema can certainly act as an effective and highly useful instrument of social change, a change in the outmoded attitudes and customs, especially in the rural areas. Instead, Indian films lay stress on deportment and dating (open or secret meetings of handsome boys and girls) by the urban youth. It is true that traditions die-hard and that social change is a matter of evolution and is a time-consuming process. Social reformers often use the religious cover to usher in radical ideas and propagate a noble ideology. The cinema is unrivalled in many ways as a communications medium, but whatever little it does by way of conveying sound and healthy messages is confined, by and large, to the urban and semi-urban areas. The real fulfillment of social responsibility is needed in the rural areas where, unfortunately, only the cheap and worn-out films permeate, mostly because of the lack of good theatres and cinema halls.

It must be recognized, however, that Hindi films, or rather Hindustani films, have helped to command an all-India market, thus making this language popular and understandable in all parts of the country. It is factor worth noting that even in Tamil Nadu and certain other South Indian areas, where there is a strong anti-Hindi fervour, Bombay-made Hindi films are popular. It is true, however, that if the cinema is to institute the desired social changes, the regional films must conform more and more to the national ethos. Through well-developed techniques the films in regional languages can be “dubbed”.

It is also a notable and highly regrettable fact that the Indian cinema remains, by and large, reactionary and hence incapable of discharging its social duty. Like all industrialists, filmmakers to have a distinct social responsibility, and they must not forget their duty towards society in their craze for making profits by all popular techniques, even by
pampering to cheap tastes of the masses. They reflect a deplorable lack of the sense of citizenship when they make cheap, substandard films merely because these bring them more profits. Our films seldom give adequate food for serious thought.