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When fiction becomes fact

Shreyas Pande writes about the perils of using cinematic tools to build false narratives  
Last Updated : 03 June 2023, 09:29 IST

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Sachin Khedekar as Subhash Chandra Bose in 'Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero' (2004).
Sachin Khedekar as Subhash Chandra Bose in 'Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero' (2004).
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Randeep Hooda as VD Savarkar in 'Swatantra Veer Savarkar' (2023).
Randeep Hooda as VD Savarkar in 'Swatantra Veer Savarkar' (2023).

A new trend involves the whitewashing and manipulation of reality using cinematic tools. Cinema carries the power to influence people in just a matter of two hours with its interplay of emotions that is loosely based on facts.

On May 28, a teaser of a film on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was released. It made some conflicting claims about some historical figures in just a couple of minutes. It said that Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose were both “inspired” by V D Savarkar. It is without doubt, a far-fetched claim. However, it is not difficult to see through this petty sensationalism. It is aimed at co-opting the two immortal revolutionary figures by generating direct links to the Hindutva idealogue and thereby glorifying the legacy of his ideas and thoughts.

This is not the first time such claims have been made. However, what is changing now is the propagation of such claims through cinema, which garners lakhs of views and ends up making a home in the minds of people who will take it at face value.

The same day, another film was announced under the banner of Ram Charan. Titled ‘The India House’, it is based on the activities of Savarkar and others in London. While it remains to be seen what these films will show, their motives are certainly under scrutiny considering the rise in certain kinds of films getting made in recent years.

It is not that films on political matters were not made in the past but what is alarming now is the infusion of an ideology of hate through the manipulation of emotions.

While making a film on a historical figure, its context to the current times is of utmost importance. ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ (2002) doesn’t just end up becoming an exploration of the life of the revolutionary but aims to understand his ideas and raise questions on the way his hanging was carried out. Most importantly, it was not made with any ulterior motive of defaming someone or putting an ideology or community down.

Misrepresenting history

The problem starts when history is looked upon through a particular lens and then reproduced on screen. It leads to a sloppy understanding of some controversial figures like Savarkar. By calling him a “freedom fighter”, his other side is given complete impunity. The fact that he was part of a hate campaign against Muslims after he came out of prison and didn’t participate much in the freedom struggle, is hidden under some other incidents from his life. It isn’t hard to anticipate how these upcoming films will aim to glorify Savarkar, give validation to his ideas and will then be used as a weapon to demonise one community. Considering the subjective nature of cinema, all of it would be passed off as Freedom of Expression.

Films can be made without resorting to maligning. The 2004 biopic, ‘Bose: A Forgotten Hero’ by Shyam Benegal never makes conflicting, sensational claims about him nor does it use him to arrive at controversial conclusions. Even the 1982 film, ‘Gandhi’ by Richard Attenborough is an exhaustive exploration of the life of MK Gandhi in his formative years. The underlying themes in it don’t point to a conspiracy theory neither do they focus on maligning the ideas of Gandhi through wrongful portrayal.

In Ketan Mehta’s ‘Mangal Pandey: The Rising’, we follow Pandey from the beginning to the point where he finally goes up all alone to kill the British officers. The film serves as an explanation of the events that led to such a boiling of emotions which then led to the 1857 mutiny. The treatment here doesn’t consciously aim to create a rift by hiding something else under the cover of a “freedom fighter”.

Showcasing facts

The motive of these films made in the past was not to start a certain controversial ecosystem of thought and they were not backed by an authoritarian perspective. They aimed at just showing a specific part of history by basing them on facts and not using emotions to navigate a lie.

Using the language of cinema to have such shabby representations backed by a venomous motive, is a recent phenomenon. The direct influence of manipulative politics is giving rise to cinema that is frequently pushing a feeling of otherisation through its narrative. As many thinkers have said, we are living in a post-truth world, where the implications of what is true and what is not has changed.

Indifference a concern

Another worrying factor here is the sheer indifference shown by actors and filmmakers. Many of them being ‘apolitical’, they still indulge in making extraordinary claims about controversial facets from history and further damage the cause. By tweeting in glorification of a person whose prejudiced views find no resonance with the values imbibed in our constitution, they are either turning a blind eye to it or are naïve enough to be oblivious of the complexities.

Filmmakers are taking advantage of the power of cinema and not considering the influence they can have on the minds of people. Such films target the already existing biases among people and give them visual validation. Lies are being pushed forward through different means such that they create an echo and eventually become the truth. With cinema’s larger-than-life landscape, it is going to get difficult to undo the damage that has already been done.

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Published 03 June 2023, 09:05 IST

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