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Role models and future of a country

There have been a lot of controversies of late - a movie which was claimed to have twisted historical facts, a caste-based protest, a politically influenced crime or the issue of sharing river water between two states. In all these cases, facts elude the public and the vote always remains is pretty divided and vitriolic because there are always two sides of every story.

It is no-one's guess that a filmmaker may have apparently taken a lot of liberties in historical depiction or that a particular law may have been misused or water or financial devolution could have been fairer or anything else. However, protestors have often gone wild with threats to kill or even cause damage to public and private property.

Sane voices argue that these non-issues keep people and media away from discussing real issues like the state of the economy, the rise of crony capitalism, deteriorating finances of the middle class or farmers committing suicide. So why is it that that large hordes of people keep thronging the streets. Why is it that the public today is paying attention to non-issues, why is it that "youth leaders" are spewing venom or announcing bounties on actors and directors or threatening bloodshed in the name of a river - when there are many other major issues they could pick up even if it were to win elections.

The answer probably lies in the role models which the society has conjured up to the masses - especially young people's minds. [Sidenote: It is usually the Young who control what gets discussed in public sphere, but due to the majority of the youth demographic, this is especially true of India].

I feel this every time I see a rowdy gang of bikers running amock on a busy road. I question, as to why cheap thrills like racing a bike through a crowded street satisfy a 23-year-old when in a country developing at close to 7-8%, there are many other thrills such as winning a local cricket or football tournament, getting admission to a prestigious university or starting a business and making money exponentially faster than what their parents could imagine. What makes a 23-year-old spend time, energy and money (which he possibly borrows from family or earns with difficulty doing that delivery boy job) on cheap thrills when a much better life can be built with the time and energy he devotes to this.

I find that we in India - media and civil society - have failed to create the right kind of role models for the upwardly mobile sections of society to emulate. A generation of people are born watching Shahrukh Khan romancing heroines riding an expensive bike or an Uday Chopra and John Abraham riding their set of wheels to the tune of Dhoom Machale is influenced to think that riding bikes with no regards to safety create role models which trivialise ride safety. At the same time, there is no contrasting role model portrayed in movies in 90s and 2000s. 

Movies like Guru which idolize the entrepreneurial spirit or which celebrate struggle and subsequent success in sports like Chak De India, Kai Po Chhe, Mary Kom, Dangal have come much late for a whole generation of kids who have grown up only watching movies which sell cheap thrills. Also, many movies like Swades were made in an art-film format which most masses couldn't relate to and the protagonists were from well-to-do middle-class families. In contrast, Ali from Dhoom is relatable to the poor kid as is Shahrukh Khan from DDLJ (while he is rich, but he is poor at studies and excels at sports). 

One could argue that movies are bad examples to determine who your role models are and kids in other countries are also subject to the same kind of influences. But let us acknowledge that post-1950s, celluloid became a major way in which masses get influenced because until then the only way one could know about others was through books which were inaccessible or accessible only to the rich. Even though the printing press democratised information, books remained locked up in libraries or in bookshelves of the rich. Plus in a country like India where literacy tanked thanks to the disastrous policies during the British Raj - books even if available were of no use for the masses. 

Movies through theatres and later through TV, however, were accessible, comprehensible and (given their ability to enter our minds through audio-visual means) far more influential as well. Indians and their love of cinema anyway is now a world known phenomenon - we have not one, not two but at least 10 large cinema industries in regional languages in addition to Bollywood which is global in its appeal.

Coming back to the topic during the 40s-70s, movies illustrated high ideals - stories of sacrifice and leadership from the Independence struggle to hopeful stories of the rise of new India and leadership again for the new Indian. In contrast, starting the late 70s movies started portraying more disenchantment with the establishment, alienation and treachery. It started with the likes of Mere Apne in 1971 and then exacerbated with satire like Jaane Bhi do Yaron in 1983, and then with a potpourri of films like Zanzeer, Tezaab all the way to Bazigar - the narrative slowly shifted into vigilante and revenge. While one could argue that these have been successful formulae for classics across the cinematic world, in India this genre became overly weighed. No one can forget the numerous films in which Paresh Rawal appeared as a corrupt individual - from a street bully to Police officer to a politician. 

While I do not have a first-hand experience of growing up in the West, but barring sci-fi movies and fantasy which abounds Hollywood - global movies have also followed the same trend; and Gen Z which is joining the workforce today is possibly as directionless across the globe, so much that radicalising them for a cause has become easier as many recent cases of terror plots, involving kids born and bred in the developed West being radicalised by ISIS and the likes, have emerged.

I think it is important for media, cinema and TV community and the new age media - YouTubers and the ilk to realise the importance of the medium they have in their hands. As a parent, I feel weighed down by the responsibility to continuously filter what my kid watches online and how it is impacting her brain's development. With our lives getting busier by the day, as we spend less time with our kids compared to what our parents spent with us, it is an even graver concern.

As I close this piece of writing, I find myself overwhelmed with thoughts about how things are turning out for today's youth, why they are turning out like this, and how can we prevent the next generation from meeting the same fate. This dialogue from the movie fight club is the perfect example of the fate that we do not want for our kids!

Image 1 Source:
Image 2 Source: unkown - received on Facebook 


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