Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Schools of inattention

This post got me thinking .

Movies and how they influence you. Whether they should . What is considered good. And bad. How standards have changed. Whether movies have changed or the audience has changed. Whether it has anything to do with your childhood milieu.

And it took me back to the late 50's and early 60's .

I don't remember pouring over any kind of movie ads. Or my folks discussing movies, per se. Even our schools didn't encourage them. But I do remember talk about Marathi plays . Those that were famous, and often included the doyennes of classical music. The type of music that lives, even today.

If we ever went for a movie, it was considered useful and mandatory to watch the "Indian News Review" which preceded the main movie. Television was many light years away. I didn't even know then how a TV looked . The Indian News Review was like a mini-capsule of today's TV news on a maxi screen. It almost invariably showed Pandit Nehru inaugurating something, water flowing over dams, some visit of some famous person somewhere, floods, and for some reason, hockey games, the last with some really fast background music.

But I distinctly remember going with my parents and siblings to see a movie called "Tenzing and Hilary conquer Everest ". These were the sort of movies that we were encouraged to see. There were many Laurel and Hardy movies that occasionally happened, and we were allowed to watch these too. Not each and every one, though. Cinema was not something you enjoyed, say on a weekly basis. Then there was some vague movie I remember about Princess Margaret (sister of the current Monarch) of Britain getting married. Maybe the British High Commission brought it to India, but I remember that if you went as a class through school, you got discounted tickets. I remember my mother grudgingly saying yes to this outing from school. She knew Princess Margaret was not a patch on Tenzing, Hilary or Everest. But it was about going with your school, walking in twos, on your best behaviour, accompanied by your class teacher, and getting some kind of dose of how things happened in the rest of the world. Many world leaders were present there. Unlike today, "leaders" were few. And we recognized most of them as school children. There was a story book quality to all that business with white gowns, trains, horse carriages, tail coats, practiced smiles,and sanitized waving to throngs lining the London streets.

Occasionally there would be a Hindi movie based on our religious stories, which always ended with the victory of the simple, truthful, and brave over cheating, wicked and overconfident types. And we would see , may be, a couple of these , during an academic year or so. These stories were our routine fodder as we gathered several times a week, at night at our grandmother's to listen to her tell them. We never felt we were missing out on anything special if we missed out a particular movie, as such.

Which is not to say that my parents were conservative ogres.

Far from it.

Sports was a big part of our life. All of us were always going so many times a week for badminton, table tennis, kabaddi, kho-kho, or swimming coaching or something. Then there were music classes, for which someone came home to teach us. During our younger days, particularly for girls, learning classical dance was a big thing. I had many friends who learned, from the same teachers that I did, and these were all home tuitions. Our colony had a yearly Ganesh festival, and there was always a combined classical dance performance from all of us, during a festival evening, for which we practiced a lot. All this left us time only for school, homework, and for general playing with our friends on free evenings. And this was indulged in with a lot of gusto, sweaty clothes, scrapes, fights and everything.

Occasionally on weekends ,we climbed the Parvati Hill Temple at dawn with our friends, carrying notebooks, paints, colored pencils, water, and of course , mouth watering breakfast stuff, freshly prepared for us by our mothers , before dawn on a weekend morning. A lot of older indulgent regulars on the Hill often stopped by to see our terribly ordinary artwork, supposedly depicting sunrise over the landscape, interspersed with spoonfuls of Poha or Sabudhana Khichadi.

Not every family subscribed to this kind of entertainment.

I remember a friend once telling me that they (her folks and her) were planning to see a movie called "Naykinicha Sajja", which implied and hinted at helpless amoral behaviour from a heroine "madame". And they asked if I wanted to come. I still haven't forgotten the look on my mother's face when I asked her if I could go. There was always something at the back of one's mind that wondered why we couldn't go and others could. But there was always a conviction, that one listened to one's parents, and playing truant and hide and seek with that was not on.

And again, there was a time when there was a popular movie on a story from the scriptures about the churning of the ocean and fights between the Gods and Evil types. My friends and I, were allowed to see this, didn't want younger brothers with us, and loudly proclaimed that it was "girls only". Only to be told that there wasn't going to be any girls-girls-boys-boys stuff, and either we go together, shepherding our younger brothers, or the whole thing gets cancelled.

Much in the future, approaching adulthood, I enjoyed movies of a certain type, but was never desperate about seeing them. Movie music in Indian movies was many times the thing that attracted you, and you tended to remember that, rather than some outrageous scenes or dances where outfits were more important than the steps.

Opinions may differ. But I think that this kind of disciplined approach and learning over time, of what was essential and what was entertainment, built up a personal strength , where, later on , while staying in a hostel at college, I was able to prioritize my activities. I knew many girls who got totally drunk on the sudden independence, with no one to check on where they went, when they went and what they did. Many gave in to peer pressure in lieu of a sensible decision. And when I did see movies with my friends, I enjoyed them thoroughly or despised some of them, purely as entertainment, without treating them as something that dictated social norms or seriously affected my life.

Yes, some movies made you think, you recalled scenes. It's how you emerged from it all, that was important.

When I see kids around us today, aping the fashions and language of the so called matinee idols, picking up vices, and developing attitudes that emphasize only results and not the means, I worry. Social mores are bombarded with gestures and attitudes, totally alien to us. All this is deemed acceptable, and some folks even feel less qualified if they do not pepper their conversation with obscene swear words. (Just see Twitter).

Of course , I call them swear words. Others laugh about that. I still cringe when I hear girls (for that matter, boys too) using such words, in their posts and blogs. At some point in my working life, I had to look after computer engineering lab sessions, and had to resort once to reminding some vociferous students that they were in a public place, a lab, not in their own homes or entertaining their friends, and minding their language (under the threat of being asked to leave their stations) , was the need of the hour.

I wonder if there is a dual persona situation. A persona you depict when with your parents, and a totally shocking one that you depict amidst peers. And how this affects your assessment of right and wrong. And your ability to be bravely unpopular , openly.

Movies have got worse today. Quick and fast monetary rewards appear feasible to young folks. Intolerance and violence is applauded. Vices are picked up because everyone is doing it. Under the guise of trying anything once. Ask them to try swimming under the same guidelines, and you will be surprised at how many will refuse to learn, run away.

Because role models have disappeared. Some have role models amongst family. Some had these amongst their friends. Most have no role models, because those who could have been, are busy earning to enjoy plusher and plusher lifestyles, and keeping up with the erstwhile Joneses.

Many of our movies depict the permissive social mores so common in the Western world. You don't see that stuff in your everyday neighborhood. Its either that or the old village style family revenge type mafia don movies. Today, you often read news items in the paper which make you wonder if it is a movie story or real life story.

Of course there are good movies occasionally. One sees them, enjoys them , recommends them.

But a different, simple , kind of indulged childhood, with some very strong insistence of yes and no, and lots of early parental time gives one the strength to enjoy the stuff, but keep things in perspective, and balance. Leaving ,what is seen on screen to be left on screen, and not contributing to storms and stress in your life.

A loss of this balance is stressful. And so you see a lot of stressed young people today. It shows in their health, their strength of mind, and their easy giving in. Agents of vice have always been around. An unstable mind is easy to bend. Its how you handle things that counts.

Robert Bresson, a photographer and Film director is known to have said :

"Cinema, radio, television, magazines are a school of inattention: people look without seeing, listen in without hearing.”

And he might have added, "react without thinking"...

Kind of a visual knee -jerk

One would tend to agree.


  1. you took me back in time. I remember being taken to 'Do phool' the Hindi version of Heidi with my classmates when I was in Class 4. we did walk in two's with a teacher leading from the front two in between and one guarding the rear. And of course Ben Hur, Ten Commandments and a few others. Then there was a time when we girls would be allowed a matinee show with an old servant woman accompanying us who saw less of the movie but generally kept an eye on those around.But as you say, we never felt stiffled by the rules that bound us.Lovely post. Keep up the good work.

  2. I grew up in a much later time, but my parents still had strict rules for us. We were allowed some television programmes and since I grew up in one of India's most lawless states, watching movies in the theatre was a no no. I remember my dad taking us for some very interesting documentary movies screened in the club in our colony. And yes, the rules definitely helped. We grew up instinctively knowing what was right and what was not, and to be honest, now, when I can watch whatever I want, I still pick and choose. And I do try to do the same for my daughter. Try and discipline her in the best way I can.. and hope that that will help her in life.

    Wonderful post!

  3. Times have changed, Suranga, and now parents who choose what their children see are 'impinging upon their freedom'. :)

    Did you see the 'Prabhat' filmes when you were in school? We had a Prabhat film festival at the only theatre in our town and we friends ( as you mentioned, with younger siblings in tow) went to a few films.

    I can still remember 'Ram Shastri' 'Manus' and 'Kunku'. Films that can truly stand the test of time!

    Went down memory lane with this post! Thanks!

  4. Oh yeah...I remember that Tenzing and Hillary climb Mt Everest...I think we went in school for that - it was a special show...probably to help us understand some lesson... ;)

    Yes, times have changed and sometimes I feel that some changes could've been in a better fashion....its just the swear words are losing their significance, by over-usage... ;) ;)

    Loved ur post and how u relate things. :)

  5. Interesting to know how it was back then. Even my younger days seem like centuries ago, with the changes that have come in of late. What you see on the silver screen and around you is just too much to take, most times.

    But like you said, how/what we have been taught at home forms the foundation of our value system, to discern the rights from the wrongs, and goes a long way in shaping our lives. I've had my share of fun, but never ever crossed the line, the imaginary line that our value system helps us create.

    I just hope I can pass on those values, the valuable lessons that I have learnt in my life, to my children.

  6. Ah ! Times change ! I used to baulk at swearing in college campuses. These days, i see it as part of their culture. Its taken me an ask to get here !

    What the older generation valued, i guess changes over time ! This generation is very different ! Their tastes are different, their interests are fleeting and thats what defines them !

    I guess in the cycle of change, only change survives !

    I only hope core values of honesty, ethics, fair play, hard work, respect dont get diluted further. I wont be surprised if they do get so.

  7. I think that children often do develop a dual persona. I know I was bilingual with one vocabulary for home and another for school and friends. My mother would nave been horrified if she could have heard me outside the house and I would have been for the high jump !
    I hate to see TV programmes today when if there is any problem the solution appears to be intoxicating liquor- or displeasure results in something being trashed .So many are impressionable and follow these examples thinking it's appropriate behaviour .The same goes for bad language in the media . I never heard my parents swear and my brother and I don't swear either My children dont swear in my presence but perhaps they're also dual persona !

  8. I liked the header pic. Nice design. :)

    Enjoyed reading ur views. :) I liked the ending para. :)

  9. You remind me of the horrendous tamil plays being screened on TV shows today and the message that children draw from them. Violence, crude talk, manipulative displays and not one good mesaage which will take out 'India' forward. Downright blasphemy.

  10. So true. In our days the certification given to the movies were strictly followed. If the movie was awarded an 'A' then it was a sure NO for anyone under 18 or even 21!! And even the movie ushers were strict about it. And now the picturisation of songs that they show is terrible. And the whole family sits together and watches it.
    And the showreels before the movie were value addition. A news documentary, a cartoon, some trailers which also had to have the censor certificate. Those were fun days.

  11. i call them the good old days :) I am sure certification was adhered too, but i guess know with the BROADENING of society with mtv etc things have changed what was thought of as ADULT then is norm now...

    I am not sure if that for good or bad.. but it has brought about a change for sure ...

    What i do rmemeber is everyone sitting together and watching movies but nowadays you cant sit as a family and watch some movies ....

    a lot of values we learnt at that time...

    Bikram's Blog

  12. HHG Reading your comment took me back to those days too ! I still dont see too many movies, and dont feel I am missing out on anything ....

    wordsanddreamz Your generation had the television to complicate things. And its wonderful that you take the trouble to teach ur daughter stuff similar to what your parents did.....

    manju Yes, i did see the Prabhat films. Although I went to school in Camp, I stayed in the city, and so had the benefit of all these film shows which were classics...

    UmaS Thank you !

    RGB You know, teaching the values is not easy in the face of so many distractions in the media today. And so greatly admire those parents who make an effort.....

    Kavi With the entire ethos being polluted by mindless vocabularies, and an effort to define the bad as acceptable, I dont think I can call todays stuff as any kind of new culture. Its a mindless aping ....

    Barbara Blundell Solutions to problems that consist of drinking and thrashing someone also mess up everyone's vocabularies and destroy the language. I guess no one is bothered...

    Chandrika Shubham Thank you...

    nsiyer Thank you

    Radha Thank you

    Bikramjit Thank you..

  13. We were taken specifically for children's films.
    There used to be Sunday morning shows at Sapru House, which my sister and I would see with our father. There was also the Bacchon ka Karyakram on All India Radio, which I listened to regularly, also went to the studio once for a recording. I remember the documentary of Princess Margaret's wedding- we were living in England at the time, and it was shown before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! I remember seeing one Hindi film, Anpadh, at the age of perhaps nine, at an open air showing in our colony. The next was Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, after my Class 5 exams. We saw Aradhana when I was in Class 9, and Anand. We'd occasionally watch movies on Doordarshan, at an uncle's house, as there was no TV at home till much later. We did go for some concerts, plays and dance recitals.
    College did mean more movies, but most of them were not worth the money spent on them.
    Movies are now such a huge part of popular culture, I often wonder if there's anything else left:(