Cinema influences society and the mental makeup of common people to a great extent. It is one of the most popular mediums of mass communication where the filmmakers can send a message to a large audience. Hence films have been used as a tool to promote ideas and ideologies, a tool for image makeover, a tool for building public consensus so on and so forth. Take the recently released blockbuster ‘Sanju‘ as an example, it has been super successful in doing an image makeover for industry’s bad boy Sanjay Dutt. Dictators like Adolf Hitler and even socialists like Jawaharlal Nehru, kept communication unidirectional. Hitler was short and frail but used mass media to project himself as a tall and strong ‘Aryan’ which built his image as ‘strong leader’. Nehru used media to project himself as a reformer with liberal outlook. The unidirectional influence of cinema waned due to the rise of digital media which made two-way communications very easy.
Indian cinema has been the greatest source of entertainment for Indians ever since the first motion picture rolled into action and the messaging has been clear and unadulterated. People like Satyajit Ray used poverty as a tool to get international acclaim. A decade back, British filmmaker Danny Boyle did the same in Slumdog Millionaire and won academy awards and many other international accolades.
However, the work of Salim-Javed is unique and the messaging is absolutely on point when it comes to promoting a political ideology through cinema.
The Salim-Javed duo wrote 22 Bollywood films most of which were released in the 1970s and few in 1980s. The important thing to remember this was the period when Indira Gandhi used the ‘socialism’ to consolidate her holds in the country. It was one of the most destructive periods in India post-independence, both socially and economically. The economy was growing at a lower rate than the population growth so per capita income was actually declining. Socially, democracy was at stake as Indira Gandhi implemented emergency.
And while the situation in the country went from bad to worse, Salim-Javed did PR exercise for the political ideology Indira Gandhi stood for. Between 1971 and 1977, the duo wrote 11 films, all were hits but most importantly all were in line with the political ideology of Indira Gandhi who was prime minister of the country for all these years. Most of these movies followed almost similar storyline where there was a rich villain who manipulated the ‘system’ for personal advantage and a Robinhood (one that robs the rich and gives to the poor) hero. The industrialists were also depicted as anti-woman, misogynist, rapists or potential rapists. Deewar, the so-called masterpiece directed by Yash Chopra could be an ideal test case. The wealth creators were demonized and trade-union leaders were depicted as demigods. Salim-Javed tried to create a cult around trade union leaders much in sync with Indira’s India.
Another good example will be Kala Patthar where the same message is conveyed. Kala Patthar conveys the message that all industrialists care about is their wealth and don’t give two hoots about worker’s safety. In Kala Patthar the laborers have been left to die in coal mines.
In fact there is no movie which does not promote trade unionism and demeans free market. Trishul released in 1978 shows how a young man destroys father’s business and family connection to avenge his mother’s pitiable condition owing to her being ditched by his father. These movies were socialist enough to become blockbusters in the Soviet Union. The USSR government promoted these movies in their countries.
The socialism depicted in these movies was not a new concept to Javed Akhtar. In fact, Javed Akhtar’s father was a member of the communist party. “When I was born my father, famous poet and lyricist Jan Nisar Akhtar, did not pronounce Azaan into my ear. Rather, he read out from The Communist Manifesto,” said Javed Akhtar once. Diptakirti Chaudhuri’s book “Written by Salim-Javed” confirms this fact, he writes “when Javed Akhtar was born, his father – poet Jan Nisar Akhtar – a member of the Communist Party, went to the hospital along with some friends directly from the office. Since he was carrying a copy of The Communist Manifesto, he decided to change the tradition of reading the Azaan in the newborn child’s ears and read from the manifesto instead.” So being true to his upbringing, Javed Akhtar promoted the same ideology through cinema. The political undertone of these movies must have been liked by the then government. The Congress party repaid the debt by nominating him to the Rajya Sabha in 2010. He no longer writes screenplays, perhaps because no producer will spend his money on a movie which promotes socialism- a failed ideology responsible for poverty and bloodbath in many countries of the world.