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The middle class are not interested in the real national issues: Javed Akhtar on the growing commercialism in films

Speaking to Cinestaan.com on the eve of his 72nd birthday on 17 January, the writer came down hard on the increasing tendency of Indian cinema to focus on box office returns, and blamed the Indian middle class for this change. 

Shriram Iyengar

Speaking of the changing nature of cinema since he arrived in the 1960s, Akhtar said, "Whether it is the set reality, or the costume reality, or the camerawork, editing, and the general standard of acting has improved a lot." The man who wrote scripts for films like Deewar (1975), Zanjeer (1973) and other hits, attributed this to the growing professional standards of the industry. 

However, he was not too pleased with the commercialism that has followed this sense of professionalism. Akhtar blamed the middle class for the shift of cinema away from social issues. He said, "Now you take the content, the text, while on one side Indian cinema definitely has achieved variety of topics and plots, but yes it shies away from social issues. It is not happening in isolation. In the last 25-30 years, we have developed an urban middle class. This middle class in the last 30 years has become rather affluent. Then, there are multiplexes with tickets worth Rs250, Rs500, Rs700-1000. So, it means if it is Rs1000 (per ticket), and in a single screen theatre it is Rs50. There if 20 people see a film, then you will get Rs1000 at the booking window, while here you need only one person. So, this is simpler."

He added that the Indian middle class is not interested in the true issues of the nation. A writer who cites the Progressive Writers' Movement as an influence on his work, Akhtar was quite annoyed with the growing ignorance among a group of society that was once part of important political movements. "They do not pay Rs1000 to watch bonded labour, unemployment, or repressed women. They want to be entertained."

Akhtar did not spare words when describing this phenomena of patriotism seeping through society, and eventually influencing cinema. He said, "Cinema is not made in a void. It is happening within a section of the society. So whatever is happening in the society, will obviously, through some form of osmosis, enter cinema." The writer of Deewaar (1975) added that though the affluent middle class might be vocal in their expression of patriotism and nationalism, they are not interested in the 'real national issues'. "They may cry 'Bharat Mata ki Jai a 100 times, or say 'Jai Hind' a 1000 times, but they are not interested in the real national issues. It bores them," he said. 

He concluded, saying, "Exceptions are there, and exceptions will always be there. But Hindi cinema, by and large, has abdicated its responsibility towards the man who can only buy a Rs50 ticket. This gap is being filled by regional cinema." 

Having turned 72, the writer in Javed Akhtar continues to be the firebrand who created the trope of the 'Angry Young Man' at the peak of the Emergency Years. 

Here is the excerpt from the interview: