Friday, 5 August 2016

ARTISTIC LICENCE, HISTORY AND THE MOVIES

ARTISTIC LICENCE, HISTORY AND THE MOVIES

A recent interview of a top film star set my mind on the topic of history and its representation, or as some people would have it, misrepresentation, in movies – or to be more specific, contemporary Hindi movies.  The specific movie that set off this train of thought : Mohenjo-Daro. And the gist of the comment was that movies aren’t literature or documentaries. The implication I draw from this is that movies can take so-called artistic licence, or, to put it as I see it, take liberties {meaning alternative theories, or speculations etc} , albeit mild, with the truth. Or, at least, place before the public a narrative that may not be the accepted one


Take the film stated above – Mohenjo-Daro; as per the trailer I have seen, there seems to be a ruler in that city that has been represented. Now  the problem with that is, Mohenjo-Daro was not the original name, but that is a relatively minor detail. In all that I have read – and my regular readers will know that I have a passion for reading history with more than a couple of dozen books reviewed as well – I have never come across any ruler in that civilization. This is, as far as my reading goes, one of the big questions around that Indus-Saraswati civilization


Then when I come across comments from moviedom to the effect that movies cannot or  should not be taken literally, or that films in not a part of academia, or that  movies aren’t documentaries , or that you don’t believe or suspend belief or some such thing– I am,  quite frankly, left flabbergasted, to say the least. It is fine to say this to educated people, people whose minds and thought process, analytical and thinking abilities have been honed by education, income and opportunity : the middle, upper middle and richer classes; although even that is highly debatable if made in such generic terms.


It is quite another thing to expect uneducated people, or the lesser fortunate people, to not take what is displayed in movies as the gospel truth. We have no idea, to be completely frank, whether or not such movies are thought of as believable or truthful by the people. But that is a possibility that cannot be denied. For a lay person, not educated, or not educated in the specific history or the relevant historical period, it might just come across as totally believable. And what if they actually do regard it as the truth, or even as substantially the truth or even the representative truth?


We are in an age when the habit of reading is in slow and firm decline, when people gather their information, by and large, through tidbits and news articles, social media snippets, local word of mouth, television and movies. By information I refer to information not relevant to the core job or bread earning activity of the individual in question. In such an environment, media such as movies automatically become the most powerful medium of communication and information dissemination. Why should I go further than myself to prove this? Almost all that I know of at least one part of our history is through the medium of Television – it is only now that I am reading it slowly bit by bit.


Thus, it becomes incumbent on the presenter of the historical to be as true to history as it is feasible to be. I understand that some aspects in history are debatable, or under study, and that this concept of accuracy is a very high bar to achieve, but it is my humble submission to the Hindi moviedom to take the extra effort : India needs it, in my opinion. We cannot brush it away by saying artistic licence. If your artistic licence gives a wrong impression and wrong idea in the minds of some people – this is something that needs attention. Either that – or do research to prove that people don’t believe it at all!


Now that is hard for me to believe – given that my entire knowledge of some particular period of our history is from Television. I trust the serial was true to the facts as we know them – and my subsequent reading has justified my trust. But the key is that I believed it as gospel. The fact that I subsequently read and found it accurate is irrelevant. The key, the vital part  - is my belief, that of an educated person. And that is precisely why Television serials and Movies need to forget the nonsense of artistic licence when making movies!


Movies are a powerful medium, with their capacity to tell a story, give a message, create opinion, an impact on the mind being incomparable. They stand in a class all by themselves, and their tremendous power needs to be understood by we the people as well as the movie makers as well. It is high time the Hindi movie people became a lot more sensitized towards these matters, and taken their role in our lovely society far more seriously.



Movie makers are not, repeat not, just entertainers; they have a far more effective, powerful, important and serious role in our lives. High time they wake up to their reality – especially in the Hindi movie world in my humble opinion. Their real role extends far beyond just being entertainers : they lead change, form opinion, entertain, educate. ask hard questions of society and so on and so forth. That being the case – they should be as close to the truth as it is possible for them to be!

2 comments:

  1. If only they were listening to us and giving it a thought. Very well said Vishal. I agree with every word. That thought has come to my mind so many times. Just that I never penned it. You did it way better then I could have done.
    Kudos to you.
    Hope they open their ears and minds soon.

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    1. Thanks Rohit - means a lot, coming from an avid movie fan and reviewer like you! Please share this on your social media, can you do that? That would be great!

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