Does Satanism have an influence in India?
A few weeks ago, 49 prominent figures in India got together and wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In it they expressed their concern that the exclamation "Jai Shri Ram", Hail Lord Rama, had developed into a kind of war cry. Traditionally Hindus use "Jai Shri Ram" in prayers or at religious gatherings, but now it can also be heard in the increasing number of crimes against Muslims, Dalits and other minorities.
The list of 49 included prominent filmmakers such as Aparna Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Anurag Kashyap, Mani Ratnam and other artists such as the singer Shubha Mudgal, the director and actress Revathi, the historian Ramachandra Guha or the actor Soumitra Chatterjee. They all worried about the government's increasing influence in culture. "There is no democracy without dissent," the letter said. It is probably the first time that personalities from the Indian arts and culture scene have interfered in the political system. The opposite, however, is almost the rule.
India's cultural heritage includes names like Satyajit Ray and Mira Nair in the film, Ravi Shankar and A.R. Rahman in music, Raghubir Singh in photography and of course Rabindranath Tagore in literature and poetry. Since Indian independence in 1947, the cultural scene has mostly remained unaffected by political influence, it has been free. Some works like Salman Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses" have been banned - officially to avoid tension in society. But open interference in the cultural scene is a fairly new development.
In February, well-known actor and director Amol Palekar experienced the new censorship bluntly. He gave a speech at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai about an exhibition by the artist Prabhakar Barwe. He also wanted to express his dissatisfaction with the Ministry of Culture, which has taken control of the national galleries in Mumbai and Bangalore, restricts the space for independent artists and only exhibits artists from these institutions. But as soon as he mentioned the "loss of independence" in art, Anita Rupavataram, director of the NGMA, cut him off. He'd better stick with "Barwe's work," she snapped at him.
"Toilet, a love story" tells of social backwardness in the country.
In line with this, the number of works loyal to the government in the film industry has almost exploded. The 2017 film "Toilet: Ek Prem Katha" ("Toilet: A Love Story") with Bollywood star Akshay Kumar tells the story of a newly married couple in the rural north, where the wife leaves their in-laws because there is none has private toilet. The two and a half hour film shows the couple's struggle against family and society and for basic rights and needs.
The plot of the film is based on the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) campaign from 2014 when Modi's government came to power. Among other things, it aimed to ensure that Indians no longer publicly relieve themselves. Most households in rural areas still have no toilets, so the villagers, including the women, have to relieve themselves in the fields. To do this, the women have to travel long distances, mostly before sunrise or after sunset.
It is fair to say that both the film and the program address a social grievance. Nonetheless, the question arises why there were no commercial films on these subjects before - when the Indo-Hindu film industry was so flourishing. One of the greatest controversies, however, caused "Uri: The Surgical Strike". The film opened in January and is based on real events. It revolves around the Indian army's attacks on military bunkers in the Pakistani-administered Kashmir region. "Uri" was a hit - and its success is set to grow with each week that the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir state continues.
"This is a new India. It will invade your home and kill you."
Because "Uri" worked as a catalyst. The government used the film before re-election to spark the spirit of nationalism. She reminded the population that it was indeed Modi's Defense Minister, Manohar Parrikar, who was behind the deployment of the Indian army and who had ordered the attacks. Parrikar said: "We do not ask for a fight, but if someone looks at the country with evil eyes, we will gouge their eyes out and put them in their hand." In the film, that ideology sounds like this: "This is a new India. It will invade your house and kill you."
The idea of a "new India" is well received intellectually and culturally by the youth. And the stars of the younger generation are anything but critical: They seek proximity to the government, even if this means a loss of artistic freedom.
About a month after "Uri", "Gully Boy" hit theaters. A well-crafted film in which Ranveer Singh plays an aspiring rapper from the "gullies", the gutter, the slums, of Mumbai. For the soundtrack, however, one song, "Azadi", was politically defused. The original of "Azadi" contained a line about student protests and criticism of the government and the authorities. The film no longer. On his promotional tour, Singh was asked about "Azadi's" political message, but dismissed the question, saying that he was "apolitical". Obviously, the censorship of the soundtrack to his film did not cause him any problems. A few weeks earlier, Singh had taken selfies with Modi.
German by Kevin Scheerschmidt.
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