Semiotics of Corruption: Reflection by Bollywood
Does the popular cinema as revealed by Bollywood generates the societal attributes or does the characteristics and the elements of society are reflected by Bollywood? The answer lies in the interesting cycle of reel and real itself, which has no beginning or end. Any event, which grips a part of nation, is replicated by the medium of a movie in no time. By the medium of this paper I have attempted to compare, contrast and comment on the semiotics of the bollywood cinema through some movies which captured the imagination of the nation in a colossal manner. How the communication in these movies was coded and then how the audience decoded that message is particularly interesting as for each of us the perception of the external stimuli is different. Probably, that also highlights the differences in the intellectual capacity by which we all view and consume the movie in different mannerism. There is a definite language which express this medium of movie and that hints the culture as well as practices of a nation.
I have made an endeavor to be able to emphasize some of semiotics post 1995, through the medium of movies, when India was on a verge of considerable progress, made possible by loosening government regulations, especially in the area of foreign trade. Many restrictions on private companies were lifted, and new areas were opened to private capital. Then as we progressed, the economic liberalization boomed and we as a nation were on the path of progress, which continued through the mentioned decade, and presently it is predicted by Goldman Sachs that Indian economy will surpass most of the nations by 2020. These reflections have been showcased by most of the Indian movies in recent past, but the corruption which is the backbone of this paper resulted in a greater extend as well. Was that a by-product of the technological and the liberalization revolutions or was it the result of the greater need to be successful over night and be akin to the power businessperson exudes in the movie, flaunting all the wealth from the word go. Were the movies also culprit in triggering that existing need of those few, who wanted to be as rich and successful, by the means of short cuts, as what they experienced in the consumption of these movies? Probably, both society and movies reflect each other, but the scope of this paper will not analyze this effect. This question was hoisted, as it was necessary to create the ground of the subject, which this paper is set out to deal. The screenplay, dialogues, costumes, situations, costumes, etc. all hints at a certain cultural process and we as a viewer consume it. Movies are also cultural products ‘designed’ with an audience and are profit oriented as a main objective. As the topic suggests, the paper will aim towards the exploration of the ways the in which corruption has been incorporated in today’s cinema and hence states the scope of this paper.
The octogenarian spirit
In 1996 arrived the movie ‘Indian’ that explored the horror of bureaucracy, corruption and bribery in modern India and its effect on society. The movie demonstrates the evils in the society, which is the society itself. The series of confrontations through the movie between the principled, though murderous father and the corrupt son form the crux of the movie. The characters are actually representing the two sides of the debate on corruption; the modern view of rationalizing it and the view held by our freedom fighters. An old man decides to take the law in his own hand to wrestle corruption, which hints towards the incapability of most of today’s youth who have actually accepted corruption as the past and parcel of contemporary world. They would not battle for the ideology of righteousness, but choose the marriage of convenience with the fraudulent side. The director has shown this dilemma for an old man who is the idealist thought and ironically his very own young son who progresses the realistic thought. In addition, the semiotics also indicates the uneasiness of the freedom fighter generation, on the prevalent corruption in contemporary world, who got the nation freed from the British.
Here corruption could also be viewed as a factor of suppression and in line with the rebel nature of protagonist, who revolted against the British in a violent manner. In all probability, that is the only way he has always known. In his young days, during British revolution, he shed a lot of blood and when the corruption engulfed and made the nation a slave in present, he revolted all over again in almost equivalent manner. The causes of his violent reactions of present are ingrained in his past, which the director probably wanted to put forth in the defense of the protagonist as that is the only way he knows to fetch out the nation against oppression by slavery in the past or the corruption in present. The movie attempts to reflect on these mal-practices in a simplistic manner.
The news we hear all the time that a medical establishment refuses to give the body of the person expired if their family falls short of some money, or the clinic refuses to begin the treatment unless the concerned party pays up the advance etc. are so much in line and in-sync with the coded message of the movie. When Kasthoori, his daughter is grievously hurt in a house-fire the doctor wants him to file a police report or pay him Rs.500/-; at the police station – the Inspector wants Rs.250/- or a report from the Village Administration Officer; who in turn wants Rs.150/- so that he can initiate preparations for the report. This delay results in his daughter’s death. How would one react on losing their close one for not bribing the officials at time? This is a mass sentiment and the worst fear for the under privileged population today is being captured and indicated.
His son, Chandru, meanwhile has also turned corrupt and shockingly becomes an accomplice to the death of entire bus full of children. We see, read and hear the bribing culture floating in nearly all government circles, permits being no exception. The illegal provision of sanctioning these official papers by the means of bribe is so evident in our country. The repercussions are no less than frightening, with the collapse of bridge, deaths of road and other infrastructure in no time, the sanctioning of money from the tube wells, which never exist in reality and so on and so forth. The list is endless and the movie symbolically picks out one of these evils and ironically makes the son as the culprit, which ends in a thrilling climax in which he has to kill his son.
What would you do if you were to become the chief minister for a day?
The question “What would you do if you were to become the chief minister for a day?” is answered in the movie Nayak, which came out in 2001. The search of the protagonist for truth and honesty brings him to the point of changing the entire corrupt bureaucratic system of the country. Upon being invited as to chair the chief minister’s position for a day, can one man change the entire system in a day? I believe the point that the movie was trying to make is about the depth and width of the corruption form top to bottom in today’s society. It might be a common and idealistic notion that the system could be changed from the bottom level if every one tries that to happen. The movie suggests that the corruption can be changed from the top, if the power at the top tries to change the system.
The protagonist, a common person begins the cleaning process at the root level and fires all the corrupt public servants. With the support of people from all occupations, he instantly solves the big problems that had been pending for years. Is not that we all want is the big-ticket question. The matter of representation is just simple, as the person is one among us. He is also the voice of the youth and middle-working class. The personality reflects ambition to change and raise the voice.
The argument of the existing chief minister in the movie, that in politics, things are easier said than done and it is impossible not be corrupt when in system. We consume the statement that the system changes one, all the time and so effortlessly as well. In addition, the existing chief minister is convinced that it takes a long time to understand the ramifications of politics and no man would be able to make any difference in just a day. That is the big reflection of modern times. It is make belief that the politics is like a puzzle impossible to solve and people conveniently miss the ballots or are just involved in the teatime conversation about politics not willing to take that next step to bring about a change. The movie is a hard-hitting statement on the current state of affairs, on how the top powers can contribute to change the system in no time.
The enforcement agencies and their encounter mechanisms
Maqbool, which came in 2003, shows the operations of a gangster through the cooperation of cops and politicians, a reflection on the current state of affairs and about all the nexus, we come across by the media. The interesting part is the belief being portrayed that the gangster carries on, knowing that money and bribes will assist him throughout his life. That is the point of belief which probably most of the gangster harbors and is even believed by a majority of masses. However, this is one of the angles of the movie, which has many other flavors and themes. The enforcement system has been rendered impotent and instead of using the official power, the cops play strategy between the groups so that they end up killing each other and therefore reduce the work for police.
In a contrasting spirit the police and cops which appeared in one of the thrillers
‘Ab Tak Chhappan’, which came in 2004, touches the subject of how the system tries to change an honest cop for its own requirements. The way the character taps his cigarette to the way sips his tea – it is almost as if he is not bothered about anything. The realization that the killings are the part of their routine gives a cold and scary feel. The placement of characters is important as we had this case of Inspector Daya Nayak of Mumbai, a real like story, which gripped the nation a while ago. The title also suggests some kind of similarity with AK 56, the Chinese copy of the machine-gun, Kalashnikov AK-47, which is being manufactured since 1956.Gun, which is a mere machine, an object will destroy no matter what, similarly, the nomenclature of the movie is in resonance with the concept I feel. The character of the cop is like an object and will destroy anyone, the moment he is being instructed.
Cop’s task is to eliminate those unwanted elements of society, who wield power and could escape the clutches of law by pulling strings or by using loopholes in the legal system. He has already encountered 56 people in a number of staged encounters, made possible by the full support from his mentor Commissioner. This is the indication of all the encounters we read or hear in the media. Is that is staged. The movie exactly attempts to clear some of these issues while forcefully stating the fact that not all the police officer submit to corruption. What makes Ab Tak Chappan alluring is the objective approach it takes into the life of a hardened cop. The protagonist of the movie becomes emotionless towards death. He hardly flinches before pulling the trigger and then goes about his daily chores – buying vegetables, chatting with friends and watching television – as if nothing has happened.
Paint it yellow
While Indian as discussed above took a freedom fighter to fight the battle against corruption, Rang De Basanti (2006), is an interesting contrast as freedom fighters life and actions inspires some youth to awakening and taking a stand for their beliefs. Dedicated to lives of Indian Airmen who have died due to frequent MiG aircraft crashes; this is a story of five friends, who are approached by a U.K.-based Filmmaker, to participate in a documentary about India’s freedom fighters. The movie starts on a very high spirit reflecting today’s youth mindset who believe that patriotism is something that looks good in history chapters and today’s world is far ahead of all that, they would prefer to go boozing and dancing rather than thinking on any of those lines. That is the reflection of what our youth is engaged today. The Gen-x who knows Mac-Donald but prefers the Dhaba Paranthas with sweet Lassi. However, they restrict their national values only to food and nothing more. We hear the chant of hindutva from some political parties. Their ideology is simple; to align the youth of today and get their own selfish interests executed out. We see in the movie the extend of manipulation these parties could go for their fake ideology, during the lathi charge scene. The uncomfortable father and son relationship, as industrialist father has no time is also imitated effectively. The movie also deeply reveals the fact that an educated youth, Hindu or a Muslim, is generally bound by the same faith, belief and value system.
The Jessica Lal case and its impact on the movie is also evident in the form of the peaceful protest, or the candle light protest in front of the India Gate in New Delhi. The film grows on you gradually. The director has made sure that there is a clear message in everything he presents; even the group of boys represents different sects of society and religion
These youngsters could be anyone of us today and their lives mirror the kind of lives the youth of today lead – namely a self centered and materialistic existence where ideas like patriotism and making a change are strictly the stuff history books are made of. The film thus doubles as a narrative on the changes in perspective and values the young boys and girls acting in her documentary go through as they shoot for the film. Few scenes from the past and present are juxtaposed against each other, which renders a unique treatment, which serves to highlight the slow change in mindset and attitude that overcomes the group through the process of the film. That could be a reflection on the inspiration we achieve reading a text or knowing the context? The same effect is being shown in the sense of juxtaposition.
RDB is more of introspection, a food for our thought process. It makes us think, as to how we should actually celebrate our freedom. The juxtaposing has been used with such a great effect, where the freedom fighters and youth merge a number of times in past and present and that is the point where value system of the past is transferred to present.
Master of all: The Guru
We have dealt with corruption semiotics in the light of different institutions, government sector, and law enforcement among some few and amidst this arrived Guru in 2007, which set out for a debate on the ethical practices, right vs. right, and what is wrong about making all empowered, even though the means to achieve that is questionable. Is end more important than mean, is the question being embedded in the movie. The Indian business situation of the 1950s-1980s (pre-liberalization period) was difficult for a new entrepreneur. Indian business and trade in those times were run by a handful of the rich and the privileged. Only they were given the licenses. They had the quotas and they controlled all government trade. It was an exclusive club where it was impossible for an ordinary middle class newcomer to enter, let alone succeed. This film chronicles the obstacles the central character meets, his subsequent rise and the huge backlash he receives when it is revealed that he used unethical means to rise in the business circuit. His response is probably hinting to employ various mechanisms to be able to fight the License Raj, Market Imperfections, Corruption, Excise duties, Import-Export regulations, which troubled the businesspersons and hindered the growth of the economy and nation as a whole.
The film highlights the power of media and the manner in which it can make or break any one. It probably draws an analogy on the success story of Dhiru Bhai Ambani, and the means he employed to achieve what he has achieved today. The film also hints at the corruption at those times (70’s) in India, when the liberalization was yet a dream, privatization was held by a few players and there was a huge entry barrier. The breaking of various excise, income tax, customs, and even smuggling to improve the business was prevalent and this is being mirrored in the movie by the means of characterization and the situations. The commissions, which have become regular feature nowadays, may find a birth here. Government of India sets up a commission, which is also symbolic of a power of a nation in a legal manner to confront some wrong practices. That contrasts and confirms the acceptance of the bribe by the central character’s son in the ‘Indian’ discussed above.
Film uses not only words, but also different kinds of shots, angles and speeds for the audiences to react and there is a means for the spectator to identify with or rebel against the image offered. The movies are just not an experience alone but cast a deep impression upon society and vice versa. The semiotics is thus that powerful relation between the cinema and the culture and this interesting cycle of reel and real goes on endlessly. In my opinion, it is impossible to derive a finale on who reflects whom. The movies that I have chosen have this inbuilt energy to charge any audiences for a long time. The characterization is powerful, so are the dialogs hinting towards the ambiguities and different anomalies of our nation. When all the factors of the film making combine to create a resonance then the audience is under a spell for sometime. I also realized that most of times government machinery is shown under bad light, and then someone take an initiative to change it. Is it because people are convinced that a counter power is required to change that, but see to forget that whatever is reflected in movies is a part of societal attributes itself. The discourse is well received in most cases and people identify the reason and rational behind it. Moreover, that discourse lasts for periods and generations in some cases, capable to change the way the entire nation thinks and reacts, confirming the power of media in transforming and evolving culture.