‘Poor in Hindi cinema are looked upon as a breeding ground for criminals’

Mumbai-based NGO Apnalaya, hosted an event, ‘Apna Adda’, focussing on the invisibilisation of the urban poor in Hindi Cinema, the role of the most popular art form in influencing the perception of people and reality, among other things. The artistes included Rajshri Deshpande, actress and founder, Nabhangan Foundation; filmmakers, Kireet Khurana and Praveen Morchhale. A note:

Apnalaya, an organisation that works with the urban poor on their entitlements, organised ‘Apna Adda’ in Mumbai. Apna Adda is an attempt to create a cultural space, where the poor and marginalised of the city can express themselves. It is an attempt to bring both the privileged and underprivileged together, as we believe that the onus of fighting marginalisation cannot be on the marginalised alone.

The event focused on the invisibilisation of the urban poor in Hindi Cinema, the role of the most popular art form in influencing the perception of people and reality, among other things.

The panelists included Rajshri Deshpande, actor and founder, Nabhangan Foundation and filmmakers Kireet Khurana and Praveen Morchhale. Deshpande spoke about how the movie industry has not been able to do justice to the poor and the vulnerable, while depicting them in films. “Filmmakers need to go closer to the reality, understand it and then make cinema,” she said.

Kireet Khurana, six-time national award-winning director and filmmaker, spoke about making the invisible visible and said that, “cinema has a responsibility to not just engage and entertain, but also to enlighten and educate.” Praveen Morchhale drew light on how movie-making is commercialised today, and how OTT platforms have not created any significant positive change.

Chandan Kumar, national organising secretary, Working Peoples’ Charter, highlighted how the space workers had in Hindi cinema has shrunk over the years. Amitabh Bachchan played a worker in the 70s and 80s, and we do not get to see that anymore, even though it’s the poor who make the city what it is. He also added that regional cinema has portrayed the poor better than Hindi cinema.

Chandrika Rao, film enthusiast and critic, compared the relationship between poverty and crime, and how films have mostly shown that the path out of poverty is invariably through crime. “The films show that to escape the circumstances of poverty, it’s all about how you adapt a life of crime and try to move out. The poor are looked at as a breeding ground for criminals.”

She also spoke about the individual vs the collective, where the basti is only used as a backdrop for the hero. “If there is a festival-based song, only then are the bastis shown. Otherwise, the basti and its people are missing in films.”

Other guests included Jai Arjun Singh, author and critic, and Professor Hubnath Pandey, Professor at Mumbai University.

Apart from artistes, youth from M East Ward’s Shivaji Nagar also participated in the event. Sania Mistree, 16, wrote and performed a rap, titled ‘Hamara Wajood Kya’, where she spoke about how movies tend to portray the poor as criminals without even knowing their stories. Salma Khan, 17, narrated her poem, ‘Hamarai Zindagi’, which highlighted the struggles of the poor who run this city, but how films reduce them to rowdy and unruly.

Arun Kumar, CEO, Apnalaya, gave an overview of decade-wise Hindi cinema with regards to the working class and urban poor. He questioned if there is a relationship between the way the caste-ridden society looks at menial jobs and the protagonists, the heroes, not coming from such backgrounds. Arun Kumar further asked if there was a link between the missing poor in Hindi cinema and the way the city treats its worker. Both seek to have a transactional relationship with the urban poor.

Apna Adda is also Apnalaya’s attempt at creating a development collective for re-imagining the public sphere in Mumbai, a place where ideas and views from the periphery can come to the centre stage. The collective is an effort towards minimising the invisibility of the poor on one hand and bringing the urban poor’s struggles to the public sphere of the city as a whole, where the underprivileged have a say.

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