Socialism in Indian Movies – advise to younger generation

Dear generation next, artistic works, especially movies, can’t give you ideological stand point. Please open yourself up to this reality.

If you are keen observer of how ideological leanings take birth during youth, you may have observed that arts, especially movies play a very important role. Ask any youngster on what he/she thinks about a movie like say Rudra Veena, Ee Charitra Ye Siraatho?, Ankuram, Talapati, Anbe Sivam, Mother India, Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, Veerappa Nayaka, you would first hear – “I think they are good movies”. When you prod a little more for a deeper meaning, you will see something very different. When you start talking of characters in these movies, whether what a given character does in the movie is right or wrong, you will see that the reasoning behind the answers is more or less leaning toward socialist ideas.

Most of these movies try to portray socialism as equivalent of humane side of society. For example, consider these examples from movies from three languages – Tamil, Telugu, Hindi

From Talapathi (between 0:00 and 1:40),

From Rudra Veena movie.

From Mother India.

Read the comments on each of these videos and you will get an idea on how deep rooted socialist thought process is in an average Indian mind. Now, before you get to a conclusion that I am a heartless wretch, let it be clarified that I am not against charity but against government as an agent of charity.**

Within the context of these movies, questions on the actions of the lead characters in each of these movies may yield wide variety of justifications. Now try to put the question as “given such a grave suffering in society, would it be right for government to act on these inequalities and bring about equality in society?”. Answer would be, more often than not, emphatic yes. Justifications on various issues would be provided if you take the discussion into other areas where the question of government’s role is still contentious to an common Indian. This deep rooted ideological leaning is probably the reason why many times we turn to government as a savior for even for something as simple as “a controversial book”. So, the question then is “why does this happen”?

The Government as a Hero

Unfortunately in our school education, there is little clarity of the role of government in an individual’s life. Ask any class X student the following question as an exercise:

What do you think should be the role of Government in your life?

There would most probably be a blank face staring up for an idea. Not that this question goes unasked during education. This question is most often asked but is very rarely answered, even in the textbooks. After a certain level of education, it becomes virtually impossible to let the individual frame a logical method to reach an answer as per his/her aspirations. In fact, many educated adults in contemporary India don’t have an answer to this question. Try asking the same question to your co-passengers next time you are on a long distance train or a day train. Be ready to be surprised.

Who fills the deficit?

The deficit of this answer is filled especially by movies. Lack of proper education drives this deficit. It is filled by movies, most of which have socialist subtexts. This gives socialist political minds more space in government, putting more government in education and degrading education further. Ergo, the vicious circle is complete. The role of movies, books etc., in this vicious circle can not be highlighted enough in our country. Inadvertently we map socialist Indian movie hero to Government. The Indian movie hero subverts basic individual freedom to “help” the poor. Most of the movies come down to this one point – “robbing the rich and giving to the poor“, which is not even an Indian concept to start with. The phrase comes from English folklore about infamous outlaw Robin Hood. Ask any movie hero fan if it is right for his favorite hero to beat up the villains and rob them to help the poor have a meal. Yes, we all know stealing is bad but then you would get some weird justifications. Some even go so far as to compare their favorite movie heroes with Sri Krishna saying “even Krishna stole butter from gopikas”. Context be damned! Now a lot of people cite this justification but none actually follow anything that Krishna described as conduct of a dutiful and responsible human being.

Most of us see Government as an entity that brings about equality. This notion about Government creates a demand where even historical characters are seen in the same light. So much so that even some favorite kings/sultans are shown as “generous and kindhearted who provided services for free to every citizen, regardless of caste, religion, gender”. Why kings, even historical figures known for their devotion and literary genius are shown in the same light. What else explains why a recent movie on Bhadrachala Ramadasu depicts him as a tireless warrior against feudal lords, though there is little in historical records showing him in this light? Not even his literary works show this. It doesnt stop with Bhadrachala Ramadasu but goes on to other historical figures as well. Heck, even mythological characters are shown in the same light in many post 1960s movies.

While in 60s and 70s, the socialist Indian movie hero was a union man, in post 90s cinema, the socialist Indian movie hero does more or less the same thing – “robbing the rich and providing to the poor” – but now he drives heavy duty bikes and wears goggles. The simple minded solution to all the problems facing India that most of us can think of is “cash redistribution by theft, cheating and fraud”. It seems that this happens because of the deep rooted feeling of justice in the form of entitlements among our people. We like to outsource our problems to a “hero” while we enjoy the fruits of the success of that hero. It seems most of us feel entitled to be saved by the powerful hero. This reflects in election campaigns too. That is the reason why every politician knows that in our country, doles work like magic. Free electricity, free food, free TV, free anything, would cause some serious damage to the opponents’ campaigns. Even if common man and/or a farmer laments, it goes unnoticed simply because majority population’s notion is otherwise.

In most of the election campaigns, the politicians paint themselves in the same color as that of an indian movie hero because to put it simply, there is demand for that kind of a figure. So politicians outright lie to us in the face that they will elevate poor through entitlements i.e., robbing from the rich to feed the poor.

What is the role of government in our lives?

The voter has therefore has to ask the fundamental question:

What would be the best role for government to play in my life?

Unfortunately, we continue to see Government as “Robin Hood”. Milton Friedman explains in an interesting way how Government makes it worse for the poor with a simple example of “education”.

Follow it up with Q&A session:

May be in future generations, people will ponder over this aspect of government and probably come to a conclusion that Government in the role of Robin Hood is not a position desirable for us, the people. If future generation does take it up to think over this question, let it be known to them that “movies do not give an answer”. Movies do not give a suitable ideological standpoint. Hindu pouranic texts give us a perspective on whether or not Government (or the King in these texts) should give stuff for free to people. We will discuss this in another post.

**Charity is one of the qualities founds in Dharmic traditions too but it is looked at in a completely different way. Apaatra daanam i.e., donation to an unworthy person is not encouraged in Dharmic traditions. The same concept of charity in Abrahamic cultures is seen a very different light. In pauranic texts and historical detail, where there is a Kanakadhara Stotram one could also find examples of Bhasmasura, story of Nahusha in Anushasana Parva of Mahabharata etc.

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2 comments

  1. This post has left me confused whether socialism is indeed a good thing or a bad thing! Because, my thoughts follow the same route as your writing took, in this particular article. At times I was a little against few of the things you said and at times I was totally leaning in towards the ideologies put forth. So, asking the question again, in a different light, isn’t a socialist set-up a good thing when it comes to distribution of wealth (not free. I remind you.) And probably wipe out corruption because in a socialist set up, money hasnt much significance? Or, should we take a step further and take out the government too and bring into place a socio-anarcho set up?
    Because capitalism worked quite well, but, when AI is going to replace all the jobs, I think, the system will begin to break…what is your take on that?

    1. Thanks for coming over here. Your question is often heard in initial study of socialism. This is a typical problem we have with our education system where true picture of socialism is not reflected. Same is the case with capitalism. Unfortunately, sociology studies have put too much emphasis on universalist methods leaving little or no space for any customization.

      Let me address your questions (to the best that I can) in steps.

      1) Socialism is good for wealth distribution (not free). Would probably wipe out corruption.

      Your assumption that in a socialist setup money doesnt have any value is basically wrong. Even in its heydays, money didnt disappear in socialist/communist setups of any flavor, in any country. That itself reflects the stark reality. Money is the most useful device invented by mankind to transact with each other. Indic systems identified the importance of this.

      Socialism is unfortunately not just a tool for wealth distribution. It is in fact, as described by Marx, is an theory of economics, which ultimately becomes to political ideology as it proposes state as a means and as the end too. The total socialist principle is based on who control capital. As per Marx, progress can only be truly achieved by putting capital in the hands of the state. As per him, it naturally leads to equality. However, history is a proof of the failure of this basic assertion. Socialists wave off such criticism saying tht socialism hasnt been perfected yet!

      Where there is money and power, corruption is impossible to eradicate. You may have gradations of controls on it. Corruption is because of human mind. This is a very basic natural trait. I am not condoning corruption but what I mean is that perfecting the human mind cannot be done by law, political ideology or economic incentive. Therefore Socialism falls short.

      Capitalism isnt far behind on this. I will come to that later.

      2) May be socio-anarcho setup.

      Along with several good qualities, as humans we also have some bad qualities. In a truly anarchist setup with socialist base, you are bound to enter into a phase where there are continuous fights among people. I wonder if you watched the movie called The Gods Must Be Crazy. You may call what kalhari bushmen practice as an anarchist setup. There is no specific control on anything. The appearance of coke bottle changes their whole setup. To utilize the coke bottle, they realize they need some sort of a system ultimately leading of conflicts within their community. The bushmen wisely decide to discard the coke bottle entirely.

      In a setup where there is continuous thirst for knowledge, anarchist setup leads to conflict, misery and destitution. This is inevitable because of basic human trait to exercise control. Socialist methods dont aim at antahkarana suddhi but at a control mechanism in the form of The State.

      Now coming to capitalism.

      Capitalism is fundamentally not very different from communism. They are just two branches of the same tree. It is what we should probably call result of judeo-chrisitan search for control. Capitalism puts control of capital in the hands of individuals. And we have been seeing in the recent times, the full effects of capitalisic mindsets. Although capitalism makes people more responsible for themselves, it doesnt attempt at antahkarana suddhi. Capitalism in fact thrives on the idea of exploitation as a device of progress! However, with proper law, checks and balances, progress, although short term, can be achieved. I think we have enough examples of these. Yet, once power and control rest in the hands of those who have capital, it results in difficulties, exploitation etc.

      As I end, let me put this thought in your mind –

      Is there a system which can address control at individual and society level and yet let people prosper? Or may was there a system in the history of mankind?

      Many may disagree but Hindu society practiced this. Hindus did give importance to sculpting good character while continuing to make money. Our ideas of vAnaprasthAshrama and sanyAsAshrama reflect this view in full. Our ideas of purushArthAs also reflect these principles. Socialism doesnt aim at training the human mind to set aside the desire to earn more and more and more but aims at using State as a device to grab money in the name of wealth distribution and equality.

      dharma on the other hand proposes “tyAga” as a source of this antah karan suddhi. No body can force a tyAga. It has to happen from within. In mahabharata we have a beautiful verse that comes in the context of bakasura vRttanta.

      tyajEt kulArthE purushaM grAmasyArthE kulaM tyajEt |
      grAmaM janapadasyArthe AtmArthE pRthivIM tyajEt ||

      For the sake of family (or community), an individual should renounce oneself. For the sake of the village, a family should renounce. For the sake of the country (janapada), a village should renounce. For the sake of one’s own Atma (jeevatma) i.e., for moksha, even this earth should be renounced.

      Somehow, economic principles have come to govern political ideologies. That is an issue I think we will live with for several generations to come. Resurrection of dharmika principles may provide answers to these questions. But unfortunately, our own dharmika principles have been diluted so much that it may be tough as well!

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