India’s success at the 95th Academy Awards amplifies its communication on diversity and inclusion
India’s recent success at the 95th Academy Awards with two awards for Best Original Song for the film ‘RRR’ (Nattu Nattu) and Best Documentary Short Film for ‘Elephant Whisperers’ is a significant achievement for the country. The films share a common thread of amplifying India’s global communication on diversity and inclusion and thereby further enhancing Indian cinema’s soft power in unique ways.
The Indian cinema industry has contributed immensely to the world’s understanding of India. Actors like Raj Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Dhanush, Mohanlal, Deepika Padukone, Yash, and creators like Satyajit Ray, Rajamouli, Raj & DK, Basil Joseph, Prashant Neel, and many more, have transcended borders today. They have been great mediums to communicate through cinema in never-before-seen ways.
Amitabh Bachchan has been recently recognized by Saudi Arabia where he also inaugurated the football match featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Movies like Dangal and 3 idiots have been hits with Chinese youth because they were relational and local in content made for universal audience. Fans from Japan make it a point to attend the first day’s first show of any southern superstar Rajinikanth cinema in Tamil Nadu without fail. Indian cinema has also benefited from talent from outside, say Jews. For example, the documentary ‘Shalom Bollywood’ showcases this brilliantly. Indian cinema’s achievements in attracting the world are evident to anyone and everyone. Cinema is a great communication tool that outweighs any partisanship. It is premised on creativity and free speech.
The South Korean movie, Parasite that won at the Academy awards, highlighted the deep divisions of social inequalities in the Korean society. It resonated tremendously with audiences globally. Academic case studies that have explored the impact of Indian cinema abroad have outlined how Indian cinema made with a local ‘flavour’ has immensely resonated with foreign audiences abroad.
In contemporary times, India has taken nascent but concrete steps towards globally communicating through cinema. Stories such as RRR(Telugu),Kantara(Kannada),Sairat(Marathi),Pariyerum Perumal(Tamil), Mandela(Tamil) and Asuran(Tamil) and films like the Elephant Whisperers from a documentary perspective are truly evidence of this healthy growing trend. These stories are varied in their scope of their respective plots but do effectively communicate localized stories of assertion, sustainability, and justice. Indian filmmakers like Bharat Bala have taken to the virtual medium like YouTube to bring the ‘Virtual Bharat’ campaign to global viewers, showcasing short 8-10 minutesvideos of human stories of India that are most often unheard and unseen. The inspiring stories of the Ramnami community from Chattisgarh and the story of the tribal poet Haldhar Nag (with a terrific voiceover from Gulzar) are a great addition to the ‘Virtual Bharat’ series.
RRR has already garnered great reception in the West, particularly in the US, where it has won the Golden Globe Award for “nattu nattu” and the New York Film Critics Circle Award, Critics Choice Movie Awards, etc. prior to winning the Academy award. The movie also did well with the Japanese audience from an eastern lens perspective, and stars from the famous K-pop band, BTS, like Jungkook, and the South Korean ambassador to India, Chang Jae-bok, and his embassy staff were seen grooving to ‘nattu nattu’ from RRR recently on social media. The film RRR, directed by S.S. Rajamouli, brings to the silver screen the stories of two tribal heroes, Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju, who played important roles in tribal led movements in Indian history. While the film is fictional, it sheds some light on the lives of these factual freedom fighters who advocated for the rights of indigenous tribal communities, emphasizing the importance of ‘jal, jungle, and jameen’ (water, forest, and land) for the tribal brethren. The film has faced criticism, with some questioning the need to revisit history, but it has succeeded in sparking interest in these important figures and encouraging young people to learn factually more about their contributions.
Another film, The Elephant Whisperers, won the Best Documentary Film award at the 95th Academy Awards. Directed by Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga, the film showcases how forest rangers and the Kattunayakan tribal community in Tamil Nadu work together to live in harmony with nature and wild elephants. It emphasizes the need to respect nature and seek interconnectedness in everything we do, encouraging viewers to appreciate the importance of sustainability.
By communicating the importance of India’s tribal communities and exploring contemporary lessons, such as sustainability, in a unique and simple manner, films like this contribute to India’s global communication of its strengths in diversity and inclusion. Indian cinema has received recognition in the past at the Academy Awards, but these recent wins are special because they advance Indian interests in liberty, equality, fraternity, and justice. They aim to enable social cohesion and bridge social divisions.
The Government of India with the help of non-state actors would do well to holistically evaluate the impact of Indian cinema globally through monitored research studies. But in conclusion, the films RRR and The Elephant Whisperers represent India’s strengths in diversity and inclusion, breaking away from stereotypes and showcasing the country’s soft power to the world more persuasively.
Author: Shri Sudarshan, Author & researcher and Dr. Guru Prakash Paswan, Assistant Professor, Patna University
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