MUMBAI (Reuters) - A hapless bank clerk who makes an enemy of a local politician and has to bribe himself out of jail seems like an unlikely theme for Bollywood, known around the world for its dance numbers and family melodramas.
Yet the industry is now taking up corruption and clean government in a host of new films, inspired by anti-graft protests that have found resonance with India’s middle-class and laid bare the angst of the common man.
Multi-billion dollar corruption scandals in India have fed middle-class frustration with the ruling classes, and a relentless campaign by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare last year forced the government to bow to his demands and agree to draft anti-corruption legislation.
Even though Hazare’s movement appears to have lost some steam, corruption and a clean, accountable government are prominent issues in state elections this year.
With interest in the topic high, Bollywood is moving to take advantage.
“Any art form borrows from what is going on in society and it was but natural that I was inspired by the anti-corruption movement while writing my film,” said Rumy Jafry, who wrote and directed the film about the bank clerk, “Gali Gali Chor Hai” or “A Thief in Every Street.”
“The common man isn’t affected by what the king is doing. The corruption that affects him is the rot at the lowest level, where he has to pay even for the most basic of amenities.”
“Gali Gali Chor Hai” opened in theatres around the nation in February, and more films on corruption are in the works, including one on Hazare himself.
Long known mainly for its song and dance routines and family melodramas, which still remain a mainstay, the world’s largest film industry is increasingly exploring new storylines and bolder themes.
Dibakar Banerjee, a new age Bollywood filmmaker, is working on a political thriller, “Shanghai,” where he promises viewers will get to see the “revenge of the common man.”
The common man’s angst is also the theme of a film from Maharashtra, Hazare’s home state. The Marathi-language film “Ha Bharat Majha”(My India) documents the life of a middle-class Indian family on the sidelines of Hazare’s movement.
“It is all very well to watch this unfolding on your television sets...but shouldn’t we introspect about the choice we make every day,” Sunil Sukhtankar, the film’s co-director, told Reuters.
The film won the top prize at the Pune International Film Festival and is scheduled for a summer release.
Hazare has given the trend his blessing.
At a special screening of “Gali Gali Chor Hai” in his village, Hazare was quoted by Indian media as saying he hoped more Bollywood filmmakers would make films on the issue.
The trend has even spread to television.
Corruption was the flavor of the season on “Sach ka Saamna” — the Indian version of U.S. TV game show “The Moment of Truth” — which promoted its second season as a battle against corruption and encouraged viewers to confess their involvement in corrupt practices.
In a poll on the show’s website, 72 percent of respondents admitted paying a bribe while 75 percent said they had faked salary receipts.
“We had 40,000 calls from people wanting to come on to the show. The candor on the show is startling, as also the kind of people who came on and what they spoke about,” Siddhartha Basu of BIG Synergy productions, the show’s producer, told Reuters in an email interview.
“These were people from law, education, health, insurance, retail, call centers, and so on, not just the bogey men we love to throw stones at - politicians and public servants.”
Industry experts said that while there have been several films on the corruption theme recently, they still drew a delicate line between stark depictions and box-office take.
“If you make a serious film on corruption, it won’t do well, because Indian audiences don’t like such films,” said Vajir Singh, a Bollywood analyst and editor of Box Office India, a film trade magazine.
“But I see more films dealing with corruption as one of several themes the protagonist may have to deal with.”
Writing by Tony Tharakan; editing by Elaine Lies and Paul Casciato