Lessons in cinema with Aravind Swami and Mohan Raja
The two participated at the ThinkEdu conclave to debate on whether films need to have the burden of educating audiences
The Arvind Swami and Mohan Raja combination was fresh in public consciousness for much of 2015 after the release of Thani Oruvan. The former’s portrayal of Siddharth Abhimanyu in that film showed what a white collar antagonist is capable of. Mohan Raja, meanwhile, with last month’s Velaikkaran, has followed up with another effective message-oriented film. Here’s what they said when we asked them if they thought that cinema should be tasked with the responsibility to educate:
Without a Thani Oruvan, we wouldn’t been able to identify the Siddharth Abhimanyus in our world. Without a Mithran, we wouldn’t have understood how to connect the dots between the various pages of a newspaper. After the film’s release, people stopped skipping the business page of newspapers. They realised how important it was to be as angry and emotional about organised crime, as they were to emotional crimes.
After Velaikkaran, people now understood that they are employees only for eight hours; for the remaining time, they turn consumers. When news channels become entertainment channels, the entertainment -- read cinema -- should take the responsibility of educating people. Everyone who comes to watch a film is not educated but every single one of them is willing to be entertained. We have seen the influence of films like The Great Dictator. So why can’t we take up the responsibility to educate through entertainment? To believe cinema is art is the privilege of developed countries. In India, where we are all secretly enslaved, cinema has to be a selfless medium that educates people.
I think that responsibility lies with the education system and cinema should not be burdened with it. Information today is available at the drop of a hat and we should actually look at ensuring people get access to that. We should then motivate and direct them to educate themselves. I do not disagree that cinema is an effective medium to educate, but it should not be tasked with that. Essentially, it is a medium of entertainment and we can, and should, use other avenues to educate ourselves.
As it is, look at what cinema is tasked with. We are asked to promote patriotism; cinema halls are effectively the only place where national anthems are played every day. After hours at school or work, cinema should alleviate stress and not be tasked with educating. We appreciate a Godfather but we do not ask Coppola about the absence of a message. Similarly, Roja and Bombay are actually two love stories whose byproduct was patriotism. Should I feel guilty about a film that I enjoyed just because it doesn’t have a message or moral? Education can be a byproduct of cinema but should not be its primary responsibility. That we even think that our audiences aren’t educated is condescending. This might not be a popular stand but somebody has to be the thani oruvan.