Reconciliation in Film: The Indian Experience

– Samuel Thambusamy 

To the popular mind, Indian cinema is all about endless song and dance routine, predictable romance and formulaic storyline. However, Indian cinema is “firmly rooted in contemporary society, shaped by and shaping the political-ideological terrain of independent India [Prasad, 1998].The rise of identity politics has forced the intersection of political ambition and public consumption. Not surprisingly, the last two decades have seen a sudden proliferation of nationalistic jingoism, demonization of the ‘other’ and caste symbolism within the film narrative.

India cinema has learnt to craft politics through assertion of caste/nationalistic pride in public sphere. Films with an anti-Pakistan slant have done extremely well at the box office besides helping fundamentalist groups to gain political mileage. If Hindi cinema is obsessed with ‘Pakistan-bashing’, regional cinema (Tamil) has glorified rural violence. Caste, violence and geography conflate in an archaic manner within the narrative. Land disputes, family feuds, and love interests are resolved through an orgy of blood. Such an ethnography of violence prepares the viewer to anticipate, accept and perpetuate violence.
Such narratives of violence necessitate a new visual vocabulary and narrative to help correct Indian cinema.  However, some movies present reconciliatory theme both as a ‘discourse of desire and ‘despair’. Veer Zara (2004) and Thevar Magan (1992) present reconciliatory theme in the fictive arena to effect a perspectival change. Both films have made a departure from the usual trend of violence.

1) Veer Zara (2004) deals with the India-Pakistan relations very differently. Veer Pratap Singh, a rescue pilot for the Indian Air Force, meets a Pakistani Zaara Hayaat Khan and falls in love. Veer is arrested on charges of being an espionage agent and ends up spending 22 years in a Pakistani prison. Saamiya Siddiqui , a Pakistani lawyer, fights for his cause.

2) Thevar Magan (1992) deals with the western-educated Shakti doning the patriarchal mantle of his father upon returning to his native village. An accidental conflagration brings about a cycle of mindless violence. Shakti fails to understand the illogic of killing one another in the name of honor and caste pride. He fights to bring peace and reconciliation within this violent caste group.

Both films deal with the themes: a) the ideal of unity b) reconciliation as a value c) the truth-telling voice d) the costs involved e) self-sacrifice d) transformation. As we dwell on these themes and unfold them against the background of the ethnography of violence/conflict within contemporary Indian cinema we find clues to the way forward.

This is the study proposal for my presentation at the fourth International conference on Religion and Film – Samuel Thambusamy


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