Indian Cinema and Politics

Indian Cinema and Politics: A Complex Nexus

Indian cinema and politics are deeply intertwined with films often reflecting political themes ideologies and sometimes face censorship. Prominent actors frequently transition into politics, leveraging their star power for electoral success, exemplifying the deep entwinement of entertainment and governance in India.

Indian cinema and Politics (Mirzapur Web Series)


The intertwining of Indian cinema and politics forms a fascinating tapestry that has shaped the socio-cultural landscape of the nation for decades. From the early days of Indian cinema to the present, the relationship between these two realms has been intricate, multifaceted, and at times, contentious. This article by Academic Block endeavors to explore the various dimensions of this relationship, tracing its historical roots, examining its contemporary manifestations, and analyzing its impact on society and governance.

Historical Perspective: Birth of Indian Cinema

The history of Indian cinema dates back to the late 19th century when the Lumière Brothers showcased their cinematographic inventions in Mumbai. The first Indian film, “Raja Harishchandra,” directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, was released in 1913, marking the beginning of a new era in Indian entertainment. Initially, Indian cinema was largely apolitical, focusing on mythological tales, historical dramas, and melodramas that catered to the tastes of a diverse audience.

Indian cinema and Politics

Emergence of Political Themes

However, as Indian society underwent profound transformations during the pre-Independence era, cinema began to reflect the prevailing socio-political milieu. The works of filmmakers like V. Shantaram and Bimal Roy addressed issues such as poverty, exploitation, and social injustice, laying the foundation for a socially conscious cinema. The post-Independence period witnessed the emergence of political themes in Indian cinema, with filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, and Guru Dutt exploring the complexities of nation-building, identity, and governance.

Golden Era of Parallel Cinema

The 1950s and 1960s are often regarded as the golden era of Indian cinema, characterized by the rise of the parallel cinema movement. Filmmakers associated with this movement, such as Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, and Govind Nihalani, used cinema as a medium for political expression, critiquing the establishment and advocating for social change. Films like “Ankur,” “Bhuvan Shome,” and “Aakrosh” tackled issues such as caste discrimination, rural poverty, and bureaucratic corruption, resonating with audiences across the country.

Bollywood and Political Imagery

Meanwhile, the mainstream Hindi film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, also began to engage with political themes, albeit in a more commercialized manner. The 1970s witnessed the emergence of the “angry young man” archetype, epitomized by actors like Amitabh Bachchan, who portrayed characters fighting against societal injustices and political corruption. Films like “Zanjeer” and “Deewaar” captured the angst and disillusionment of the common man, reflecting the prevailing socio-political unrest.

The Influence of Political Leaders

As Indian cinema evolved, political leaders recognized its immense potential as a tool for propaganda and mass mobilization. During the 1970s and 1980s, several state governments established film development corporations to promote regional cinema and propagate their political ideologies. Political leaders, including Indira Gandhi and M.G. Ramachandran, leveraged their popularity as film stars to consolidate their political power, blurring the lines between reel and real-life personas.

Controversies and Censorship

The growing nexus between Indian cinema and politics has not been without its controversies. Censorship has often been used as a tool to suppress dissent and control the narrative, leading to clashes between filmmakers and government authorities. Films deemed politically sensitive or morally objectionable have faced bans or cuts, sparking debates about freedom of expression and artistic integrity. The case of “Aandhi,” a film allegedly based on the life of Indira Gandhi, being banned during the Emergency era is a notable example of political censorship in Indian cinema.

Cinematic Portrayal of Political Figures

The cinematic portrayal of political figures has been a recurring theme in Indian cinema, with filmmakers seeking to humanize or mythologize iconic leaders. Biopics and historical dramas depicting the lives of political figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, and Bal Thackeray have garnered both acclaim and controversy. While some view these films as tributes to visionary leaders, others criticize them for sanitizing history or perpetuating political propaganda.

Regional Cinema and Political Movements

Beyond Bollywood, regional cinema in India has played a significant role in reflecting and shaping local political narratives. Filmmakers from states like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Maharashtra have used cinema as a platform to champion regional identities and address pressing socio-political issues. The Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, for instance, found resonance in films like “Parasakthi,” which critiqued Brahminical hegemony and advocated for social justice.

The Era of Political Satire

In recent years, Indian cinema has witnessed a resurgence of political satire, with filmmakers employing humor and irony to critique the establishment and hold power to account. Films like “Newton,” “Tashkent Files,” and “Peepli Live” have used satire to expose the absurdities of Indian democracy, electoral politics, and media sensationalism. By blending entertainment with social commentary, these films have sparked public discourse and raised awareness about pressing political issues.

Impact on Public Perception and Voting Behavior

The influence of Indian cinema on public perception and voting behavior cannot be overstated. Films have the power to shape attitudes, reinforce stereotypes, and mobilize mass support for political causes. The portrayal of politicians and political parties in films often influences how they are perceived by the electorate, shaping electoral outcomes in subtle ways. Moreover, celebrities from the film industry often wield considerable influence over their fans, endorsing political candidates and parties during elections.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite its potential as a catalyst for social change, Indian cinema faces several challenges in its engagement with politics. Commercial pressures, censorship constraints, and ideological biases often limit the creative freedom of filmmakers, constraining their ability to address politically sensitive issues. Moreover, the commodification of cinema as a form of entertainment sometimes dilutes its political impact, reducing complex socio-political issues to simplistic narratives for mass consumption.

Final Words

In conclusion, the relationship between Indian cinema and politics is a complex and dynamic phenomenon that reflects the evolving contours of Indian society and governance. From its early origins to the present day, cinema has served as a mirror to the nation’s aspirations, anxieties, and struggles for democracy and social justice. While the nexus between cinema and politics presents both challenges and opportunities, it remains a potent force for political expression, social activism, and cultural transformation in contemporary India. Hope you liked this article by Academic Block, please provide your valuable thoughts in comment section to make this article better. Thanks for Reading!

This Article will answer your questions like:

+ Which movie is based on politics in India? >

Several Indian films explore political themes, but 'Rang De Basanti' stands out for its portrayal of youth activism and political corruption, highlighting its impact on modern India.

+ What is cinema politics? >

Cinema politics refers to the intersection of film and political ideologies, where movies are used to propagate political messages, influence public opinion, or critique governmental policies, shaping societal perspectives through cinematic narratives.

+ What is the political economy of cinema? >

The political economy of cinema examines how economic factors, such as funding sources, distribution channels, and government regulations, influence the production, distribution, and content of films, reflecting broader socio-political agendas.

+ What is the contribution of Indian cinema in society? >

Indian cinema contributes significantly to society by reflecting cultural diversity, addressing social issues, and fostering national unity through its storytelling prowess, thus serving as a powerful medium for education, entertainment, and cultural preservation.

+ How has Indian Cinema influenced politics? >

Indian cinema influences politics by shaping public opinion, promoting social change, and sometimes endorsing political candidates or policies, leveraging its massive reach and emotional connection with audiences across diverse demographics.

+ What are some famous Indian movies with political themes? >

'Nayakan', 'Yuva', and 'Lagaan' are acclaimed for exploring political themes such as corruption, youth activism, and socio-economic inequality, resonating deeply with Indian audiences for their narrative depth and social relevance.

+ How do Indian film stars impact political elections? >

Indian film stars wield significant influence during elections, leveraging their celebrity status to endorse political candidates or parties, mobilize voters, and even contest elections themselves, blurring the lines between entertainment and politics.

+ What is the role of censorship in Indian cinema and politics? >

Censorship in Indian cinema regulates film content to ensure compliance with cultural norms, political sensitivities, and public morals, impacting artistic expression and sometimes sparking debates over freedom of speech versus state control.

+ What are the conflicts between politics and recent films and shows? >

Recent films and shows often face conflicts with political entities due to sensitive portrayals, controversial themes, or perceived ideological biases, triggering censorship demands, legal challenges, or public protests, highlighting ongoing tensions between art and governance.

Books and Articles on the nexus between Indian cinema and politics

“Indian Cinema and the Politics of Aesthetics” by Sudhir ChakravartyThis book explores the intersection of cinema, aesthetics, and politics in India, examining how cinematic representations shape cultural identities and political discourses.

“Spectacles of Democracy: Politics and Professionalism in Indian Cinema” by Nandini Bhaskar This book analyzes the role of Indian cinema in mediating political ideologies, public perceptions, and electoral processes. It discusses how filmmakers navigate the blurred boundaries between entertainment and propaganda.

“Bollywood and Globalization: Indian Popular Cinema, Nation, and Diaspora” edited by Anjali Gera Roy and Chua Beng Huat This collection of essays examines the global impact of Bollywood cinema and its influence on transnational politics, diasporic identities, and cultural globalization.

“Bollywood: Sociology Goes to the Movies” by Rajinder DudrahThis book applies sociological theories to analyze Bollywood cinema, exploring its representations of gender, class, religion, and politics. It offers a critical perspective on the social dynamics reflected in Indian popular culture.

“Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance” edited by Sangita Gopal and Sujata MoortiThis anthology explores the transnational circulation of Bollywood cinema and its role in shaping cultural politics, diasporic identities, and globalization processes.

“Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema” by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen This comprehensive reference work provides detailed insights into the history, aesthetics, and politics of Indian cinema, covering a wide range of topics from regional film industries to censorship controversies.

“Bollywood and the Study of Indian Cinema” by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul WillemenThis journal article offers a critical reflection on the academic study of Indian cinema, examining its historical evolution, theoretical frameworks, and methodological challenges.

Documentaries on the intersection of Indian cinema and politics

“Celluloid Man” (2012): Directed by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, this documentary celebrates the life and work of P.K. Nair, the founder of the National Film Archive of India. While primarily focusing on the preservation of Indian cinema, the film also touches upon the political and cultural contexts in which these films were created.

“An Insignificant Man” (2016): Directed by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, this documentary chronicles the rise of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) during the Delhi Legislative Assembly elections in 2013. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at the political strategies employed by the AAP and their impact on Indian politics.

“The Cinema Travellers” (2016): Directed by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, this documentary follows the journey of traveling cinemas in rural India and explores the role of cinema in shaping rural communities and political consciousness.

“India’s Daughter” (2015): Directed by Leslee Udwin, this documentary examines the 2012 gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi and the subsequent public protests. While not directly focused on cinema, the film explores broader issues of gender, patriarchy, and social change, which intersect with themes often depicted in Indian cinema.

“Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told” (2011): Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Jeff Zimbalist, this documentary provides an overview of the history and impact of Bollywood cinema. While it primarily focuses on the cultural significance of Bollywood, it also touches upon its relationship with politics and society.

Conflicts between politics and recent Indian films & shows

“The Accidental Prime Minister” (2019): This biographical drama, based on Sanjaya Baru’s memoir of the same name, portrays the tenure of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The film faced criticism from the Congress party, with leaders alleging that it presented a biased and inaccurate portrayal of Singh and his government’s tenure.

“PM Narendra Modi” (2019): A biopic depicting the life of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this film faced controversies related to its release timing during the 2019 general elections. Opposition parties accused the filmmakers of attempting to influence voters and promote a political agenda, leading to calls for a ban on the film’s release.

“Tandav” (2021): This Amazon Prime Video series faced widespread controversy for its portrayal of fictional political figures and its depiction of sensitive social and political issues. Certain scenes and dialogues were perceived as derogatory towards religious sentiments, leading to protests, legal complaints, and calls for censorship. The controversy resulted in the removal of some scenes and an apology from the creators.

“A Suitable Boy” (2020): This BBC-produced series, available on Netflix, faced backlash for a scene depicting a Hindu-Muslim romantic relationship in a temple. Certain religious and political groups accused the show of promoting “love jihad” and hurting religious sentiments, leading to calls for bans and legal action. The controversy raised questions about artistic freedom and censorship in depicting interfaith relationships.

“Paatal Lok” (2020): Produced by Amazon Prime Video, this series faced criticism for its portrayal of caste dynamics and social inequalities in India. Some viewers and advocacy groups accused the show of perpetuating stereotypes and sensationalizing sensitive issues, leading to debates about representation and responsibility in storytelling. Despite the controversy, the show received widespread acclaim for its gritty portrayal of Indian society.

“Udta Punjab” (2016): This film, highlighting the issue of drug abuse in the state of Punjab, faced censorship challenges from the CBFC. The board demanded numerous cuts, citing concerns about the film’s depiction of drug abuse and its potential to tarnish the image of Punjab. The controversy sparked debates about censorship and creative freedom in Indian cinema.

“The Family Man” (2019-present): While generally well-received, this Amazon Prime Video series faced criticism for its portrayal of the Tamil Eelam liberation movement and its depiction of Tamil Nadu politics. Some viewers and political figures accused the show of perpetuating stereotypes and misrepresenting historical events, sparking debates about cultural sensitivity and accuracy in storytelling.

“Padmaavat” (2018): While not explicitly political, this historical epic faced controversy over its portrayal of the Rajput queen Padmavati. Allegations of distorting historical facts and depicting the queen in a derogatory light led to protests and vandalism by fringe groups, raising concerns about censorship, historical accuracy, and artistic freedom.

“Madras Cafe” (2013): This political thriller, set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, faced controversies over its depiction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The film was criticized by some Tamil groups for its portrayal of the conflict, leading to protests and calls for a ban in certain regions.

“Indu Sarkar” (2017): Directed by Madhur Bhandarkar, this film set during the Emergency era faced backlash from the Congress party, which alleged that it presented a one-sided and biased portrayal of the period. The film’s release was marred by protests and legal challenges, highlighting the contentious nature of depicting historical events in Indian cinema.

Role of censorship in Indian cinema and Politics

Regulatory Framework: Censorship in Indian cinema is governed by the Cinematograph Act of 1952 and administered by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), commonly known as the censor board. The CBFC evaluates films for certification based on criteria such as themes, language, nudity, violence, and religious sentiments, among others.

Moral and Cultural Sensitivities: Censorship aims to safeguard moral and cultural sensitivities, ensuring that films adhere to societal norms and values. This often involves censoring scenes or dialogues deemed obscene, vulgar, or offensive, especially regarding sexuality, religion, and ethnicity.

Political Interference: Censorship in Indian cinema has frequently been influenced by political considerations, with authorities censoring content perceived as politically sensitive or critical of the government. Films addressing contentious issues such as corruption, communalism, and caste politics have faced censorship or bans, sparking debates about freedom of expression and artistic autonomy.

Social Impact: Censorship can shape public perceptions and attitudes by controlling the narratives presented in films. It can influence how certain issues are portrayed and discussed, potentially affecting social discourse and public opinion on political matters.

Balancing Freedom and Regulation: The debate over censorship in Indian cinema revolves around striking a balance between artistic freedom and regulatory oversight. While censorship aims to protect public interests and maintain social harmony, it also risks stifling creativity, hindering artistic expression, and limiting filmmakers’ ability to address important socio-political issues.

Legal Challenges: Censorship decisions in Indian cinema have been subject to legal challenges, with filmmakers often contesting cuts or bans imposed by the censor board. The courts have occasionally intervened to uphold freedom of expression, emphasizing the need for a judicious balance between censorship and artistic liberty.

Changing Landscape: The advent of digital platforms and online streaming services has posed new challenges to traditional censorship mechanisms, as content creators bypass regulatory frameworks and reach audiences directly. This has prompted calls for reevaluating censorship laws and adapting them to the evolving media landscape.

Impact of Indian film stars on political elections

Celebrity Endorsements: Indian film stars often endorse political candidates and parties, lending their popularity and charisma to electoral campaigns. Their endorsements can attract large crowds to political rallies, generate media attention, and enhance the electoral prospects of the candidates they support.

Mobilizing Mass Support: Film stars have a massive fan following across India, comprising diverse demographics and socio-economic backgrounds. Their endorsement of a particular candidate or party can mobilize their fan base to rally behind the endorsed political entity, resulting in increased voter turnout and support.

Symbolic Representation: Film stars symbolize aspirational ideals and cultural values, embodying the aspirations and identities of their fans. Their participation in political elections symbolically represents the convergence of popular culture and politics, resonating with voters on an emotional and symbolic level.

Fundraising and Campaigning: Indian film stars often contribute to political campaigns by fundraising, providing financial support, and actively participating in campaign events. Their star power attracts donors and supporters, helping political parties mobilize resources and build electoral infrastructure.

Media Visibility: Film stars enjoy extensive media coverage and public attention, both in traditional media outlets and on social media platforms. Their involvement in political elections amplifies the visibility of the candidates or parties they support, increasing their reach and impact among voters.

Shaping Public Perception: Film stars possess the ability to shape public perception and influence public discourse through their endorsements and statements. Their opinions on political issues, governance, and leadership can sway public opinion, shaping the narrative surrounding electoral contests.

Contesting Elections: Some Indian film stars choose to directly participate in electoral politics by contesting elections themselves. By leveraging their celebrity status, name recognition, and public appeal, they seek to translate their star power into political power, representing their constituents in legislative bodies.

Indian movies with Political themes

“Mother India” (1957): Directed by Mehboob Khan, this iconic film explores the struggles of a rural woman, Radha, who fights against poverty and societal injustices. It touches upon themes of land ownership, agricultural reforms, and the role of women in Indian society.

“Nayakan” (1987): Directed by Mani Ratnam, this Tamil-language film portrays the life of a Mumbai underworld don, Velu Nayakar, who rises to power through his political connections. It offers a gritty portrayal of the nexus between crime, politics, and society.

“Sarkar” (2005): Directed by Ram Gopal Varma, this Hindi film is loosely inspired by the life of politician Bal Thackeray. Starring Amitabh Bachchan, it follows the story of a powerful political leader and his tumultuous relationship with his family and rivals.

“A Wednesday!” (2008): Directed by Neeraj Pandey, this thriller explores the theme of terrorism and government corruption. The film follows the events of a single day as a common man takes drastic measures to challenge the system and demand accountability from those in power.

“Peepli Live” (2010): Directed by Anusha Rizvi, this satirical comedy dive into the issue of farmer suicides and media sensationalism. Set in rural India, the film follows the misadventures of two impoverished farmers who become unwitting symbols of a political and media circus.

“Haider” (2014): Directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is set in the backdrop of the Kashmir conflict. It explores themes of insurgency, militarization, and political manipulation through the lens of a young man seeking revenge for his father’s death.

“Udta Punjab” (2016): Directed by Abhishek Chaubey, this film sheds light on the rampant drug abuse problem in the state of Punjab. It exposes the complicity of politicians, law enforcement agencies, and the entertainment industry in perpetuating the drug trade.

“The Accidental Prime Minister” (2019): Directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte, this biographical drama is based on the memoir of Sanjaya Baru, a former media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The film explores the inner workings of Indian politics and the challenges faced by Singh during his tenure.

Academic References on Indian Cinema and Politics

  1. Chakravarty, S. (2019). “Indian Cinema and the Politics of Aesthetics.” Routledge.
  2. Banaji, I. (2006). “Reading Bollywood: The Young Audience and Hindi Films.” Routledge.
  3. Ray, M. (2016). “Bollywood and Globalization: Indian Popular Cinema, Nation, and Diaspora.” Anthem Press.
  4. Rajadhyaksha, A., & Willemen, P. (Eds.). (1999). “Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema.” British Film Institute.
  5. Dwyer, R. (2010). “100 Bollywood Films.” British Film Institute.
  6. Ganti, T. (2004). “Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema.” Routledge.
  7. Mishra, V. (2013). “Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire.” Routledge.
  8. Bhatia, N. (2018). “Spectacles of Democracy: Politics and Professionalism in Indian Cinema.” Oxford University Press.
  9. Bhaskar, I., & Ganti, T. (Eds.). (2015). “Global Bollywood.” NYU Press.
  10. Kavoori, A. P., & Punathambekar, A. (Eds.). (2008). “Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance.” University of Minnesota Press.
  11. Rajadhyaksha, A., & Willemen, P. (1995). “Bollywood and the Study of Indian Cinema.” The British Journal of Sociology, 46(1), 29-44.
  12. Vasudevan, R. (2000). “The Melodramatic Public: Film Form and Spectatorship in Indian Cinema.” University of Chicago Press.
  13. Gopal, S. (2002). “Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance.” Anthropological Quarterly, 75(2), 365-373.
  14. Dudrah, R. (2006). “Bollywood: Sociology Goes to the Movies.” Sociology, 40(5), 1037-1054.
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