Ruchir Sharma is a man who wears many hats. He’s the head of Emerging Markets and chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, the author of three books and a self-confessed film buff. His latest book, Democracy on the Road – is a journey through over two decades of Indian politics attending campaigns and meeting voters across the country to get a better understanding of why India politics functions the way it does.
Ruchir spoke to Anupama Chopra about the role of films and film stars in politics and the increasing spate of political films and why films might not move the needle as much as politicians hope. Edited excerpts:
What’s fascinating is in the last month we’ve had a bunch of films which are what I now call political films. We talked about Uri which reinforces the BJP narrative on the surgical strikes, you had Thackeray, you had The Accidental Prime Minister. There were announcements of biopics on the PM and Rahul Gandhi. Every few months it seems we get pictures of the Prime Minister with A-listers from the film industry… Do you feel like Bollywood is being hijacked by political parties?
I’d say as far as Bollywood is concerned, what’s clear to me is how scared they are of politics. They really do not want to comment on political issues and stick to saying politically correct things and that for me is slightly unfortunate. That’s not what we get to see in places like America. That’s the unfortunate part about business and politics in India. Even if you look at the business leaders in India, nobody says a thing against the government. And I think film stars are even more careful but I still feel I wish that would change a bit. Because film stars have more creative ability.
I wish film stars would play more of an active role than what they have. But in South India, it’s a totally different picture. There they are so active about their political views and what they think. But here I guess its different and it tells you how powerful the politicians are that they completely reign supreme in most parts and the film stars are at best called out just to draw the crowds.
But how do we look at these movies? We’ve never had this kind of spate of political movies.
I think at the end of it it comes to if you make a well-thought-out film like Uri you get acceptability but if it’s seen as a tacky propaganda film, you just don’t get acceptability. So I think that way the viewer is being discerning about it. In this country what still shocks me is that despite all this talk of these films dominating national conversation, their footfall still remains so small in terms of how many people are actually watching these films. So I’m still very sceptical of the ability of movies to move the needle.
But tell me, what should the Bollywood artist do? Given the circumstances that if you say anything at all and deviate from script at all you know four states will ban your film. Even if they don’t ban the film and they uphold the Supreme Court judgement, the films don’t release. What should an artist do?
As far as an artist is concerned, my own feeling is to still speak as freely as you can. But I know there are repercussions. The worst outcome I find is when you end up saying only nice positive things about the government when you’re trying to win favour. So you either totally stay out of it and say nothing on politics because of the repercussions or if you end up saying something don’t end up sounding so biased as if your just sucking up to the government.
For me, the big change in Indian Cinema is the number of stories being told about what’s happening in the hinterland. To bring that out is something I find fascinating. A lot of people in places like Bombay live in a bit of a bubble, thinking things like caste don’t matter. The more the reality is portrayed with some cinematic license the better it is.