By Vikram Raj & Ali Fraz Rezvi
Films have the power to inspire, inform, and shape public opinion. However, certain films occasionally emerge that fail to fulfil these responsibilities and perpetuate misinformation and distorted narratives.
Propaganda films have been a powerful tool used throughout history to advance political ideologies. In recent years, India has witnessed the rise of a wave of right-wing propaganda films that propagate a narrow and divisive agenda. These films manipulate emotions, distort historical events, and perpetuate stereotypes to promote a particular political ideology.
Naseeruddin Shah, a prominent figure in the film industry, has straightforwardly expressed his disinterest in watching a specific movie. In an interview with a news portal, Shah discussed his perspective on the prevailing trend and mentioned that he has no plans to watch the film. He cited examples of meaningful movies like ‘Afwaah’, ‘Bheed’, and ‘Faraaz’ that failed to succeed at the box office. According to Shah, while these films struggled, there seems to be a significant crowd drawn to ‘The Kerala Story,’ a movie he has neither seen nor intends to watch. The actor emphasized that he has already gathered sufficient information about it through reading and is not inclined to see it personally.
Naseeruddin Shah also drew a parallel between the current trend in the film industry and the situation during Nazi Germany. He noted that during Hitler’s regime, filmmakers were coerced or influenced to create movies that glorified the leader and denigrated the Jewish community. As a result, many talented filmmakers from Germany relocated to Hollywood and continued their craft there. Shah sees a similar pattern emerging in the present scenario, where filmmakers are faced with the choice of aligning with the ruling powers, maintaining a neutral stance, or expressing support for the establishment.
The Kerala Story: Selective Narratives in a Controversial Film
“The Kerala Story” is one such film that warrants critical analysis. Released on the 5th of May, the film purportedly seeks to shed light on the sociopolitical landscape of Kerala. Nevertheless, upon closer examination, it becomes evident that the film falls prey to sensationalism, misrepresentation, and a selective portrayal of events, ultimately undermining its credibility and contributing to a skewed narrative.
“The Kerala Story” presents an imbalanced and skewed depiction of the state’s sociopolitical realities. The film focuses predominantly on negative aspects and selectively emphasizes instances that align with its preconceived biases. By magnifying isolated incidents, the film overlooks the broader context and fails to present a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of Kerala’s multifaceted society.
An essential aspect of responsible filmmaking is the presentation of multiple perspectives. Unfortunately, “The Kerala Story” neglects this crucial element, choosing instead to reinforce a singular narrative that aligns with its biases. By failing to include a diverse range of voices and perspectives, the film perpetuates a one-sided and incomplete understanding of Kerala’s sociopolitical dynamics.
The film’s narrative selectively propagates the political landscape of Kerala, emphasizing incidents and characters that support a particular ideological agenda. It presents a distorted view of the state’s socio-political dynamics, overlooking the progressive and inclusive policies implemented by successive governments. Critics argue that the film’s intent is to fuel communal divisions, demonize certain communities, and undermine the achievements of the state’s left-leaning governments.
Propaganda in Cinema: Unveiling Parallels Between Nazi Germany and Films in India
Propaganda films have played a significant role in shaping public opinion throughout history. The use of cinema as a tool for propaganda was notably employed by the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II. Today, we can observe parallels between Nazi propaganda films and the right-wing propaganda films of India.
These films promote an ideology centered around nationalism and a perceived sense of supremacy; and emphasize the importance of preserving a particular culture, heritage, or race, often at the expense of marginalized groups.
Both Nazi propaganda films and right-wing propaganda films in India employ emotional manipulation to sway public sentiment and promote their respective ideologies. Emotional appeal plays a crucial role in fostering a sense of nationalistic pride and inciting fervor among the masses. The best example of such a film is Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” (1935). This film skillfully uses grandiose imagery, stirring music, and passionate speeches by Adolf Hitler to create a sense of awe and adulation among viewers, evoking strong emotional responses. In India films such as “PM Narendra Modi” (2019), glorify the political leader as a transformative figure who can single-handedly bring about progress and prosperity. These films focus on projecting the leader’s charisma, decisiveness, and dedication to the nation, strengthening the cult of personality.
Such films often emphasize the charismatic leadership of their respective political figures. These films portray their leaders as messianic figures, capable of leading the nation to greatness and safeguarding their interests.
Similarly, the Indian film “The Accidental Prime Minister” (2019), employs emotional tactics to portray a specific narrative. These films attempt to generate sympathy or anger towards specific political figures or ideologies by manipulating emotions, ultimately influencing public opinion.
The Nazi film “The Eternal Jew” (1940) is an infamous example that portrays Jews as subhuman and manipulative, promoting anti-Semitic sentiments. By creating this enemy, the film aimed to justify the persecution and dehumanization of Jewish people. Whereas films in India, such as “Kashmir Files” (2022), often depict minority communities or dissenting voices as threats to national integrity and cultural values. By portraying these groups as the “other,” these films instigate a sense of fear and division among the audience.
“Nazi Titanic” (1943) serves as an example of promoting Aryan superiority and the preservation of the German race. This film portrays the sinking of the Titanic as a metaphor for the decline of “inferior” races, reinforcing the notion of racial purity. Whereas in India, films like “Ghar Wapsi” (2015), focus on promoting Hindu supremacy and the preservation of Hindu culture. These films often propagate the idea that minority communities pose a threat to the majority religion and the nation’s identity.
Both Nazi propaganda films and right-wing propaganda films in India employ tactics to discredit and demonize political opponents or dissenting voices. By portraying opposition groups as threats to the nation or its values, these films aim to marginalize and undermine them.
Both Nazi propaganda films and right-wing propaganda films in India construct and vilify a distinct enemy, fostering a “us vs. them” mentality. By portraying a common enemy, these films seek to consolidate support and create a sense of unity among their respective audiences.
“Jud Süß” (1940) is a notorious example of Nazi propaganda that demonized Jews and portrayed them as corrupt, scheming figures who threatened German society. The film aimed to generate hatred and fear towards Jews, justifying their persecution and furthering the Nazi agenda. Whereas films, such as Ram Ki Janmabhoomi (2019) revolve around the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute in Ayodhya. It presents a skewed narrative that favours the Hindu perspective, promoting the idea of reclaiming a religious site and reinforcing Hindu nationalist sentiments.
Kolberg (1945) is a film directed by Veit Harlan. This film aimed to boost the morale of the German population during the final stages of World War II. It depicted the heroic defence of the city of Kolberg against French forces, emphasizing loyalty, sacrifice, and unwavering patriotism. Whereas in India the film Batla House (2019) based on the controversial Batla House encounter in 2008, this film portrayed the police operation in a highly sensationalized manner, emphasizing a narrative of heroism and national security. It sparked debates about the portrayal of Muslim characters and perpetuated stereotypes.
This list is only a sample, there are hundreds of Indian films which can be kept parallel to Nazi propaganda films. Therefore, it is important to critically analyze these films and recognize the power of propaganda in shaping public opinion. Propaganda films often employ emotionally charged narratives, selective storytelling, and manipulative techniques to convey a specific agenda. By fostering media literacy, promoting critical thinking, and encouraging open dialogue, individuals can become more resistant to propaganda and make informed decisions.
Furthermore, it is essential to promote a diverse and inclusive media landscape that represents various perspectives and encourages the exploration of complex issues. By providing platforms for nuanced storytelling and fostering a culture of empathy and understanding, societies can counter the divisive impact of propaganda films and work towards a more harmonious future.
(Vikram is an Independent Journalist & Ali works at Anjuman-i-Taraqqi-i-Urdu)
Views Expressed are Personal.