Despite innumerable disappointments we still watch Hindi movies once in a while because people around us raise our hopes about the quality and depth of the new movies. While we have seen that there is a trend upward, none have so far been convincing enough. The reason is this: Hindi movies, even when they deal with serious subjects, are prone to project image over substance. Thus in movies made by ad-men (as several are these days) there are slick production values, Armani-suited, grim, business-like, svelte people (who may look more convincing than the saas-bahu dramas of old), but this is all there is. The story is well-told, the music and songs toned down or placed in the background instead of the actors belting them out; what I find missing is the idea of the movie- what ties it all together. Of course there are exceptions. The Namesake as with all Mira Nair movies had a subtle but very present message about Indian life in the US. But if there is anything one could remark about the message of the movie Life in a Metro, which we watched yesterday, is that it is existentialist. It has pop-rock songs that are sung by minstrels that appear on the streets at major milestones in the story ( a departure from the usual 'musical' genre where protagonists sing in order to convey what is in their heart) and less in-your-face emotion, but as to the actual message, it falls flat.
For a Christian this movie serves only to be shocked at the absence of any moral compass in the lives of the protagonists, much less an idea of what may be beneficial to their lives. The film portrays young, upwardly mobile middle class Indians living in Mumbai as having extra-marital affairs, casual sex (no overt acts are portrayed on screen) and completely lacking any guiding principle to navigate them through life. A young man asks a married woman if she loves her husband and if she doesn't she should just "follow her heart", as if her heart is somehow the standard of moral uprightness or lasting joy. A 20-something girl calls her elder sister on the phone to ask if it's okay to have pre-marital sex, and the sister's response is a question: "Are you sure you know what you are doing?" No guidance, there. No surprise, as the elder sister is herself caught in an extra-marital affair. The calls ends, as the younger girl tells her, "Don't worry about it- I need to go." A cheating husband justifies his infidelity by reminding himself that there is no emotional attachment to his affair and if it hurts noone it should be okay. Of course, the movie does portray the events as being hurtful to him and others around him, but it still doesn't show us a way forward. The most believable character is an everyman with a roving eye who is fond of a feminist who sees him as a friend, but he is willing to go with an arranged wedding his family proposes. To his feminist friend's question as to how he could love someone he has never met, he says, "Well, you need to start loving in order to have love. So why not do that after you marry?" This is the closest this movie gets to any actual thinking. I liked that line, but the movie does not expand on this theme at all. It just gets buried under heaps of nonsense that follows. In the end the cheating wife and husband reunite for whatever reason (perhaps the Indian customs they had been accustomed to forces them into that), and we see the young lover roaming the streets. The movie sympathizes with him and nothing more is said or done about it. The focus is so much on sex and infidelity though the sexual acts are not portrayed on screen. Commitment in marriage is portrayed as a burden to be borne and not as an act of nobility. There is no reason given as to why people are together except for the demands of the society, besides of course in some cases the "dictates of the heart".
Several years ago and possibly even now, Indians thought Americans were in general footloose people with broken marriages and uncontrolled passions. This was primarily a thinking that came right out of Hollywood movies. Alma and I are in the position of thinking that about Indian city-dwellers. The past ten years have seen a dramatic shift in values in India, especially among the youth. We get a glimpse of this in the movies, but the jury is still out there on how realistic they are. While I'm sure they are embellished, they also portray something of the truth. This movie could not have done well 10 years ago as most people would have found it unbelievable and less than proper to exhibit in movie halls. Today the acceptance of the movie makes one wonder, if this is where India is headed. If that is indeed the case, it's more dangerous than we can imagine. In the US the objective moral values from Christian faith and thinking have a profound influence on society. In India I have not yet found such a compelling moral compass. We need a voice crying in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Lord.