I’m sure my colleagues on stage will agree, questions are being raised on civil liberties and freedom of expression,” said Amitabh Bachchan at the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF). The Mahanayak, who has mostly been apolitical, suddenly seems to have stirred a hornet’s nest. If one hears his speech without any bias, all Bachchan spoke about was the role of cinema in reflecting the true picture of society. He was pressing upon artistic liberty and cinematic freedom. Nothing wrong!

But, his speech saw a war of words between political parties.

“Films, more than any another form of popular culture, reflect the socio-economic milieu and changes in policy. While not necessarily directed towards communicating an economic message, beginning with the 1950s and right down to the 1990s, films have depicted economic problems,” authors Amir Ullah Khan and Bibek Debroy noted in their paper, Indian Economic Transition through Bollywood Eyes.

The authors cited some of the more important examples of this — Awara (1951), Jagte Raho (1956), Naya Daur (1957), and Kala Bazaar (1960) while some unlikely names that have commented seriously on economic policy have been Johnny Mera Naam (1970), Namak Haraam (1973), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), and Gupt (1994). A Cambridge University study used 19 Indian feature films to document household energy and appliance use.

Co-author of the study, Prof Jaideep Prabhu, had said, “While the narrative of feature films is made up, the sets, especially in the so-called ‘parallel cinema’, are often very careful recreations of how things looked and people behaved at a particular point in time...” Bachchan has cited examples of how cinema is a reflection of life and how and when “censor board” came into existence.

So, why the debate? Is it just because his name is Amitabh Bachchan and his voice matters? Can he not be seen as a subject expert voicing his opinion?

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