Just finished watching ‘Sabrina’, the 1954 romantic movie starring the lovely Audrey Hepburn. The brilliant white and black cinematography shows New York at the height of its glory. The modern skyscrapers contrast with the stately Long Island homes, and the buzz of industrialization seems to happen in another world from the old-world lifestyle depicted in the movie complete with dances to live bands and slow music.
Men wore hats and the only women in the office building were the secretaries. Horses and cars shared road space, and you could park anywhere! Scientists were giving to the world exciting new inventions and chaplains of businessmen were waiting eagerly to take these into the factory, manufacture them en mass and make more money. Class differences were stark—the crux of the movie in this case, since the hero is a billionaire and the heroine the chauffeur’s daughter!
Delightfully written, this film that appears a light-hearted romance on the face of it, through the wittiness of its dialogue comments on society and human behavior in a frank and insightful manner. For instance, when asked about what drives him to work so hard, Humphrey Bogart who plays the dry older brother who ultimately falls in love with Audrey, speaks passionately about the benefits of industrialization; about how making new factories means the barefoot children have shoes to wear!
It was a brave new world. In the United States of the ‘50s, there was no turning back. The nation had emerged from the Great Depression and victorious from the World War II with renewed vigor and energy to grow, better their lives and those of their countrymen. The mood was that of hope, growth, modernization and dynamism. The values that prevailed were those of patriotism, humanity, brotherhood….despite the differences, there was a genuine belief that the best thing to do was to better yourself and in doing so, you improved the lot of those around you.
Today, the western world, the United States included, stands demoralized, deflated, with much less hope and flagging energy. A long-standing economic recession coupled with the knowledge that human consumption has unleashed irreversible damages on our planet make for a mood that’s rather somber.
It falls on young, upcoming growing nations like ours to carry the torch in this new world. The class differences are worse than ever. The mindset of exploitation is still what drives business, without the delusion that ‘development’ is always for the greater good. The mood is conflicted and there is no real leadership to speak of.
Our movies reflect that—lots of color, chaos, variety, struggle, urban scenes that show the traffic and commotion, the underworld, the political class and the unique social circumstances of a society in flux and in all this love, hurt, passion, fun, song and dance! Many recent Hindi films have captured subtly the mood of the nation while narrating a fictional tale. It’s why we go to the movies, to see the reality packaged in fantasy. To see ourselves for what we are and what we might be.