Nushrratt Bharuccha’s social comedy Janhit Mein Jaari releases in theatres today. The film captures the struggle of a small-town girl who sells condoms and tries hard to prove to society and her family that it is not a disrespectful job. Directed by Raaj Shaandilyaa and featuring actors like Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala and Tinu Anand in key roles, the film joins Bollywood’s ever-growing list of social comedies that preach with a pinch of laughter.
While these films don’t always hit the mark or often come across as preachy, they play an important role in starting relevant conversations and help break taboos around subjects like sex, sexuality and many more.
Stigmas, stereotypes and discrimination are not new to our society, but nobody wants to talk about the ways to eliminate them. A major excuse used for our lack of interest or effort to trigger a change is that the roots of these societal norms are so deep that it is impossible to tear them out of our lives. But does this mean that we do not put in any effort at all? Another question that comes to mind is- are these social comedies made out of intent to challenge social norms or just because they draw viewers to theatres? When such films stop working at the box office, will the film industry still continue to work in this genre?
The impact of a social comedy is better when it raises the right issue in the right timeline and right backdrop. The location, society and targetted audience matter a lot when it comes to making a successful social comedy. Most of the social comedies these days are targetted towards young audience and are set in tier two and tier three cities. It is true that a two-hour long satire is better than a 30 minutes lecture and therefore, elements of entertainment help promote social issues better.
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Aside from a controversial subject there are some other tropes that are common among Bollywood social comedies like a great cast, small town setting and relatable references to attract audiences and so far, this formula has been successful for films like Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Shubh Mangal Savdhaan, Badhaai Ho, Bala, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and others. The relatable dialogues and situations have a deeper impact on the audience, which makes them receptive towards arguments that question stigmas.
Another factor that perhaps help is how commonplace the issues raised in these films are and how little we all talk about them out of shame or fear. People see the characters in these films and see their own families and social settings replicated on the silver screen. They not only identify with the evils of stigmas but the discouragement from having conversations on them that everyone has to deal with. With this identification, comes mouth-to-mouth publicity. You want your friends to see this relatable film, you want to discuss it with your family.
Putting toxicity of the society in a light atmosphere generates easy conversations and thus creating awareness. The other aspect is the influence of the actors on their fan base which help ease the viewers into an uncomfortable subject. For instance, if you are going to watch a film starring Khurrana or Bhumi Pednekar, you know you are signing up for a socially relevant subject before stepping into the theatres.
However, many recent social comedies have failed to recreate the success of their predecessors at the box office. Could the reason be Bollywood’s approach which is backing a successful formula and not a heartfelt narrative and thus failing to connect with viewers? One will only have to wait an see how this genre evolves in coming years.
Views expressed are the author’s own.