Popular Culture and People's Culture
In his article Women in Indian Cinema appearing in the Special Issue of Liberation (April '96), Amaresh Mishra has presented films like Hunterwali and Rangeela in revolutionary colours, which has only created confusion among the readers. It seems that Amaresh considers popular culture and people's culture meaning one and the same thing. This reflects an incorrect way of thinking.
Folk culture is certainly different from popular culture. In folk culture, sorrows and pleasures as well as contradictions in people's lives manifest themselves in collective but spontaneous forms. This is utilised by the producers of people's culture as a raw material, but only as a raw material, because it contains people's aspirations merely in rudimentary form; these aspirations do carry influences of ruling class ideology, people's own backward thinking and traditions. Therefore, people's culture can only be produced by way of transgressing the folk culture.
Creations of popular culture, on the other hand, are not collective products like folk culture, they are produced individually. As they are produced on a mass scale to attract people without raising their level of thinking, they not only carry strong influences of the contemporarily dominant mode of thinking but also reinforce it. Studies of Hindi detective novels, TV serials and popular films corroborate this fact. These things sell ruling class nationalism, feudal myths of masculine chivalry; sometimes backing the state and at other times opposing it from a fascistic standpoint.
Moreover, one thing must be kept in mind while dealing with the question of contrast between popular and classical forms of culture. Whereas popular culture reflects as well as strengthens the apparent setting of the reality, classical culture does contain an element of opposing it. Therefore, many a time people's resentment is also reflected in the latter. In this there lies a similarity in classical culture and people's culture, that both come up with the desire for change in the status-quo, although their orientation may be different. So the creators of people's culture should learn from classical form on the one hand and folk form on the other.
Amaresh instead fetishises popular culture. This creates a grave problem. For example, in the same article appearing in the Special Issue, he finds that the heroine was free from liberal Hindu traditions only because she was born in a Parsee family. This statement suggests that all people in India are plagued either with Hindu tradition or with Muslim, Parsee or Christian tradition and this is what determines their consciousness. Moreover, because Hindus are in majority, their sense of tradition is the deepest. All literary and cultural creations have been under the influence of these traditions. Thus, whereas whole of the West has been non-religious, modern, scientific and rationalistic in outlook, the main characteristic of the dominant liberal Hindu mindset in India has been its other-worldliness, the principal manifestation of which lies in the moralistic attitude it adopts towards women. On the other hand, the main characteristic of the society of free individuals throughout the West has been its this-worldliness and its principal manifestation lies in the sensuous and voluptuous attitude it shows towards women. This may not be the truth, but he presents it like that.
The ultimate aim of his agenda of women's liberation is the establishment of women's body, and more precisely, of its sensuous and voluptuous role. It is not strange that this can be seen only in 'footpath' literature and blue films. With this motive he presents West as the model. Sometimes he traces that its source in a Parsee family background. Sometimes he confines Indo-Persian tradition merely to the Shirkee school of Urdu. All this is unbecoming of Marxian analysis.