An exploration of the reception of political documentary film among young Mumbaikars in India
There is scarce research examining young people’s reception of political documentary film, especially in India. Literature has continually noted the influence of the documentary genre on the consciousness, knowledge and actions of its audiences, thus making it an important genre to be studied. Stemming from a cultural studies perspective, and drawing from the active audience paradigm, this study sought to understand the reception of political documentary film among young, urban people living in Mumbai, India. Data on audience reception to two films War and Peace and Buddha weeps in Jadugoda were gathered using two focus groups with youth, two filmmaker interviews, participant observation and surveys of two documentary film audience segments (members of documentary film groups, and university students).
Analysis of data revealed that participants perceived documentary film as, boring but informative and useful. The domination of Bollywood and young participants’ general lack of faith in the media influenced their engagement with documentaries. However, they did become more knowledgeable and critically discussed issues highlighted by the film with their peers, while applying relevant themes to their personal experiences and current social contexts. These findings support the active audience paradigm. Filmmakers cited an unfavourable environment as the main constraint to the political documentary film movement in India. Nevertheless, their commitment to political activism and social change fuels their desire to continue working. Therefore, although valued, political documentary struggles to gain a strong following among young Mumbaikars. To cultivate an appreciation for this genre among young audiences and influence social change, political documentary filmmakers must improve film aesthetics as well as increase access through electronic and social media. Further research is necessary to find ways to increase young audience engagement and expand the reach of political documentary film in India.