IIM don sees economic philosophy in Bollywood flicks

May 27th, 2009 - 1:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Mani Ratnam By Ashish Mehta
New Delhi, May 27 (IANS) Now playing at a theatre near you: lessons in economic philosophy. A professor with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) has found two Bollywood hits to be much more than song-and-dance entertainment.

Tejas A. Desai, an assistant professor who has done his PhD in biostatistics from the University of North Carolina, has analysed Mani Ratnam’s “Guru” (2007) and Madhur Bhandarkar’s “Corporate” (2006) in detail in an IIMA working paper.

The two films are “explicitly about the world of business and the people who inhabit it”, he writes in the paper.

Why did he focus on these two films? “When they were released, I was a faculty member at IIMA, which some consider to be India’s best management school. When I saw (these) films, it did not take me long to see their relevance to management pedagogy,” Desai told IANS in an e-mail interview.

“Guru” is “not only a history lesson about the political and economic environment in India during the first 40 years after India’s independence, but is also a celebration of Adam Smith’s philosophy and, in general, capitalism and the entrepreneurial spirit. At the same time, it brings to the fore the possibly misguided economic policies adopted by India during the first few decades after independence”.

“‘Corporate’, on the other hand, complements “Guru”, in the sense that it highlights the consequences borne by powerless individuals when corporations have profit as their sole aim and are willing to achieve them by hook or by crook. … ‘Corporate’ provides a case for Keynesian economics,” Desai notes in the paper.

Bhandarkar’s film also explores the role of gender and family in economics, as also the role and importance of ethics in economics. It also highlights the limitations of rationality and rational behaviour and challenges assumptions of classical economics, he says.

The working paper examines the “main thesis” of “Guru”, believed to be loosely based on the life of the legendary industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani, in detail with illustrations from India’s post-independence history.

In his brief critique of first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Soviet-style central planning”, Desai quotes Mahatma Gandhi: “I look upon an increase in the power of the state with the greatest fear because, although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality which lies at the root of all progress.”

On the role of ethics in business to analyse “Corporate”, he again turns to Gandhi: “All the talk about ethics boils down to the Gandhian idea that an end is justified if and only if the right means are used to achieve it. This is a simple but powerful idea on which Gandhi’s entire life was based. Furthermore, this idea is applicable to all areas of human affairs including business.”

Desai also refers to the work of American linguist and critic Noam Chomsky: “While this scenario in ‘Corporate’ is fictional, it has parallels in reality, as is argued by Noam Chomsky in his book ‘Profit over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order’ (1999).”

He reminds that as an example of neoliberalism, Chomsky cites the case of India.

Are there any more Hindi films worth a similar study?

“While there have been a few Bollywood films — for example, ‘Kalyug’ (1981), and ‘Kalyug’ (2005) — which take the world of business as their context, I can recall only ‘Corporate’ and ‘Guru’ as two Bollywood films with both an explicit as well as an implicit connection to economic philosophy,” Desai replied.

(Ashish Mehta can be contacted at ashish.m@ians.in)

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