Science Through Cinema

Dr. S. S. VERMA; Department of Physics, S.L.I.E.T., Longowal; Distt.-Sangrur (Punjab)-148 106

2021-09-08 11:05:44



In the era of technology driven life, to understand the gifts of technology in a better way, people are required to be well versed with scientific temper which always makes people inquisitor to know more about the basic concepts of science and its engineering applications. Planners of education, science & technology are well aware of the need to imbibe scientific culture in people of any nation. Our government has also launched various schemes like science museums, science cities, science expresses, science film festivals, science lectures, science shows and debates at every possible level to make science learning more understanding and fascinating to people. For a country with a billion-plus population, India has very few organisations engaged in science popularisation activities. To describe anything, it is always said that a picture is better than thousand words.

Film is a universal language of modern societies. Larger-than-life images, stories, ideas, and characters portrayed in films can speak across the globe. This makes science and technology-which have shaped the modern world but remain little understood and poorly integrated into mainstream culture-a rich subject for films. Thus, in present times, when people are more inclined to read and learn through videos/screens, this mode of presentation can be utilized effectively to make science more interesting and understanding to people in general and to young generation in particular. Moreover, diffusing a scientific way of thinking to people is critical in these times when superstition and misinformation threaten gullible people. Here, science through cinema not only means to produce scientific films for cinema halls but any short or long video clips describing a scientific work which can be a part of TV shows, YouTubes and theatres etc.

I remember my college days (1976-80) when we were having a chapter on R. K. Narayan's 1958 novel The Guide in English course and a film “Guide” was produced based on this story. Our English teacher advised us to watch the “Guide” film which was running in the cinema hall of our city at that time in order to understand the story of novel in a better way. Of course, the film “Guide” was fabulous and we could understand the story very well after watching the film. Film industry or TV industry in our country are however far behind in making scientific films as compared to countries like USA, UK and many others. Making scientific movies however never means to boost science fiction or mythological characters and superhuman. A small piece of informative science exhibited in a movie makes a strong impact on viewer’s mind like use of an invisible cloak in film “Mr. India” was a much talked concept in people after watching the film. Similarly, in films like KOI MIL GAYA-introducing an alien, its food and its powers, ROBOT-working and power of a man made robot, KRISH-power of DNA, SHIVAY and 3idiots-showing the hero to make urine to conduct electricity were well taken by the viewers. There may be many such small-2 scenes incorporated in Indian cinema from time to time but the overall contribution of Indian cinema in propagating real science in masses is just negligible.

In USA, there have been number of fiction based science & technology TV shows like “Star Trek” which have attracted very good response from viewers. In India, we do have such TV shows but not to that mark. There is a need to bring science and technology based movies, TV shows, YouTube videos etc. in order to bring the basic concepts as well as advances of science and technology closer to people. There is a caution that science movies should be designed in a way not to frighten people with the consequences of bad use of science and technology e.g. Superhuman, Terminator, The Predator, Back to Future, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Star Wars, X-Men etc. but to make them ware about the basis and usefulness of scientific principles in the technology being used in day to day life. Theatre could also be a potent medium of communicating scientific concepts and information to the general public, particularly children. Plays can help to demystify science by presenting scientific information in easily digestible language. Plays staged in different Indian languages will reflect local or regional problems in the backdrop of scientific knowledge.

To depict the real science in films is a better way to make it understanding and explanatory than to ask the people studying it off screen. But, making science fiction films need special effects which makes them very expensive and beyond the reality. Moreover, scenes and concepts in movies that mangle the science are not only annoying but can also break the cinematic illusion. Making unethical films depicting people with some incredible physical and mental capabilities including telepathy and telekinesis is not in good taste. The depiction of scientific concepts in movies should be what science looks like in a laboratory. This is where scientists can help the film makers as scientists’ care about making a world that to the audience makes some kind of sense, both in how people act and in how the laws of nature act. Scientists and filmmakers should come together to take science from the lab to the people through cinema and then films like Gravity, The Martian, Thor etc. will be more successful as science movies. Several recent Oscar-celebrated films, including A Beautiful Mind, The Imitation Game, and Hidden Figures, have entertained millions while offering the public a glimpse of path-breaking scientists whose lives and work they would not otherwise know or care about. 

Efforts should be made to make movies on real science and technology e.g., working of aeroplane, motor engine, X-ray devices, sensors, scanners, air-conditioner, refrigerator, superconductors, maglev (superconducting train), pollution (generation and mitigation), thermal power plant, hydroelectric power plant, solar power plants, wind turbines, any such topic which people encounter in their everyday life. Meanwhile, foundations like U.S. National Academy of Science's Science & Entertainment Exchange, the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom and the Sloan Foundation in the United States have ventured directly into supporting filmmakers and dramatic films that realistically depict science and technology. Such efforts from scientists and film makers in India are also required to realistically depict science and technology in films so that people can know and understand the basic science and technological concepts involved in the working of technological devices they are using in their daily life. Films related to life history and scientific achievements of scientists and technologists as well as science films based on the inspirational true-life tales will be more fruitful and acceptable to viewers.

There is a deep reservoir of remarkable, untold scientific tales and fascinating characters who explored the frontiers of knowledge as scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Film schools, science organizations, and the film industry should encourage a new generation of film artists to tell realistic and compelling stories about science and technology. The future for fictionalized, high-quality and realistic scientific storytelling films looks promising.