The business world has been a recurrent theme in films. Many a filmmaker has dabbled in the travails of people held together by the idea of common profit—a common aim for their own common good.A strong notion of hierarchy is their hallmark. Several such films portraying the workings of business come to mind:
Syriana (2005): A compelling depiction of the big American energy corporations. It shows how corporate decisions of international significance are mostly political in nature, how politics is a handmaiden of corporate interests and vice versa. It reveals political aims hidden under corporate practices.
Conspiracy (TV, 2001): This is based on the Wannsee meet of senior Nazi bureaucrats where they plan the Holocaust, clause by clause, page by page. They work out the blueprint to the minutest detail, the logistics, the transportation costs. It was a group of men coldly going about the business of exterminating Jews. The film showed how corporate decisions taken without any conscience can wreak havoc and unchecked power can cause untold damage.
Network (1976): A brilliant, humorous insight into the workings of a news corporation. It shows how news is turned into business and the basic aim of informing viewers become irrelevant. Profits and sales defeat the whole purpose. It portrays the chauvinism and power games behind the news—the constant search for headlines which subverts the ideals and how news gets packaged to grab eyeballs.
Casino (1995): This is a fascinating insight into how the mafia works as an organised corporate structure with its own code. The voiceover narrates the entire system right down to the legal aspect.
Mad Men (TV, 2007): This film is about the American ad agencies of the 1960s and shows how far the world has travelled from the sexist, chauvinistic era. You realise how much feminists like Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer have contributed to changing the world. The series very effectively captures the mindset of the boys’ club in a corporate environment.
We mistakingly expect business-based films to stick strictly to business but often that doesn’t happen. A film like Kalyug (1981) for instance. Here business is the backdrop, but it’s more about family ties, rivalries and personal struggles. It’s the Mahabharata retold and could have been set in the mafia or politics as Rajneeti (2010) later was. These films are more about people in business and their journeys rather than business alone.
Alternately, a film like Satyajit Ray’s Seemabaddha (1971) (also known as Company Ltd) looks at the innards of a morally corrupt corporation which influences a man’s personal conscience—mixing the themes of big business and an individual in a dilemma. A fan manufacturing company in the early ’70s organises a strike in its own factory to avoid trouble in its dealings with a foreign company. The film is a fascinating depiction of moral bankruptcy and exposes how corporates are unconcerned about the lives of their own workers.
As told to Namrata Joshi