Sunday, July 22, 2012

Should violence be part of our movies?

A trigger-happy imbecile opened fire indiscriminately inside an American movie hall during the screening of the movie The Dark Knight Rises, killing at least a dozen viewers and injuring many more. This directs the spotlight on an age-old conundrum related to cinema: should violence ever be part of it?

For the motion

What we see is what we get
Nothing makes a case for the exclusion of violence from cinema better than the acronym in computer terminology WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get). This statement is not without its empirical evidence. That visual stimulus, in concordance with its other forms, can make a lasting impact on the sub-conscious, the portion of our mind that functions even when we are physically inactive (Think the Pavlov’s dog experiment), has been well documented. Depending on the information that we feed our brains, our thinking processes can undergo irreversible deformations. Feed violence and you would, in all likelihood, receive the same.

Let us take the cue from the ‘Popeye phenomenon’ of the 1930s in the US, when spinach consumption shot up inspired by the namesake cartoon character. Why, any advertiser will stress on the visual impact needed to entice viewers into potential consumers. After all, the outrage against silver screen idols such as Rajnikanth and Shah Rukh Khan – who command mind-boggling fan followings – for their smoking, both on and off screen, isn’t misplaced. Thus, humanity rarely stands to gain from the so-called creative celebration of visceral sequences.

A future in which citizens’ reaching for AK-47s/ butcher knives on first impulse isn’t too far to comprehend. Let the Chengiz Khans and the Mohammed Shah Abdalis remain confined to our history textbooks.

Against the motion
Don’t shoot the messenger

Going by the statement, we must not have had outfits such as the al-Qaeda, which had its roots in a region where there is little cinema – forget the gore in it – to speak of, and the erstwhile Third Reich, when cinema was in its infancy.

Indian cinema has been a mirror to its prevailing national sentiments. Consider Bollywood – movies based on devotion or nationalism (eg: Sathya Harishchandra, Mother India) dominated the pre and post-Independence eras; followed by the age of romance, with flicks involving actors such as Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna. This was followed by the angry young man of Amitabh Bacchan dominating the industry (Zanjeer et al). All through the years, people needed someone to identify themselves and empathise with, and cinema was their pulse. When Bacchan in Don coolly shoots down a gangster, the audience lapped it up as it gave them a soporific effect from their mundane, day-to-day lives.

And let us not forget that reel and real lives are two sides of the same coin. Cases in point include Gangs of Wasseypur, which is based on the Dhanbad coal mafia; and Once upon a time in Mumbaai, whose muse was Mumbai’s crime chieftains. Some of director Mani Ratnam’s notable flicks stand testimony to the phenomenon; Kannathil Muthamittal, which won numerous national awards, was based on a cover story in Time magazine (as admitted by himself); Iruvar was a biopic on the lives of the Tamil Nadu politicians M G Ramachandran and M Karunanidhi; the life of the industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani was the substrate for Guru, despite the de-rigueur “work of fiction” disclaimers that preceded them.

Therefore, if violence is endemic to our movies, it offers us pointers to our national malaises. We’d be better served if we focus on tackling off-screen violence, and little from shooting the messenger.

Surely, the noted historians and researchers, who only recently concluded after extensive studies that we live in the peaceful of times, must not have been living under delusion.

Citizens could instead debate on whether they need a looking glass on our milieu or sanitised PR pap.