“The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and social situation”- Stella Adler
You could say the same thing about Cinema, at least in its inception days. Like any other art form, cinema’s horizon has broadened. It can be the mirror of the society, it can be escapist fare that transports people away from the reality of society, it can stir different human emotions or it could just be random musings of a creative mind who found a gullible financier. The beauty of cinema is that can be many things and it can be nothing. The one thing that the art form is not and is never meant to be, is the moral compass of society. You want to know if honesty is the best policy, ask your parents or moral science teacher. Do not look up to DiCaprio from Catch me if you can.
Characters vs. Reality
Hannibal Lecter is not meant to be your dietitian, Sharon stone from Basic Instinct is not your sex education teacher & Arjun Reddy is not your guide to manliness. You have upbringing, exposure to literature (hardcover and paperback preferably), sense of morality and basic common sense of knowing right from wrong. But these are not simpler times where a person’s behaviour was his and his responsibility alone. We need additional layers, people, or things to blame. Convolutions are the new bell bottoms. The recent tide of over thinking and diplomatic correctness that seems to have swept over the ‘woke’ crowd has started to make the shores of Cinema murky. This is where I draw the line. Enough of this world is cluttered with agendas, let the white sand beaches of the movies remain as-is.
Murky Shores of Cinema
You want a ‘message’? Visit your pastor or neighbourhood godmen. Jean Luc Goddard said, ‘Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world’ but for your messaging needs please resort to the oldest fraud in the world. If a character onscreen slaps a girl and someone goes home and tries it on the partner, there is nothing wrong in the movie. He is a flawed person who needs to see a doctor or the inside of the prison cell. Either way, the fact will always remain that the movie is a work of fiction. It is about a character on screen. It is not an Issued in Public Interest broadcast from the ministry of morality.
Fiction vs. Reality
The recent custodial deaths of Bennix-Jayaraj in Tamil Nadu have started this discussion all over again. The online warriors armed with fast broadband, free time and quick-sand IQ base have identified the ‘culprit’. It is popular cinema where trigger happy cops set the cash registers ringing. If only our judicial system had the luxury of using their social media timelines as evidence and sentencing cinema to the gallows of oblivion. The incident is highly unfortunate and a blatant abuse of law. Blaming it on popularity of Kaakha Kaakha or Saamy is sheer laziness at best and sign of herd insanity at worst. Also it is the easiest way out.
The alternative is to do some basic research on history of custodial deaths in this country. That the keepers of law have subverted it for political or economic gains is documented fact. Fact, that people these days seems to have kept in the custody of rabble rousing where it dies its own slow death. Visaranai was not a tale set in lala land. It shows a reality that we conveniently brush off to maintain our garb of democracy. If Visaranai did not end custodial deaths in real life, Saamy or Kaakha Kaakha did not trigger it. The training manual of the police department certainly does not cover Key take-away from famous onscreen cops.
Another ‘crime’ that South Indian cinema has been charged with repeatedly is glorifying stalking. Like well until that time the typical Indian male was an epitome of chivalry. He loved a girl, sent her his resume, waited for her response in a self-imposed exile and if rejected, was never found in the same pin code. Then one day the youth of the state watched their movie icon stalk a girl on screen. The message was received and the youth were indoctrinated into changing their ways.
Not a Moral Guide
To explore the history of stalking, visit any old pan shop in an Indian town or city. The owner will share tales dating back to KL Saigal’s era, well before social distancing. Delving into mythology reveals characters like Indra, Ravana, and Duryodhana suffering from a ‘Cannot-take-NO’ syndrome. Misogyny, inflated ego, and an inability to handle rejection seem like inherited traits among typical Indian males. Passed down like a family heirloom through generations, not purchased at the cinema ticket counter.
The constant emphasis on the disclaimer before movies has always irked me. Why repeatedly stress that ‘This is a work of fiction’? Yet, it seems many people need this reminder. Even those who claim to love and earn their living from cinema contribute to its desecration. Some reviewers (I hesitate to call them critics, as true film critics like Roger Ebert or Baradwaj Rangan demonstrate a deeper understanding) bring their predetermined lenses into the movie theater, tarnishing the cinematic experience.
That lens then analyses the movies. A feminist lens starts putting it to Bechdel test, the left-wing lens looks for class justice, the right-wing lens looks for anything that is ‘offensive’. Story, character arcs, cinematography and all the other crafts that go into making a movie are forgotten. The same way the real-world issues are forgotten after a day of trending on twitter.
Murky Shores of Cinema
Boring, unimpressive storyline, cheap rip-off, unbearable acting are the charges that can be filed against a movie. If it is seen as a movie and not as the guiding light of society. Unfortunately, the decline of single screen cinemas also coincides with the decline in the purity of the experience. The only lens that should matter is the one with which the movie was shot. Leave the rest at home, buy an overpriced popcorn, recline on that seat, and immerse in the world brought alive on screen. It is the closest to an out of body experience that one can have, as Roger Ebert has rightly said.
Captive of the 24 frames and admirer of the written word. If it is not on the silver screen or on the pages of a paperback, it might as well not exist.