Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kya Picchar Hai, Baap!

Disclaimer: I am currently in the process of educating myself on the subject of social responsibility & the artist by googling 'Social Responsibility & The Artist'. Until then, below are my thoughts.

A couple of years ago, I joined Bollywood in its outrage against then health minister, A. Ramadoss, who tried valiantly to get Indian courts to uphold a ban against showing smoking & drinking in films and on TV. I believed wholeheartedly in the idea that art's 'job' (if there is such a thing) is to reflect the world we live in, not tell the world how it should be. (I'm very allergic to the word 'should' and am currently on steroids to deal with the matter). A. Ramadoss became a joke, an object of revulsion even. He was The Man and we had to band together and fight against The Man.
Perhaps the fact that I enjoyed my whiskey & occassional smoke had something to do with this.

Then in the last few weeks, two film experiences made me do a full BJP-style, double-standard turnaround. Both films also came closely timed with horrible incidents of criminality that have outraged & horrified the general public. One film made me plain mad. The other made me confused.

The first was Cocktail, over which I have expressed great anguish on Twitter and this blog. First, and importantly, purely as a cinema goer, I was thoroughly bored by it. At one point in the film, someone got hit by a car, making it the only redeeming moment in a dull screenplay (that the victim did not die, was a severe disappointment). This complete disdain, then, facilitated my righteous rage about the stereotypes it perpetuated. At first, these stereotypes were simply annoying (read: Spot The Slut if you haven't already). But after the Guwahati incident, they went from being simply annoying to dangerous.
What took me from a state of being offended to scared was this: The film is marketed and packaged as a hip, young, cool & progressive story of love and friendship that is actually built on highly regressive values. Dressed up all nice and fancy, it's difficult to notice what a sexist, lecherous & frustrated douchebag Saif Ali Khan's character is or what a potentially powerful and moving character, Deepika Padukone's could've been in spite of being scantily clad. I saw an instant connect between the values exhibited in the film and the terrible acts committed in Guwahati. I'll admit, I wished the film had never been made.
Perhaps the fact that I hated the movie and not just its politics had something to do with this.

Last evening I watched 'The Dark Knight Rises' and from the first frame I was hooked. Purely, as a cinema goer, I thought the grammar & symmetry of how its characters, technology, writing, cinematography & editing came together made it a fantastic experience I wouldn't have wanted to miss. Then came the first big shootout scene and I looked away from the screen, towards the exit doors of the cinema hall. "Was this the scene, where Holmes came in on those unsuspecting people in Aurora?" I thought. I quickly banished the idea and turned back to the movie. But how does one turn back from that? How does one disregard the glamorously brandished automatic weapons in the scene, the sexiness of the deranged bad guy? Or not wonder if one is losing ones mind? 
What made me feel torn between the two states of exhiliration & morbid terror was this: The film skirted dangerously between fantasy & psycho-social reality (in fact all Nolan-directed Batman films do). I am used to comic superheroes being exaggerated characters in exaggerated situations (perhaps created as a reaction to prevalent social issues of their time...Who knows? That's my next topic to google.). When I walk away from George Clooney's Batman, it's simple for me to distinguish between him and the real people I meet in the world. 
But the Nolan films aren't content to remain in fantasy land - at least not psychologically, socially or politically. For me, the lines often got too blurry, too rapidly. Maniacal characters like Bane (and the Joker) weren't just comic villains - but people with subtexts & stories I could relate to all too easily. If I were just that much more insane than I am, would I have wanted to emulate them? So I'll admit, even though I enjoyed the film thoroughly, I wish it had never been made.

I still don't know where I stand on holding art responsible for triggering society's ills. Through all my ire at Cocktail or discomfort with The Dark Knight Rises, I have never called for curtailing the rights of either filmmaker to create what they want. If I have a serious issue with them, I would rather bitch, moan, blog, tweet and text all my friends not to see the films. The idea of blanket bans makes me uncomfortable, because so much of who I am today is informed by art that's considered dangerous by someone else. At the same time, I've experienced the double-standards of my own subjective impulses to accept one artistic piece as admirable and the other, not.
So am I looking to unleash my inner A. Ramadoss on anyone? Not any time soon.

But here's what niggles at me: Perhaps the fact that I'm neither that girl in Guwahati, nor an unfortunate victim trapped in a cinema hall in Aurora, has something to do with it.
Read also: Stupid For Art by Mark Mann


  1. Uncomfortable question, indeed. I haven't been able to resolve this one either. I do believe that films have even a greater impact on us than we would like to believe.

    1. All these logically sound beliefs...and then all these emotions in the pit of our stomachs that say otherwise...

  2. Just yesterday she and I were discussing about Bachchan's Sharabi. The question was whether this movie influenced people to let go of their lives just the way their screen idol did. I, out of my love for the tipple, tried to assuage by saying that the movie does show the hero's downfall. She asked, "So what if an alcoholic wants to imitate that exact downfall?"

    1. Of course a sharabi's downfall is not just borne of imitation of a film character, one has to have other mitigating factors as well.
      But yeah...drop me a line when you guys figure it out :)