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When cinema kills

Films can entertain, engage and enthral audiences. But can they motivate people to commit crimes?

Do you remember Shah Rukh Khan’s Darr (1993)? The story revolved around a boy who starts obsessing over a girl. He goes on to stalk her, befriend her fiancé and kidnap her. In 2016, in a somewhat similar manner, a 24-year-old girl — an employee of Snapdeal — was stalked by a man in Delhi and later kidnapped. The man, whose intention was to ‘marry’ her, later confessed when interrogated by the police that he was inspired by Khan’s character in Darr.

This is just one of many incidents where a person has confessed of being inspired by a film to commit a crime. The latest among these is the case of UP’s Ashwini Kashyap, who was an avid TikTok user. He, often known as Johny Dada, would post images of actor Shahid Kapoor from his film Kabir Singh.

In one of his TikTok videos, he also repeated the dialogue from the film: “Jo mera nahi ho sakta, usse kisi aur ke hone ka mauka nahi doonga (Who is not mine, will not be someone else’s either).” Kashyap murdered Nitika Sharma, a Dubai-based flight attendant he was obsessed with and who was to get married in December to someone else.

Though, the filmmaker Sandeep Reddy Vanga has defended his film and stated that Kabir Singh does not promote murder, but glorifying such an aggressive character have not gone down well with many. The film was already under controversies for its glorification of toxic masculinity, and this latest incident has further created some more.

But this occurrence yet again puts Bollywood films, or films in general, under radar — are they really capable of motivating crimes? According to Neelam Mishra, a Delhi-based Psychologist, they can. “The basic phenomena of human psychology say that people choose and follow whatever makes their image come across as ‘powerful’. In such movies (like Kabir Singh) where so much aggression, misconduct, misbehaviour is shown, sometimes people take it as a correct step and follow it. They consider it correct as their immediate need is being gratified. Secondly, it also depends upon the fan following of the actor, as people follow their idol without realising or rationalising that they are playing a character in a movie.”

Moreover, a closer look at the records definitely point towards the fact that films have inspired crimes in the past – many a times. Irrfan Khan starrer Hindi Medium (2017) – which was about the tormenting process parents go through during their child’s admission in schools – apparently inspired a Delhi businessman. He faked his economic status to acquire a seat for his son in Sanskriti School of Chanakyapuri under the economically weaker section.

Likewise, Rajkumar Hirani’s Munna Bhai MBBS (2003) starring Sanjay Dutt inspired many to impersonate in medical tests. Also, Boman Irani starrer Khosla ka Ghosla (2006) inspired a group of DDA employees in Delhi to resold plots by forging documents. The police also agreed that their mode of operation appeared to have been inspired by the film.

Apart from these, many other Bollywood films like Dhoom, Bunty aur Babli, Shootout at Lokhandwala, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Dolly ki Doli, Bombay to Goa and more have said to inspire people to engage in unlawful activities. Even Hollywood films are not far behind. Rather, films like Child’s Play, Saw franchise, Taxi Driver, The Matrix – and many such – have reportedly inspired gruesome crimes like murders outside India.

“I believe films or series – these have the full potential to motivate people to commit crimes. For instance, in Kolkata, there was an infamous case of a schoolgirl murdering her classmate using a plastic bag – which she later confessed has learnt from a crime series she’s been following,” says Indrani Basu, 24, who works for a news channel.

Devlina Bose, 23, seconds her view. “When you are young, you tend to get easily influenced by what you see. And this can have a lasting impact on the way you perceive things,” she says. Working for a PR firm in Delhi, Bose further shares her personal experience, “I watched Urmila Matondkar starrer Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya when I was just 14. There, a girl obsesses over a man and it drives her mad! Since I was naïve back then, the film made me think that it’s okay to obsess over someone or that such toxicity in love is normal – which is definitely not!”

Recently, Todd Phillips’s Joker – starring Joaquin Phoenix in the lead – has been breaking records, gaining huge critical as well as commercial success. It’s the background story of Joker – the ‘villain’ in Batman franchise’s The Dark Knight. “The film is no doubt a masterpiece. But if you reflect upon how you react while you are watching it, you will realise how it not only makes you feel good when he was killing people, but you will cheer for him when he is shown committing those gruesome murders,” says Siddharth Sharma, 29, a photographer by profession.

Subhasmit Mondal, 28, also adds to this thought, saying that portrayal of negative characters in a ‘heroic’ manner sometimes inspires audience to ‘act’ that way. “After watching Sacred Games, many of us started idolising Ganesh Gaitonde, which was quite twisted. Even his dialogue ‘kabhi kabhi lagta hai apun hi bhagwan hain (sometimes I feel like I am God) got famous and we started using it casually, as if it’s so cool and hip – but it’s not! After all, he’s a gangster who was killing people.”

Many have often pointed out that after films promote a certain concept, people start believing in it – subconsciously. “I feel Bollywood films – for a long time – made stalking look okay. A girl chasing a boy or even forcing her to ‘love’ him – all these were normalised by Hindi films. Even critically acclaimed films like Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se was disturbing to watch. The protagonist almost obsessed over the girl, stalked and chased her literally and it was branded as ‘love’. I did not feel it’s right. And that’s how some might get the notion it’s okay to stalk or obsess over someone,” says Parita Dey, 24, a research scholar.

So, do films have the power to manipulate the mind of audience – and make the wrong appear as right? “Definitely. People follow what they see, films can manipulate the mindset of the audience,” adds Mishra. “When films persistently show a negative task, which is being accepted by actor’s family members in a movie they get mental approval to pursue the task and expect others to approve of it as well and consider it morally and ethically correct, due to such conditioning which they have got. Such films distort a person’s mindset, especially of adolescents,” she concludes.