Do films glorifying crime, sexism and toxic masculinity, impact society in a negative way? Film-makers plead that they have creative licence and can’t be held responsible for the fallout
‘Kkkkkkiran.’ This is how a man (read: stalker) calls the ‘love of his life’ in a 1993 Bollywood film, which went on to become iconic. Shah Rukh Khan himself infused life into this character of a mentally disturbed man who starts an unhealthy obsession with a woman named Kiran (played by Juhi Chawla). Not only did the film gain immense success, Khan’s character even received a lot of love from the audience.
This was not the first time that a Bollywood film glorified toxic masculinity or crime against women. From songs to plots, Hindi films often denoted women as mere “objects of desire.” Sexism is deep-rooted in the films we have grown up watching, and though things seem to move towards a better direction in recent times, there’s a long way to go.
Recently, a topic has come to the forefront of public discourse – do films glorifying crime, sexism, toxic masculinity, to name a few, impact society in a negative way?
There’s one section who believes it definitely does. Reason? Just take a look at the crimes which were committed inspired by Bollywood films like Dhoom, Bunty aur Babli, Special 26, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Munnabhai MBBS, among many.
In this regard, mention must be made of the infamous 2016 Dipti Sarna abduction case which shocked the entire nation. Sarna, a 24-year-old Snapdeal employee, was abducted by a man who confessed he was inspired by Shah Rukh Khan’s character in the film Darr.
Similarly, in the most recent murder case of Nikita Tomar, the murderer admitted killing her, inspired by the character of Munna Tripathi in the popular Amazon Prime series Mirzapur. In a recent interview with an online news portal, Divyendu Sharma — the actor who played Munna – expressed concern over the incident.
“I feel very unfortunate. Something that is made for pure entertainment, if you misconstrue that…I feel sad. Why do people get inspired by evil? It’s a question we need to ask our society. What have we done with our youth that these things excite him? Is he unemployed? Is he uneducated? In our country, an 18-year-old can choose the government but does he have that intellect?” Sharma was quoted as saying.
This truly is a question to ponder upon. The primary function of films and series are to entertain and engage the audience, and also to educate and inspire at times. But can these be misinterpreted in a negative way and used as a justification for a crime committed?
Undoubtedly, films and series have the power to influence. But can it be blamed solely for an individual’s behaviour?
Well, India — the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) to be specific — probably believes so. Their recent decision of banning the broadcast of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker on any Indian television channel (even though it is available on Amazon Prime India) says a lot! The order from the official body, citing the reason, read: “The film glorifies violence and in case it is seen by non-adults, it would have a lasting effect on their impressionable minds.”
Does this mean films do have the power to propagate crimes? If a film or series supposedly glorifies an anti-hero or a negative character, can it harm the audience’s mind psychologically? Probably it does. But films are an art form – an expression of an individual (or a team) vision. And this makes us question creative liberty. A maker or creators of a film or series have the liberty to express themselves creatively – even if that entails portraying a dark character as someone who will evoke sympathy in the audience.
For instance, the whole controversy revolving around Joker was exactly about this. It was loved by most, yet hated by some – who believe the film glorifies gore, thereby is capable of perpetrating violence. Phoenix left an interview midway when he was asked whether Joker might inspire copycat behaviour. Also, he was quoted as saying, “I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong.”
“You can’t blame movies for a world that is so fucked up that anything can trigger it,” said Todd Phillips, Joker’s filmmaker.
“It’s kind of an empathy toward isolation and an empathy towards what is our duty as a society to address people who slip through the cracks, in a way. There is a lot of culture of that right now. So is it empathy for that or just an observation on personalities who struggle?” said Joker co-star Beetz in an interview with Variety, throwing light on the controversy.
And this also makes us question: If films are mere observations of certain personalities, and not ‘glorification’ then is it right to blame them for inducing crimes? They have the power to influence, and as the famous saying goes – “with power comes responsibility” — thus any creative content when put forth for the world to view must be dealt with sensitivity and responsibly.
That might be a tricky situation to be in – especially when films are getting more and more rooted in reality. So there’s no conclusion one can reach regarding this debate, it seems. The only way out is probably to view films as films, and bask in the magical cinematic experience…keeping negativity at bay.
(Cover : A recent murder case revealed the offender sought inspiration from a character from the popular Amazon Prime series Mirzapur)