Has Game of Thrones turned us into perverted audiences who enjoy violence? Worry not. Filmmaker Zeishan Quadri says it is as old as the visual medium itself
The relationship between on-screen violence and real-world violence has been much debated. As a director, I will always defend violence in films and TV shows as a slice of life — a reflection of the real world.
A lot of cinema, in the West, and more so in India, shies away from depicting the brutal nature of violence. The fear, perhaps, is that it will keep family audiences away, or earn the film an ‘A’ rating. Small audience equals lesser money.
But that’s not always true. When we made Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), we kept the violence real. As a result, the film stood out, and created its own audience. Without it, it just wouldn’t work. In fact, when people in the Hindi-speaking belt of the country saw the film, they didn’t call the violence ‘graphic’. Instead, they identified with it. Such acts are still a part of life there.
The TV series Game of Thrones is criticised and hailed equally for being violent and or setting a new benchmark in blood and gore. Yet, violence is as old as the visual medium. Think Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (1971).
If the setting of an era demands violence, it must be shown realistically. In GoT, we’re talking about a time before guns and canons. So the killing is done with swords, spears, arrows and poison. Naturally, it appears all the more gruesome. Besides, which power struggle isn’t bloody? On the show, a father kills a child, a son kills his father. In Wasseypur, a wife has her husband killed. In a way, it’s all the same.
Of course, cinematically, graphic violence is not used only for realism; it’s also used to elicit emotions: titillation/excitement/utter revulsion/terror, depending on the genre and the method. A certain degree of graphic violence has become de rigueur in the adult ‘action’ genre; it’s calibrated to excite emotions, but not induce revulsion. In horror or slasher movies, the violence is more extreme: to inspire fear and shock.
And then, you have Quentin Tarantino. In Kill Bill (2003), for instance, his treatment of The Bride’s assassinations feel animated. It’s a combination of art and violence. Tarantino makes violence on screen so graceful, so visually dazzling, that our emotional responses undermine any rational objections we might have. In that, he is able to transform murder, an object of shock and outrage, into one of aesthetic beauty. As The Bride kills, she is like an artist: the weapons and the blood her brush and paint.
In India, too, violence on screen isn’t new. Take the 1970s, for instance. It was a period of political, economic and social turmoil. Due to the war with Pakistan and the state of Emergency, crime rates were high. Influenced by this deep crisis and civil unrest, Indian cinema churned out some highly violent and action-packed films. To express anger and aggression, it formulated a genre characterised by revenge, violence, and anti-heroes. Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man came to be the representation of boiling anger among youngsters searching for revenge and justice. By the end of the ’70s, effectively, action came to replace the romantic stuff at the box office.
Sholay (1975) is a great example. The scene where Thakur’s hands are severed by Gabbar Singh does not shed a single drop of blood on screen. Yet, the impact is deeply disturbing.
Violence on screen is neither good nor bad. You can’t gauge it in comparison to other material, and you definitely can’t judge it out of context.
You had feuding lords and power-hungry kings in medieval times. You have terrorism and bomb blasts now. The violence in both the times is real. The depiction of it, too, must be so.
Actor and film-maker Quadri wrote Gangs of Wasseypur, so he knows a thing or two about on-screen violence. He tweets as @zeishan_quadri