Two weeks ago, I was waiting in a lounge at the Bangalore City Station, when my gaze fell on a little lad of about six or seven years of age. He was standing at the doorway and using his hands – quite imaginatively I would say – to shoot with a gun he probably dreamt of holding. Of course, there was no gun, but plenty of “shots” flew all around. With the sounds he made from his mouth and the gestures his hands carved out in the air, he could have killed a lot many people on the railway platform that afternoon. But, well, he had no gun.
Where did he get this idea of shooting with a weapon – something I could have never thought of when I was the boy’s age. I probably would have mimicked the hiss of a steam engine or the whirr of a motorcycle! Obviously the boy must have got this imagery into his head from cinema and television, which incidentally is so filmy in content.
This takes us back to a question that never ceases to bother me. Has the meaningless violence which one sees in movies slipped off the screen and onto the streets? The jury is still out there. But with charges and counter-charges being traded against the kind of cinema which revels in blood and gore, I certainly feel that the behaviour of children and adolescents is often guided by screen images.
In any case, there is nothing new about this. Boys and girls have always copied the mannerisms and fashion of their favourite films stars. Boys styled their hair the way Dev Anand combed his. Girls got the “Sadhana” hairdo. Boys yahooed Shammi Kapoor or turned into Devdases when jilted in love. Girls wore high heeled footwear like the heroines and struggled to walk. But the in the past, cinema violence was neither as gruesome as it is now, nor as common.
However, the picture is enormously different today. Cinema or television has little to do with style, more to do with sadism. Cops hammer suspects in police stations. In Dabangg 2, the villain played by Prakash Raj wants Salman Khan’s Chulbul Pandey killed and sliced into tiny bits! How grisly can all this get. Some of the Tamil movies freely use the sickle not to harvest the rice crop, but to slit the jugular. It is a different fashion we are talking about today. In Aaranya Kaandam, blood flew out of men’s bodies to make geometric patterns on the walls – a la Quentin Tarantino.
This brings us to the American cult director whose early movies like Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill left a gory mess on the screen – and enormous discomfort in my head. Now, Mr Tarantino is said to have been “audibly annoyed when a (recent) radio interview turned to talk of film violence sparking real-world violence”.
Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, asked the director whether he would begin to enjoy violent movies less after the December 14 school shootout (20 children and six adults dead) at Newtown in the U.S. “Would I watch a Kung Fu film three days after the Sandy Hook massacre? Would I watch a Kung Fu movie? Maybe, 'cause they have nothing to do with each other,” Tarantino said.
Tarantino was angry at being asked this, and he said so. “I'm really annoyed. I think it's disrespectful. I think it's disrespectful to their memory ... of the people who died to talk about films,” he said. “I think it's totally disrespectful to their memory. Obviously, the issue is gun control and mental health.”
The American helmer may have a point when he talks about gun control, which Washington has never been able to implement, given the powerful lobby supporting the possession of weapons. Yet, the recent school tragedy has sparked a furious debate in the U.S., where the violent scenes from Tarantino’s latest movie, Django Unchained, were used to slam actors who were hypocritical to ask for stricter gun control laws while they themselves played horribly macabre men on the screen!
A poll conducted by The Hollywood Reporter found that 70 per cent of the people over age 30 questioned answered that there was indeed too much of savagery in films and television. And that this was influencing especially the young. But, of course, Tarantino had a different take. And as I said, the jury is still out.
As much as I would campaign for a gun free society in America, I would not like to forget that India has reportedly the second largest number of weapons after the U.S. Not all of them are guns here, though. They could be knives, sickles and when these are not available, iron rods would do. At the recent rape and murder of a 23-year-old para-medic in Delhi, a teenager used an iron rod to rip out her intestines. How horrifying can things get? How did he become such a monster? I shudder to think of the horror he perpetrated.
Let me return to the train station on a pleasant afternoon to watch something that was not so pleasant. The boy was getting ready for a shooting spree. Unless, of course, his parents see this coming and stop him.
Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing onIndian and international cinema for over three decades.