Some evenings ago, I watched Kinslin’s Vatthikuchi in a Chennai multiplex theatre. A Tamil work, produced by the Hollywood giant, Fox Star Studios, the film starred newcomer Dhileban and Anjali, Vatthikuchi or Matchstick is a crime thriller with the usual dose of mushy romance, this time between a share autorickshaw driver, Shakti, and a lower middleclass girl, Meena, who pretends to be rich, hiding behind designer dresses and Gucci goggles.
With a bizarre plot in hand, Kinslin helms a movie that is neither credible nor pleasing. Rather, it is bloody gruesome in several parts. Here is one: a man is tied to a rail track, and after the train had run over him, the camera lingers on the twitching headless torso before panning to the head itself! Ugh! How sadistically graphic Kinslin’s work could get.
Watching all this along with me that evening were many children, some barely six or seven years old. Most of them were visibly scarred when they saw Shakti take on baddies, three of them. Each of these men had his own bloody battle to fight, but was united with the others in a conspiracy to kill the driver.
And why did they want to murder him? Shakti was a do-gooder, a man who loved to help society, and in the bargain, he attracted the ire of those whose path he crossed. Here is one example, Shakti overhears a murder plot being hatched over the mobile telephone in a bus-stop, and well, he foils the evil plan, but not before several sickles have crisscrossed and clashed in a deathly pattern, and litres of blood spilt on the ground.
Forced to – I would presume so -- to watch all this gore were the children with their parents, who were happily munching nachos and popcorn or staring into their mobile phones. I saw one with an I-Pad!
For a film critic like me, sitting through trash cinema is an occupational hazard. But I have often found that the goings-on on the screen were somewhat more tolerable than what went on in the auditorium.
Here is an experience of one writer, and I quote: “Parents take their kids along to watch the most inappropriate movies. Without a care in the world. I remember sitting down to watch Manoj Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. A horribly wretched film. Then a young child (3 or 4 years old) walked in with his dad. In the first few scenes of the movie, a woman takes her knitting needle and stabs herself in the neck – on screen. The father next to me, simply clamped his hand over the boy’s eyes, while the boy kept yelping ‘Pappa kya ho raha hain, dekhne do’ (Dad, what is happening?). And then, since people just randomly keep killing themselves in this film at intervals of 10 seconds, the father spent the entire duration of the movie with his hand clamped over the little boy’s eyes. While I had to suffer not just the film, but also the young boy’s plaintive pleas to be allowed to watch a movie he’d been brought to see”.
This was violence, but Indian cinema could well come with its twin, vulgarity. Some months ago, I saw Abbas-Mustan’s Race 2 with an ensemble cast that had Saif Ali Khan, John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Bipasha Basu, Deepika Padukone and Ameesha Patel. Kapoor’s Robert D’Costa for most of his screen time keeps addressing Cherry’s (Patel) breasts or pawing her or making obscene gestures with fruits like bananas and apples. Yet, parents saw nothing wrong in letting their young children come along to sit through this garbage.
Then there was this movie called I, Me Aur Main, where John Abraham’s character has oral sex with Chitrangda’s character. When a little girl in the audience asked her mother what the man was doing on the screen, the mother shut her up by telling her to concentrate on her potato wafers.
I have been wondering for a long time why Indian parents were so irresponsible. Do they not realise that they are sowing the seeds for unhealthy minds? Do they not understand that such harrowingly coarse and brutal images have the power to disturb a young mind, an impressionable mind – perhaps driving them to rape and murder?
And cinemas in Chennai seem to have no qualms about admitting children to movies with adult certificates. In today’s India with its declining profits and rising greed, theatres are merely interested in maximising returns. One seat occupied is one ticket money gained. So what if a child were to sit on it to watch absolutely nauseating fare.
As much as it is the obligation of cinema managements to make sure that they strictly follow the adult-only rule, parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s welfare. It is on the parents that the wellbeing of a future community rests. This is indisputable. And parents must understand that violent imagery triggers violent responses in especially the young.
In an authoritative paper titled “Film Violence and Young Offenders”, Amanda E. Pennell and Kevin D. Browne of the School of Psychology, University of Birmingham and Glenthorne Youth Treatment Centre, Birmingham, cite Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers to draw a link between sadism on screen and off it. It was recorded that the film inspired copy killings. Ten of them! In Dallas, a 14-year-old boy decapitated a girl and bragged to his friends that he wanted to be as famous as the Natural Born Killers. In Paris, two young students went on a killing spree whose style matched that in the movie.
In India, with the blurring of lines between the hero and the villain as well as between the heroine and the vamp, children face a dilemma in making choices. If the heroine were to dress provocatively and dance to seductive “item” numbers (with plenty of pelvic thrusts), what is wrong in aping her, kids wonder. After all, she is the heroine, the good girl, not the vamp or the bad girl. Again, if heroes can drink, smoke, gamble, shoot at sight and kill at will, why cannot little boys do the same. After all, these men are heroes, not villains.
The fore, the moral of my piece: cinema must be socially aware and accountable. Parents even more so.