Editorial: Animal instinct
It was argued that filmmakers, as well as stars have a responsibility towards society, and that film content must not perpetuate sexist, ‘alpha-male’ behaviour directed at women, as done by the protagonist of the said film
CHENNAI: The French New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Godard had once written an ad for his film Bande a part (Band of Outsiders) claiming that, as per filmmaker DW Griffith, all one needs to make a movie is “a girl and a gun.” The remark hasn’t aged well, seen in the backdrop of the release of a new Hindi movie called Animal, starring Ranbir Kapoor. It has inspired a slugfest — with many referring to the film as a regressive showcase of misogyny and objectification of women, peppered with gratuitous violence that could send out the wrong message to impressionable male viewers.
It was argued that filmmakers, as well as stars have a responsibility towards society, and that film content must not perpetuate sexist, ‘alpha-male’ behaviour directed at women, as done by the protagonist of the said film. The fears are not unfounded as India is wracked by episodes of sexual violence suffered by women, across age groups. On the other end are advocates of freedom of expression, who say films are a means of mass entertainment, and that the audience is endowed with the choice of watching a film, or skipping it.
The furore surrounding this new release assumed a local angle after a Tamil actress raved about the ‘cult film’ on Twitter, only to delete the tweet later. The star in question was trolled mercilessly with comments such as, “Only last week, she was lecturing us on a woman’s dignity.” Vitriol aside, it’s worth asking, is there any merit to the arguments presented by those who sought to ban the film?
To contextualise this, it might help to recall the reception meted out to Stanley Kubrick’s controversial dystopian drama A Clockwork Orange, when it was released in the UK in January 1972.
Replete with disturbing sequences of sexual violence against women, the film was said to have inspired several copycat crimes, as per the British press. At the director’s behest, the film was withdrawn from theatres in UK. While it was banned in several other countries, the film experienced a cultural and critical re-evaluation in subsequent years, thereby gaining a cult following. The film was re-released in the UK only in 2000, a year after Kubrick’s death, and today, it is referred to as one of the definitive masterpieces of the 70s.
India also has its fair share of ‘video nasties’, so to speak. Back in 1980, the Hindi film Insaf Ka Tarazu, inspired by the American exploitation flick Lipstick (1976), set into motion the rape-revenge trend of Bollywood films, that was replicated across regional film industries. Once that fad died down, filmmakers refashioned the cabaret as item numbers and rain songs, breezing past the Censor Board with a U certificate. Instead, what really ended up ruffling feathers were arthouse movies like Fire, Bandit Queen, Black Friday. Two years ago, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights asked Netflix to stop streaming the show Bombay Begums over the inappropriate portrayal of children. This was based on a complaint which alleged that the series normalised minors indulging in casual sex and drug abuse (because that’s obviously unheard of, in India).
If it’s any consolation, there is next to no research linking gun violence and sexual assaults to either cinema, computer games, literature, or music. Art imitates life, but it’s seldom the other way around.