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Cinema, violence and the young

 | April 9, 2013

Why can't parents and theatres exercise their right or fulfil their responsibility and stop children from walking into violent films?


One of the questions that worries the world today is the link between violence on the screen and violence off it. While it may not be entirely justified to say that ghastly events like the recent school shootout in the US in which many young children and some adults died are inspired by the bloodshed and carnage one sees in cinema, the connection cannot be entirely dismissed.

A poll conducted by The Hollywood Reporter some time ago found that 70 per cent of the people 30 said there was indeed too much of savagery in films and television. And that this was influencing especially the young.

Unfortunately, some moviemakers, some parents and some theatre managements seem to turn a blind eye towards this link. They even make fun of it.

In a recent interview with Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy, American cult director Quentin Tarantino was visibly enraged when he was asked to comment on reel and real violence.

Although this is a question that he has answered throughout his career, best known for such sadistically styled films as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Tarantino lost his cool this time. Maybe he could not think of some clever answer as he did some time ago by rightly pointing out that even Shakespeare was subject to a similar scrutiny.

Alright then, let us allow helmers like Tarantino the freedom to express what they want to through their movies. This can be their artistic liberty.

But my question and concern are why cannot parents and theatres exercise their right or fulfil their responsibility and stop children from walking into violent films, rated as they often are for adults?

I watched Tarantino’s Django Unchained in a Chennai multiplex some evenings ago. Admittedly, it was not one of his most savage films. Even then, there was enough bloodshed and carnage that was unsuited for the young and the impressionable.

Yet, children between six and 12 walked in, duly escorted by their parents – and right past ushers. Nobody stopped the kids from sitting through the A-certified movie.

Again, I saw Kinslin’s Vatthikuchi, also in a Chennai multiplex theatre. A Tamil work, produced by the Hollywood giant, Fox Star Studios, the film, starring newcomer Dhileban and Anjali, 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, intelligence insulting plot to weave, Kinslin helms a movie which is not even pleasing to watch. 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 atrociously graphic can Kinslin’s work 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 the 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.

For film critics like us 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.

As much as theatre managements are bound to 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. Parents must understand and accept that violent imagery triggers violent responses in especially the young. And crudity breeds sick minds.

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 movie 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 film.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at [email protected]


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