Young and impressionable minds are susceptible to being easily influenced by what they see and hear. They have been so forever. But the bombardment of videos, pictures and graphic descriptions of various kinds of human activities has never been as prolific as they are nowadays.
Thus a great deal of responsibility rests upon the shoulders of those who dish out content these days. Various types of media- television, radio, the internet, social media and of course films- need to take a reality check on whatever they are emanating continually to society at large. While some of them have censors keeping a supposedly eagle eye on goings-on, the internet and social media are largely unregulated and unstoppable.
Visual media like cinema and television are meant to be means of entertainment and information. But by their very nature and tremendous reach they are (to use a new fangled word) influencers, in their own right. Their influence has extended to shaping trends and fashions for long years past, but they have also been reflective of social trends and mores. Several decades ago, Hindi films that highlighted ills like superstitions and caste based discrimination in society were the norm. Their social impact was appreciable and they went a long way in liberating some sections of society, at least in terms of thought processes, from restrictions and confinement.
The Bollywood hero was a major upholder of righteousness and values in his portrayals in that era. The heroine too, often stood up to unjustness and oppression, and the audience felt a sense of oneness with both these flag bearers
of truth despite the odds. The villain had been a separate institution ever since Bollywood was born. He, or even she, would represent all that is bad and ugly with the world.
But over the past few years, villains have vanished. Supposedly realistic portrayals of the frailties of lead characters have made them heroes as well as villains rolled into one!
Thus the transformation of male and female leads in films into people with weaknesses, lusts, negativities and flaws has taken place almost irrevocably. The impressionable youngster to whom I alluded above tends to identify himself or herself even with a hateful character played by a popular actor. ‘Sanju’, the biography of Sanjay Dutt, highlighted with brutal frankness all the vices that its lead character possessed. And in ‘Veere di Wedding’ the four female mainstays used foul language ad nauseum, as if it were most natural thing for girls to do. Punjabi and Hindi songs with suggestive lyrics eulogizing drugs and even gangsters have already been the subject of debate in these parts, but their creators do not seem to have any qualms about belting them out with regularity.
Ironically, it was the venerable Mr Amitabh Bachchan who perhaps first played the anti-hero- a drunkard, a smuggler and a man of loose character- with aplomb, to start the trend of the hero with the tainted persona.
The fact remains that while artistic license surely vests in film makers and their ilk, a sense of responsibility about who is being influenced by their films and in what manner, has to be maintained. Even TV Shows that thrive on revenge and machinations of all sorts need to temper their vehemence at times. Films need to likewise check the graphic nature of their dialogues and messages, keeping in view the unwonted effects which they may have on the social milieu.
Thus the next time Ranveer Singh or Ranbir Kapoor is asked to play a scheming swindler who pedals drugs and deceives young women into relationships on the pretext of marrying them, the director of the film should at least pause to think. A Harvard study points out that most children would have seen thousands of murders and other acts of violence on screen before they reach middle school! It is no wonder that many kids resort to unseemly displays of anger with their friends these days.
Artistic brilliance of the unbridled sort needs surely to be tempered by pragmatism and an assessment of the waves it will create. Let us not allow it to further vitiate a world which is already saddled with insurmountable problems.