Recently, the film, Animal created a buzz in theatres and on OTT. I didn’t flinch at the unnecessary violence, either and took the uncanny storyline in my stride. I laughed at the blood and gore, all of it happening to foot-tapping music and larger-than-life visuals. The film became an unprecedented hit with the hero, Ranbir Kapoor walking away with the top honours at the Filmfare awards.
It’s time we reflected on what it is within us that makes us watch these kinds of films and yet carry on with our day – undisturbed, happily taking the excess violence in our stride. There was a time when viewers would get emotionally upset and their stomachs would literally churn at violent scenes being played out on screen. Now, it is no big deal.
I will confess that I have an appetite for the macabre and discovered Perry Mason even before I had hit my teens in the early ’70s. Erle Stanley Gardner still figures on my list of must-reads. James Hadley Chase and Agatha Christie followed and I still read both Perry Mason books and Hercule Poirot mysteries. More recently, the exploits of Major Jack Reacher have catapulted me into many more killing fields. Long live Lee Child’s hero.
Some 50 years later, now that I have time on my hands after retirement, I have discovered the joys of OTT and have spent hours watching stuff like the Mentalist, How to Get Away With Murder, The Lincoln Lawyer, Reacher and more.
So, I didn’t think much about the violence in Animal. This kind of stuff trends on OTT and audiences can take it in their stride. Animal is still trending at Number 1 on Netflix and I expect it will stay in that slot for a while.
What is it in such movies and serials that hold sway over our hearts? Is this what Kaliyug is about – that we are so bereft of noble, uplifting thoughts that we voluntarily watch such bloody stories without flinching? Movies are no longer just about victory of good over evil. Sometimes, it is evil vs evil – and the more powerful among the two wins with his endless bag of tricks. It is the law of the jungle – where power and brute force conquers the weaker foe.
Violence is today a crowd puller. It always was. Remember the Greek kings who held bloody contests in stadiums and the audience roared with excitement as blood spilled. Closer home, Tamil Nadu makes a big thing out of jallikattu and even the government promotes this bloody sport as a tourism event.
Studies of superhit films reveal that 90 per cent of these rely on violent action to have the adrenalin flowing in the audience’s veins. Everyone watching gets a thrill out of it. IMDb.com rates films like Squid Game as 8 out of 10 from almost 600,000 viewers while a traditional, gentle romance barely scores average ratings from far fewer viewers.
Psychologists give the reasoning that violence causes a knot to form in your stomach – and this reaction makes you sit at the edge of your seat as you watch your superhero thrash the living daylights out of his foe. It adds to the palpable tension and excitement and ratings go up.
Jonathan F Bassett, psychology professor at an American university in Sorth Carolina says that “For years, pundits have speculated about television’s role in contributing to real world aggression, suggesting that the prevalence of violent media signals a decadent and declining civilization that craves gratuitous violence as a vicarious satisfaction of base impulses.”
Or do we relish violence because the superhero movie genre is now here to stay? Those days of old-fashioned films showcasing an easy way of life in which good vs evil was an underlying metaphor have long gone. We now believe (in the words of Professor Bassett) that channels like “television (and films) perpetuate death denial through the presentation of exceptionally resilient characters who prove impossible to kill. Protagonists in action and superhero genres survive repeated attempts on their lives against seemingly insurmountable odds….”
The new breed of movie-makers today are in their 30’s and 40’s – a generation that grew up with video games, Nintendo and PlayStation. My son who belongs to the former age group invested a considerable amount on a PlayStation and several of his contemporaries have got similar devices at home. To them, violence is amply depicted in video games, as are people who pop it with a precise aim of the gun or machine gun. Violence sells as do images of planes swooping low to the ground dropping bombs, bringing death from the skies. So what if there is gore and bloodshed? After all, life is a video game.
Reena Singh has more than 38 years’ experience in senior editorial positions in The Times of India (TOI) and Genpact. She was Deputy Editor with TOI’s spiritual newspaper, The Speaking Tree, where she spent nine years.