To be sure, this is not the first article that is against the trend of depicting violence graphically in cinema.
One of the first news pieces that I read against glorifying gore on screen was back in the 80s, when the movies that were being made then could have actually been in contention for Nobel peace prize these days.
The point is, violence on screen has been bothering thinkers and writers of all eras. And every period has been progressively getting worse. But this is the age of extreme political correctness, and cultural commissars expect screen characters to be prim and proper.
A film like Mani Ratnam's Kaatru Veliyidai (2017) is a much reviled film, not because it was deemed to be poorly made, but the hero in the film was seen as a toxic character.
Hence the recent success of films — in which violence is not only elaborate but also celebrated — is something that makes you wonder about the efficacy of the woke brigade.
Violence, as an artistic muse, has a place on screen. It cannot be our place to say what a director should do and how a scene should be encapsulated.
But violence in movies, especially ones that are part of the proceedings of heroic vigour, should come with proper disclaimers or warnings. Viewers can then take a call on whether to watch it or not, especially with impressionable young ones in the family.
For these kinds of disclaimers to be effective, the movies' classification on its genre needs to be pronounced.
But in India, the problem is most films are beyond easy categorisation, and most of them are broad-stroked and try to be all things to all the people at the same time. The ones we glibly label as mainstream masala. The ones in service of a large star are the real problems.
Take the specific example of the films of top stars of Tamil — Rajni, Kamal, Ajith and Vijay. Just look at their respective last movies — Jailer, Vikram, Thunivu, and Leo.
These four are directed respectively by Lokesh Kanagaraj, Nelson Dilipkumar and H Vinoth — the three are considered to be the among the best talents in the Tamil filmdom. And each one of them has won their spurs for 'creatively' canning violent scenes. And that says its all. Violence sells.
Vijay's latest release Leo, illuminatingly, is an official reprise of the 2005 English movie A History of Violence. The film does not hide what it is all about.
Those who had seen the original would know that it was a reflective attempt at grappling with the idea of violence. A man, who wants to escape violence as he had been part of it earlier, finds it impossible to shrug it off. The past keeps catching up with him. The film, despite its naked brutality, was underpinned by a strange philosophical feel.
Leo, on the other hand, unfortunately ends up as a visceral celebration of the idea of violence. It has no philosophical pretensions. A blood-curdling violent set-piece is followed by a toe-tapping rhythm-filled song that enjoins you to dance.
In our films, it is no longer a moral or even a legal crime to kill. Life goes on with nary a difference.
In the other big hit of the season, Jailer, there is a scene in which the actor scythes the head of two malcontents who chase him with provocative, trolling comments.
The scene, the way it is conceptualised and executed, is actually cinematically splendid. The surprise element, the severity of the action — all add to its allure. And the dialogue that follows it also kind of justifies the act.
The allure part is the danger here. It is all packaged attractively and makes a gory kill, cool and hep.
The situation was not this dire at least two or three decades back.
Take for instance, Kamal's scintillatingly brilliant Thevar Magan (1992). In the film's emotive climax, there is a stunning choreographed fight sequence between Sakthi (Kamal) and Maran (Nasser). It is an organic set-piece where the fight seems all real and ferocious. And in one fell swoop, Sakthi furiously slashes out Maran's head from the torso. It is one stunning shot and the violence hits you in your gut with full vehemence.
But what follows is the thing. The Kamal character understands that what he has done is a heinous crime. He says that such violence is never an answer to any situations and adds 'poyi pulla kuttingala padikka vaingada' (make your children study).
There is no such countervailing intellectual bulwark in today's films. Kamal's last flick, Vikram, has everybody shooting at everybody else. All have a gun, or worse, even a cannon, to carry out the fight. It is all designed as a whistle-worthy spectacle. The romanticisation of violence is insidious, and hence doubly dangerous.
Even in movies like Viduthalai (2023), Saani Kaayidham (2022), and Karnan (2021) the violence is in-your-face. But at least those movies were part of a larger political discourse. But the sensibility that someone like Vetrimaran brings to his action set-pieces is still a bit disturbing.
The real issue here is when mainstream movies of Rajni, Kamal, Ajith and Vijay, whose movies are consumed by the general audience of all age groups, are made, then there has to be some moral responsibility in how violence is depicted on screen. A certain amount of sensitivity is needed.
The idea of 'caveat emptor' holds true. But that doesn't absolve the creative makers of their intellectual lapses. Massy moments can be conjured sans billowing cigarette smoke, flashing knives and snazzy guns. Blood-letting can never be fashionable.
When Kamal or Rajini mow down a man mercilessly and break out into a punch dialogue, it becomes a validation of the violence that preceded it.
Over the decades, studies have expressed concern about portraying crime and violence on screen. Researches reveal that frequent exhibition of crime and violent content could cause insensitivity among viewers.
But here we have moved to a numb and unconcerned state where we not only depict gore in all its glory, if that is the word, but also make it all seem agreeable and applause-worthy.
And that's the real unkindest cut.
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