COLOMBO: Are pan-India films promoting too much violence?

COLOMBO: Are pan-India films promoting too much violence?

COLOMBO: ‘Violence likes me… I can’t avoid,’ says Yash in all his swag in ‘KGF 2’. Be it ‘KGF’, Ram Charan and Jr NTR’s ‘RRR’, Allu Arjun’s ‘Pushpa’, Vijay’s ‘Beast’ or Ajith’s ‘Valimai’, South films are clearly the flavour of the season in the post pandemic era of entertainment in India. While these films released pan-India and raked in huge collections at the box office, one can inarguably conclude that action sells like no other genre among the Indian audience.

Having said that, it is concerning how violence, either in the form of beating, killing, firing bullets or some kind of cruel act, has invariably become a core part of pan-India movies, which have become a rage worldwide.

It is no rocket science to identify that all pan-India films follow a set formula – they are all in the action genre, made on a humongous budget, cast superstars and top technicians from multiple industries to establish a pan-India appeal, get dubbed into other languages, are aggressively promoted and released in a huge number of screens. ‘Pushpa’, ‘KGF’, ‘Saaho’, ‘Baahubali’, ‘RRR’, ‘Robot’, ‘Valimai’ and many others have followed the hit formula and there are many others to come like Prabhas’ ‘Salaar’. With few exceptions like ‘Radhe Shyam’, every other film made in the South is an action film.

On public demand
Action films attract huge footfalls to cinemas, and box office numbers are proof enough. Such films are in demand among the cinegoers and filmmakers are taking cues for their films serving the audience what they want.

“Since people love them, the tendency to make such films has increased, if the public doesn’t like them, they’ll not come to the theatres and also since filmmakers are investing huge money, why would a filmmaker make films that don’t invite the audience to the theatres? If the filmmakers keep on making such films, the same public will reject it as they did for ‘Beast’ recently,” says renowned Tamil filmmaker, L Suresh.

The impact
Whether or not this amount of action is necessary in the films, filmmakers are well aware they will get the footfalls only if they have such violence (they call it action). Though the makers might think that the violence in their movies is unreal, there’s a populace that asks if the filmmakers ever consider how these films impact children, teenagers, young adults and other impressionable small town audiences. These detractors of violent cinema, cite real stories of a teenager beating up another boy or such other meaningless acts of violence. They advocate that in more and more of these cases, the guilty tend to pin the blame of such morose acts on what they have seen in a movie before.

To cite a few examples, after being inspired by films like ‘Pushpa’, a couple of minors in Delhi killed an innocent to become a gangster. Moreover, they filmed the entire incident on a mobile phone to upload it on social media to become famous!

In another shocking incident, a smuggler, inspired by Allu Arjun’s ‘Pushpa’, tried to fool the police while trying to smuggle red sandalwood worth 2.45 crore in filmy style. Once again, inspired by ‘Pushpa’, an Odisha man smuggled liquor in a water tanker.

In yet another incident inspired by ‘KGF’, a man assaulted his 12-year-old daughter with a hammer. Video footage of this brutal assault went viral on social media. Subsequently, the cops took him into custody.

Another incident came to light when gangsters in Thiruvananthapuram used a dialogue from the movie ‘KGF’ while committing a murder. In Karnataka, a man shot a fellow moviegoer in a theatre screening ‘KGF 2’.

It’s undeniable that movies and their larger-than-life ideas and worlds have lasting effects on both youngsters and adults. The phenomenon has been a social issue for decades with some people supporting it while others condemn the trend sternly.

South vs Bollywood action movies
While South action films manage to strike a chord with the audience, the same is not always true for Bollywood movies from the genre. Hindi cinema, in fact, has explored other subjects in films over the years.

Film expert Ayyappa Prasad notes, “Violence is known as action in the South. An actor can become a big star only through action movies. No hero has done a romantic movie and become a big superstar before. Action movies have got a readymade audience. In ‘KGF’ the hero itself is living a violent life. But towards the end what is happening to the hero? Moreover if one feels the dosage of violence has increased in the movies, it is due to the canvas and budgets of films these days. It’s not that only South cinema is making such movies, even Bollywood films featuring Salman Khan are nothing but the same. Akshay Kumar’s ‘Bachchhan Paandey’ was a violent movie, why didn’t it work? Heroes in Hindi films don’t have the kind of fan adulation that South actors enjoy. In the South, rampant hero worship ensures that such ‘action packed’ movies get 4-5 days of box-office openings guaranteed. Also, most South movies are larger than life.”

Trade Analyst Komal Nahta adds that it is the choice of filmmakers that is churning out such films. “These films are promoting violence because the filmmakers are choosing such genres. These movies have stories but they are synced in violence. Hindi filmmakers felt such mass films won’t work with the multiplex audiences. But South cinema proved it wrong and they are also mixing romantic tracks, family drama and proper music in them. This just proves that Indian audiences like Indian food more than Bollywood’s Continental/Chinese servings. The recent spate of successful movies are all Indian at heart and are made for the Indian audience. Also they are coming with brand new presentations,” he opines.

“Hindi cinema has ignored such violence, except for a few films like ‘War’ and ‘Bachchhan Paandey’ in recent times. If ‘War’ was a stylishly made action film more than a violent film, ‘Bachchhan Paandey’ was violent but failed due to its illogical comedy and violence. Therefore violence alone can’t sell unless there is a good mix of story with good presentation, which is working in favour of South cinema,” says film distributor, Raj Bansal.

Action movies get better ROI
Do action movies rake in bigger moolah as compared to other genres? The answer is yes. Most of the successful pan-India movies belong to more or less the same category, pushing violence and glorifying the heroes who perform it. These films are mass movies featuring actors with a huge fan base belonging to B and C centres. Due to such fan following in regional territories, the makers strategically promote these films as a big-budget projects with a pan-India star cast. The prestige associated with such projects creates the necessary hype in promotions.

‘Baahubali’ and ‘RRR’ writer KV Vijayendra Prasad questions, “Are they liking it or not?” He further explains his definition of violence and says, “The aggression for righteousness is not violence and I can only talk for my movies such as ‘RRR’, not for cinema made by other filmmakers. If British people were violating the fundamental rights of Indians, obviously people should have fought for their rights. You can’t call this violence. If you find an unarmed person is getting hurt then you may call it violence. The numbers that these films manage prove that action is a must for pan-India movies. A producer is not publishing a book here, he is investing crores of rupees in making a movie, he’ll think of the ingredients that will bring back his money. Therefore, what we have shown in ‘RRR’ is action, not violence. And our movies are only a reflection of those days and its society. If all my stories are set in the period action genre, it’s just a coincidence.”

The filmmakers who opt for such action-hybrid movies are encouraged by the kind of business such films manage. Director Sukumar who made ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ is now exercising to choreograph a better ‘action film’ with ‘Pushpa: The Rule’. ‘KGF’ franchise director Prashanth Neel is now busy making a bigger action film ‘Salaar’ with Prabhas. If possible, the makers also have plans to release it in two parts. Tollywood director Sandeep Reddy Vanga who made his Hindi directorial debut with ‘Kabir Singh’ is now directing ‘Animal’ which is touted to be an out and out gangster drama starring Ranbir Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Rashmika Mandanna and Bobby Deol playing pivotal roles. The film is said to have violence at its peak.

Role of Censor Board
In times when films and its stars have such massive influence on the minds of millions of viewers across varying age-groups, Censor Board’s role assumes an all-new significance. Speaking to ETimes, ex-Censor board member, Sai Prasad Machiraju raises some pertinent points. “The emphasis on action started with the dubbing of South movies in Hindi. The makers who get South movies dubbed in Hindi, to have them release in B and C centres in Northern India, started asking for at least 4-5 fight/crime scenes in South movies. They’ve made a rule that they’ll only buy South movies that have violent content. That’s one factor why violence has gone up in South movies. Unfortunately these days a hero does all sorts of anti-social activities and towards the end of the film, he’ll preach morality. To top it off, it’s a sad truth that Censor Board members do not object to such movies. That also because unqualified people are getting elected as Censor Board members these days. People who don’t have enough experience in making film content are getting elected to such responsible positions. Censor Board members are getting appointed due to political influence. When they can’t tell the difference between right and wrong how will they control films and filmmakers?” he shares.

Unknown to most people, India has a Cinematograph Act from 1952, which clearly details what’s permissible and what’s not when it comes to action in a film. “A fight should not be more than 3 minutes, a chase should not be more than a few minutes. But nobody is following these rules, as the censor members themselves are not aware of the guidelines. As per the NCPCR act, children less than 12 years of age should not be tortured or involved in any kind of violent activity in the film. If violence has increased in movies these days it is because of the writers and the content that they choose or are asked to create. Movie stars are choosing such films where the hero does all kinds of illegal and anti-social activities and finally lectures about morality,” Machiraju adds.

“As per Section 302, murder is a crime, and as per Section 306, a provocation of murder is also a crime. What our filmmakers are doing today is nothing but provocation,” he asserts.

Moving beyond the action genre
In the past, there were few movies that were dubbed in all major languages and they weren’t this violent. Au contraire, they were more educating and suitable for the viewing of children. Films like ‘Sankarabharanam’, ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’, ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’, and ‘Roja’ were dubbed and released in major languages due to their content and universal appeal, rather than their action sequences. Whereas a few other films like ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’, ‘Manichitrathazhu’, ‘Vaanathaippola’, ‘Devdas’, ‘Samsaram Adhu Minsaram’, ‘Munnabhai MBBS’, ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’, and ‘Vicky Donor’ were remade in almost all the major languages across the country. The USP was their storyline and not machismo or bravado. These films stayed true to the term pan-India with a universal appeal and cultural relevance, but today the word pan-India seems to have become synonymous with action and adventure.

“Earlier pan-India movies meant mythological films, musical themes and art films. They had a certain meaning in their content such as national integration, public awareness and social consciousness… But now unfortunately, action and violent films have become a trend. They’ve found a pan-India appeal. Today, you can’t call it a pan-India film, unless the protagonist or antagonist kill 2000 to 5000 people. ‘Highest grosser’ has become the only relevant benchmark, with no need for any social consciousness,” reflects filmmaker Tammareddy Bharadwaja.

“Pushpa’ was one of the very first films to release post-pandemic across the nation, till then nobody was ready to release their films due to ongoing pandemic protocols. The film had lots of action mixed with good entertainment and music. Also, South cinema is trying hard to get into the Hindi market which is not the case with Hindi cinema. They don’t have similar aspirations. If Bollywood starts trying, Hindi cinema can break all existing box-office records of South films in no time. Also, not many big Hindi films have released post-pandemic barring a few. Films like ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, ‘Maidaan’, ‘Pathaan’, ‘Tiger 3’, ‘Vikram Vedha’ have the potential to get such numbers and we’ll have to wait for it,” adds Raj Bansal.

“If the storyline is good, everything will work, be it action or comedy. Of course, South films have phenomenal action sequences with larger than life characters attached to them, accentuated with rare visual grandeur. But it’s the style of how they are presenting this stuff that people are liking. However, just look at the way trends unfold. If one comedy movie succeeds, everyone starts doing comedy films, one big action film does well, everyone chooses to make similar movies,” says Sonu Sood who has had the best of both worlds, Bollywood and South.

Long story short, box office success and audience demand notwithstanding, it is for the greater good of society that our talented filmmakers should balance out the violence and/or action. Like Prabhas had remarked in ‘Saaho’, “Violence zyada ho gaya”.

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