The celluloid screen has become the opium of the masses in our age. Cinema, as the most effective medium of audio-visual mass communication, has come to rule men even more than their government. Cinema today influences both the mind and behaviour of men. The ’impact’ of cinema is constructive as well as detrimental. It is the latter aspect of cinema that has become a cause of concern throughout the world.
Cinema has today glamourized and idolized violence and raised it to a cult. The acts of violence and sadism depicted in films draw large crowds to the cinema halls and theatres and the audiences seem to enjoy every bit of the so called ‘Action Sequence’. The word ’Action’ has become a catchword of present day cinema and often signifies nothing more than visually perfect frames of violence, bloodshed and brutality on the screen. The audience is worked up to a frenzy and derives sadistic pleasure from the action on the screen. The action is, in reality, a make believe and the result of camera tricks; however, the visual and mental impact on the viewer, especially on the youngsters, can be alarming.
The origin of showing violence in cinema could be credited to America where new set of heroes arose in the 1960s. James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and Humphrey Begart, among others, were the pioneers in this regard. In fact, the real heroes were the gangsters they portrayed. They were men beyond the reach of the law until the filmneared its end; and they were shown addicted to violence as a way of life. In a way, one could say, violence has been a way of life in America. The ’Western’ movies from Hollywood idolized the brusque, rugged and ruthless (anti) heroes indulging in bloody fights and cold massacre of ”Red Indians”. Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson became superstars and the ultimate symbols of such ’He-men’. . ‘
This cult of violence caught on in other western countries and stuntmen became very important for substituting for the heroes in scenes requiring action-packed movements and maneouvres. Crime thrillers became a wonderful excuse for depicting all the gory details of violent action and sadistic perversion. The ’martial arts’ cinema which sprung up in the 70’s due to the legendary figure of Bruce Lee soon began to mesmerize audiences the world over. Gradually movies on ‘martial arts’ became a fine facade5 and label for passing off violence in its most terrible aspects. Violence in cinema became a great selling point.
Indian films were not slow to catch the infection of showing violence on the screen. But they were initially a poor patch on the foreign Counterparts due to vigour and now we have scenes of violence as effective as in foreign films. Sholay was the magnum opus for Indian films in this direction and had audiences seeing the movie again and again.
Parallel to the increasing depiction of violence in films, the violence in the society of today has also grown. Law and order have never before seemed in such a precarious position as they are at present. The relationship of violence in real life to the violence on the celluloid screen is undeniable. However, it is debatable whether it is cinema which is responsible for the growth of real life violence or it is merely a truthful portrayal of the situation. There are supporters of either point of View.
People who absolve cinema of the responsibility of contributing to the violence in real life point out that films are merely a part of the social climate. If films depict violence it is merely because they are reflecting the reality. Which society, after all, is free of dacoits, robbers, rapists and murderers? Films merely show these unpalatable aspects of real life in a more concentrated form and, inevitably, in a larger than life manner, Furthermore, the violence in films has an artistic merit and value and is thus separated from life. Viewers seldom confuse film violence with real life, according to the defenders of film violence who thus hold that cinema cannot be responsible for violence in society.
The arguments offered in favour of the view that the effect of cinematic violence on viewers is negligible are not brone out by the finding of psychologists. It is true that it is difficult to form an exact estimate of the effect of mass media on human behaviour. However, Psychologists and sociologists have made studies which confirm the detrimental effect of screen violence on children’s sensitive minds. Children, to a large extent, adopt behaviour patterns they observe on the screen. It has also been noted that the children who are exposed to large doses of screen violence (now increasingly on T.V. too) exhibit more aggressive trails than those whose exposure to these is limited. Not only children, but even adults are influenced by over-exposure to violence in films.
There are several reasons behind the detrimental impact of screen violence. Violence in real life is dreaded and condemned by every sane person. It spells disaster and is a traumatic experience. Thus, if represented in films, it should prove a shocking experience, arouse horror and disgust and be of cathartic value. Curiously enough this is not so; mainly because the violence in films these days is of a purposeless, unjustifiable variety. If there is any cause for the violence depicted, it is often of anti-social or unprincipled nature. Thus criminals and lawbreakers are glamourised and glorified. The sympathetic portrayal of the perpetrators“ of violence is potentially dangerous for it perverts the viewers moral vision. This is especially so in the case of immature viewers whose moral will is not strong enough tomake fine discriminations between right and wrong. Thus the depiction of violence for its own sake or in an ambiguous“ moral framework can cause untold harm to the viewers and , consequently, to society. It appeals to a subconscious liking for aggression and this finds an outlet in real life.
How then can cinema be absolved of all responsibility for the growth of violence in today’ s society? While depiction of violence in films cannot be totally done away with, it must be governed by certain norms and principles. Above all, the point of view must be clearly defined as condemnatory of gruesome violence.
As things exist, the growing violence in society is, at least partly if not wholly, due to the excessive violence presented in today’s Cinema.