CHENNAI : It’s not every day that you look at something happening in reality and question if the nature of this obscure, sometimes absurd, but often unreal occurrence has its roots in cinema. And in a city like Chennai where the film doesn’t just form its pop-culture, but also its culture, right from punching with an iconic Vadivelu or satirising the State’s politics with memes that are rooted in iconic Tamil cinema.Growing up in Madras, I’ve had my behaviour being blamed on Cinema. Right from the classic ‘talking back’ to being anti-intellectual when it came to education, it was almost as if every idiosyncrasy and behaviour obscurity of mine could be traced back to a piece of Tamil cinema that I might have consumed. In hindsight, it’s not so much the cinema as it is the second-hand influences that cinema manages.
About two years ago, the city’s opinion pages went berserk after the horrific murder of techie Swathi, who was hacked in broad daylight at the Nungambakkam Railway Station by a stalker, Ramkumar. Among the many narratives that were running, some questioning caste and the stalker’s upbringing, many, at least in my echo chamber seemed to blame it on the cinema. Everybody from film critics to lay family film watchers had something to say about cinema’s influence on modern romance and culture of stalking.
Here we are again, two years later: A college student by the name of Aswini was stabbed to death by a stalker, Alagesan outside a private college in KK Nagar. History does repeat itself, especially when it’s this recent and not much has changed. My social media timeline bubble had a lot to say about how cinema hasn’t changed: the line between persuasion and stalking hasn’t been defined; stalking is still being glorified as a telling of ‘real love’; it’s because of cinema that tragedies like these continue to happen.
I don’t think I’m equipped enough to track the direction of the thread — does art influence reality or does art imitate reality? Both seem to be rhetorics that are based in some truth. But as a cis-gendered man with a lot of other male and female friends, I think it’s safe to say that cinema does influence the male gaze; the way a lot of men approach to romance, the way women are treated as ‘irrational’ in a relationship are all straight out of Tamil Cinema’s playbook.
Another narrative that’s often sandwiched on top of this when cinema’s morals are questioned is the curbing of free speech. An individual doesn’t define morality, so how is it fair to censor pieces of art that seem immoral? This is often the argument hurled by men when their morals are questioned. To seek answers to the question ‘did cinema influence stalking in reality or did reality inspire it’ might be an exercise in redundancy; instead, questioning intent, objectives, and checking the moral compasses of filmmakers who still thrive in making films that have no truth based in progressive reality might be a good start.