If changing the way one sees things can be one way to change the world, how much the reel political violence inspires reality? In the last five decades, beginning with Gulzar’s Mere Apne (1971), a remake of Tapan Sinha’s Bengali film Apanjan (1968), till the recent web series Tandav, most political movies tend to depict violence as a somewhat necessary tool.
It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the genre has more or less concluded that there cannot be any political discourse without the presence of violence in some form. There is an argument that such material is inspired by real-life, and therefore, questioning it is hypocritical. Be that as it may, the more considerable trouble seems to be how to reel depiction of reality had made us insensitive to real-life events.
The narrative in most political films uses reality as the trigger. However, unlike most other genres where the entertainment quotient is straddled with market constraints, namely the song and dance routine, the escapism element is limited. Writers and filmmakers turn to previously existing material as a reference source, and this is where things begin to get a bit complicated. Until the mid-1990s, most political scientists focused more on the causes of violence than the aftermath or the consequences.
Its impact can be seen in the films made until the turn of the century on cataclysmic events such as World War II or political upheavals like the Russian Revolution. There are hordes of films on how World War II started, but in comparison, the Holocaust or the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima-Nagasaki remained under-explored. In Mere Apne, two groups of students are exploited to the hilt by rival political parties. While the former is close to the zeitgeist (joblessness, frustration, familial discord, etc.), the neta is caricatured. Portrayed by iconic comedians such as Mehmood and Asit Sen, the leaders provide comic relief in the film that talks about the genesis of political violence among the youth.
The 1980s and much of the 1990s witnessed numerous political upheavals, many of them disturbing and violent. This was also a period where the political genre in mainstream films thrived unlike ever before. Although the delivery mechanism changed, the takeaway remained the same political violence is a way of life. It normalized violent acts, including rape and murder, as obligatory instruments of most political discourse.
For a generation that grew up consuming films like Arjun (1985), remade as Sathyaa (1988) in Tamil, Ankush (1986), or Pratighaat (1987), a remake of the Telugu film Pratighatana (1986) or Bhrashtachar (1989) accepted the “regeneration through violence” within political extremism. Perhaps this is the reason why acts such as self-immolation upon the death of a politician were considered normal. It has also brought the perverse ‘means to an end’ argument to justify political violence across debates. Unless the average voter calls out the horrible ‘risk/reward’ structure and refuses to partake, reality would probably continue to mirror the reel.
The narrative in most political films uses reality as the trigger
Film historian and bestselling author