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Celebration of Moral Decay in Contemporary Bollywood Films: A Critique of Raees and Kaabil

March 19, 2017 | By

Bollywood films and films in general across the world have more often than not been lured by the temptation to depict the dark, amoral world that runs in parallel to the more sociable one. However in most of these films the perpetrator of crime used to be ‘punished’ at the end apparently to redeem the fabric of moral values in the society at large. Is it that the films of contemporary Bollywood cinema are vacillating between the two extreme polarities of wholesome entertainment and the ones that brazenly project negative values and decaying morals and celebrate them as celluloid symbols of the heroic and heroism? Noted film critic Shoma A. Chatterji looks closely into a few of the recent Bollywood films to understand the trend and the psyche behind it.

Raees

Shahrukh Khan playing the role of a gangster in Raees who justifies every single action with his questionable philosophy of corruption and violence

Bollywood is currently vacillating between the two extreme polarities of wholesome entertainment and films that brazenly project negative values and decaying morals and celebrate them as celluloid symbols of the heroic and heroism. The two, contemporary big banner films that immediately come to mind are Raees and Kaabil. While the former is an unabashed and almost embarrassing celebration of diabolic killing acts like the smuggling and wholesale business in spurious liquor, the latter justifies the cold-blooded, carefully planned killing of those responsible for his wife’s death and rape by the blind hero who uses his blindness as a weapon for this revenge.

In Raees, he justifies every single action with his questionable philosophy of corruption and violence

In Raees, he plans a diabolic exercise for his own benefit and makes it appear like philanthropy

At the other end are entertaining films like Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya and Runningshaadi.com that claim to offer undiluted entertainment for the mass audience where for two hours, the audience can forget its troubles and problems and come out of the theatres ready to face another gruelling day. But are they truly positive stories with good values? Let us get a closer look.

The question that arises in the midst of these ‘anti-social’ films that make a mockery of the values our parents taught us on honesty, ethics and industry is – is this moral decay reflective of the moral decay in the world we live in today? Or, does the real world derive both inspiration and justification for violating the principles of good over evil which remains the same across time, place, culture, history and language. Murder is always evil never mind what motivates you to take the life of another human being. Stealing, smuggling, inflicting violence and torture and earning one’s livelihood through devious, illegal and illicit means have always been considered immoral while living a good, simple and honest life has always been perpetuated as the ideal way of living.

Kaabil and Raees are the latest films that have used the most graphically violent visuals and sound, editing and other techniques to get their message across. The message promotes and almost motivates violence among the viewers. Shahrukh Khan who is always identified with a very positive image of love and romance and everything that goes with it, slowly shifted his stance with Fan. In Fan however, he gave himself a ‘double’ to pit what in the end turned out to be evil against the real hero who is good in every sense.  But in Raees, he justifies every single action with his questionable philosophy of corruption and violence. He begins apparently through harmless Ponzi schemes but surely and steadily graduates to pre-planned rackets to become the top bootlegger of his town. Raees forms a nexus with politicians, who fuel his business, but he soon becomes the thorn on their side and they want him out. All said and done, he is a gangster.

The most horrifying part of the script is the way Raees conditions himself to believe that he is generous towards the poor and the oppressed when he orders the out-of-work women in his neighbourhood to stitch 10,000 cloth bags which he will pay for. He tries to make it appear like a philanthropic exercise but the bags are later used for carting his illicit liquor! In other words, he plans a diabolic exercise for his own benefit and makes it appear like philanthropy. Later, when his life and business are under threat, the same women roll hundreds of liquor bottles down the street to block the way and save Raees from being attacked!  The only positive point lies in his death in the end.

Trailer of Raees

Kaabil plays a double game but the final outcome is negative and immoral. On the one hand, director Sanjay Gupta sets out to prove that a visually challenged person is no different and sometimes, such as in the case of Rohan Bhatnagar, more equal than people with normal vision. On the other, this “more than equal” quality is underscored repeatedly when he succeeds in his revenge act by killing the three enemies who destroyed his life when his wife was forced into a violent exit. Can revenge justify murder? If it does, then does this not equalise Bhatnagar with the three people he killed brutally only through the help of his acute other senses and his physical skills and mastery over his body?

Hrithik Roshan in Kaabil

Hrithik Roshan in Kaabil as a blind man who gets into an act of revenge by killing the three enemies who destroyed his life

If you judge Kaabil on the strength of its technique, its story-telling skills and the actors, specially Hrithik Roshan who gives the best performance of his career, then Kaabil is a better film than Raees where violence stifles the aesthetic and creative aspects of the film per se. But if you judge by the kind of morals these two films perpetuate and promote, both of them are equally amoral or immoral or both. The most appalling truth that hits the most is the glorification and celebration of violence as it is something to be emulated, admired and imitated!

Trailer of Kaabil

Films like Udhta Punjab, Raman Raghav 2 and Highway promote violence, sometimes for its own sake, sometimes as a language and weapon of revenge such as in Badlapur, Drishyam, and occasionally, also from real life representations on celluloid such as Rustom and Madaari. This is a marked departure from films where actions detrimental to people and society were termed ‘negative’, ‘bad’ and ‘villainous’ with a climax that either saw the miraculous transformation of the villain to a positive character or punished the negative character through death or imprisonment.

“The Angry Young Man” affixed to Amitabh Bachchan in the 1970s projected and identified his anti-social, amoral criminal acts with retributive justice, motivated by revenge. In this phase, many Bollywood films portrayed the  hero/heroine or the hero’s mother as one who learnt  to believe that avenging a past wrong is his/her moral responsibility towards the one who has been  wronged – father, mother, brother, sister, son, etc. But in most of these films, the hero had to pay either with his life or with a long-term imprisonment. The law, the collective conscience of the audience and the social ideology of Bollywood cinema at the time did not allow him to go free from Deewar to Agnipath.

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Amitabh Bachchan as the “Angry Young Man” of Bollywood films in the ‘70s where in spite of the revenges the hero takes, he has to pay a price – either with his life or with a long-term imprisonment

The big fight between Pehlaj Nihalani, the head of the Central Board of Film Certification and Anurag Kashyap over the latter’s film Udhta Punjab was thrashed out so prominently and generously by the media which does not nullify the graphic portrayal of drug abuse by the hero and his brother in the film. It does not even question the brutal killing of the well-intentioned lady doctor for which the killer seems to have gone scot-free in the end. It does not even critique the hero, a drug addict and a singer on the downslide urinating in front of an audience that hero-worships him. For once, this writer agrees with Pehlaj Nihalani’s verdict on this film.

Drishyam, a Hindi version of an original South Indian hit film, rationalises the suppression of a murder by the head of the family who holds his family above everything else. He remains oblivious of the fact that in trying to save his own family through an intelligently designed network of lies, he has broken another family by justifying the killing of their only child by his wife and daughter never mind the wicked, spoilt boy’s evil intentions who would have escaped conviction because of his mother’s high position within the police.

What about the recent film Badrinath Ki Dulhania which promised to be an entertaining romance catered to entertain the Y-generation audiences across the country?  Piyasree Dasgupta in The Huffington Post (10/03/2017) goes hammer and tongs to attack this film which, in her opinion, celebrates stalking and harassment without blinking once. Opening with the oft-repeated sickening story of a gym-built young man falling for the girl at a wedding as she dances, the film goes all the way to show how determined this boy is to get the girl, he does everything possible for the girl never ever to agree to marry him. But she does! That is how ‘romantic’ the film is!

Badrinath Ki Dulhania

Badrinath Ki Dulhania – a film that openly celebrates stalking and harassment

Wooing girls according to this film has changed in strategy, approach, style and method. The hero, thanks to his wonderfully muscled body honed in a gym where he spends the time he is not following the girl, is convinced that if the girl does not return his amorous feelings, it is perfectly okay to pick her up, try to gag her, stuff her in the trunk of a car and drive around even as she begs to be let out. He uses his lackey to follow the girl and her sister with a camera because perhaps he thinks it is manly to photograph young girls without their knowledge. This goes on and on.

As if all this is not enough, at one point, the hero has the gumption to ask the girl, “Have I ever misbehaved with you, tried to hurt you?” Give us a break please! So, the director and the script decide to give the few angry females in the audience a break. He adds an original touch of ‘gender equality’ thrown in when our famous young eye-candy Varun Dhawan is grabbed, pinched, molested including his clothes being torn off by some masked hoodlums. This is perhaps to show how the girl gets the opportunity to rescue him by lending him her stole to cover his exposed chest! Poor gym guy is not supposed to reveal his six abs chest! The director probably needs some lessons in what ‘gender equality’ means on screen and off it.

Runningshaadi.com co-produced by Shoojit Sircar who produced Pink, is a romantic comedy, centred on Ram Bharose (Amit Sadh) who starts a company that helps couples in Amritsar to elope! One had no clue before watching this film that globalization has turned even ‘elopement’ into a marketable commodity available at a price!

“Rapes, molestation, fraud and corruption have become the order of the day in today’s society. Glorification of rampant materialism clubbed with a pervasive lack of ethics has robbed our society of the simplicity that was once unique to it,” writes Aditi Shome-Ray (DNA Webdesk, 13th September 2013.) She quotes 18th century-intellectual, Ernst Fischer, who said, “In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.”

But what about the Y-generation and the kids who are re-learning that bootlegging is an art that brings in good money and power? What about their supposed belief that stalking, harassing and kidnapping a girl one falls in love with is an example of infinite love and loyalty towards her?

(All pictures are courtesy Google Image Search)

More to read in Critique

Hindi Films 1950s – 2000 and the Emerging Trends – A Sociological Perspective

Re-claiming Indian Parallel Cinema

The Certain and Uncertain Tendencies in Today’s Bollywood Cinema

Critiquing Sexuality: Tracing the Changing Sensuality of the Popular Hindi Film Heroine (1950s-2000s)

Creative Writing

Whether you are new or veteran, you are important. Please contribute with your articles on cinema, we are looking forward for an association. Send your writings to amitava@silhouette-magazine.com

2 thoughts on “Celebration of Moral Decay in Contemporary Bollywood Films: A Critique of Raees and Kaabil

  • Sriram S

    A excellent article Shomaji,

    The biggest issue is that Stars who act as Antiheroes glorify wrongdoing by adding weight to the character. These stars act as a role model to promote sinister attitude.

    Education in today’s world helps to make one street smart. Today’s generation lacks inner strength and conviction. They live in a dreamy world influenced by blatant vulgarity and insensitive portrayal by Film industry.

    Such is life.

  • SHOMA A CHATTERJI

    Thank you very much, Sriram for your very complimentary remarks.

    In fact, it is heartening to mention that many editors rejected this proposal when I offered them the brief but SILHOUETTE at once said yes and I owe it to them to have said yes to this controversial story.

    Many readers might not agree with the theory and the argument I have presented but having watched films for more than five decades, I have observed the slow and sure metamorphosis in the lack of ideology that has seeped into Indian cinema, both Hindi and regional, and even art films. The scenario is changing from bad to worse with every passing day where the line that divided the hero from the villain has disappeared completely and the villain is now the hero.

    Sad indeed for Generation Y who are being fed on this kind of films. One reason is that today, we do not have any leader or idol to follow or emulate or be led by. Earlier, we were nourished on leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, national leaders like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and intellectuals like Rabindranath Tagore plus spiritual leaders like Swami Vivekananda and social changers like Veer Savarkar and Acharya Vinoba Bhave and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Today, we have none.

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