At a Rotary Club event last week, there was panel discussion on ‘Whether Films and TV Serials influence, or are influenced by Society’ moderated by journalist Komal Nahta, in which Subhash Ghai, Madhur Bhandarkar, Ektaa Kapoor and this columnist were panelists.
These discussions are not really opinion-making or opinion-changing events, and mainly offer chance for people to interact with and click keepsake pictures with Bollywood celebrities, but they can also be informative in their own way.
Now, the reach of films and television goes beyond the screen into advertising, the net and even smartphones—there is no getting away from Bollywood. The audio-visual medium is part of our lives and it cannot be avoided unless we choose to live in an underground cave.
It would be foolish to blame films (and the word includes the image in all its forms) for all the ills of society, just as it is dangerous to ignore its influence.
Subhash Ghai agreed that people are influenced by what they see on screen, giving the example of the daughter of an acquaintance who insisted on getting for her wedding, an expensive outfit she had seen on TV. (Actually, the bling of TV costumes is seen all over from streetside stalls to big boutiques.)
Madhur Bhandarkar whose films usually reflect a slice of society, said that what happens in real life is much worse that what is shown in films, and everything bad that happens in real life is certainly not influenced by films.
Ektaa Kapoor, who is often criticized for her old-fashioned domestic dramas on TV, said—particularly in the context of violence against women—that men are more influenced by conditions in their own families than by what they see on screen.
Komal Nahta said that most films end with the victory of good over evil, so the message going out is positive.
This is an issue that cannot be easily explained or slotted. The influence of films is not immediate or direct—it has happened that someone has committed a copycat crime or stunt after seeing it on screen, but that is not a common enough occurrence to be disturbing—but more subliminal and long term and can change perceptions over a period of time. For instance, The Godfather turned the gangster from a reviled figure to a glamorous one. The consistent sexualisation of the images of women and young girls has affected the way men perceive women.
The argument can go on, but the bottom line is that film in all its forms is a very powerful medium, and its purveyors have to use that power with constraint and caution. They are always ready to protest against censorship, but in the pursuit of success, seldom willing to soul search.