Movies have been of immense help during lockdown, but are they pain-killer or sugar-coated poison?

People are forever being converted to customers through advertising. Similarly, movies too unleash certain emotional needs, dreams that can be best fulfilled through feel-good images in movie halls

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Monojit Lahiri

The continuing forced sabbatical has got my mischievous and panga-driven friend to come up with yet another irritatingly uncomfortable question. His latest went “our movies undoubtedly – with cricket – seem to be the religion of the masses but have you ever wondered whether, beyond time pass, they play a meaningful or constructive role in society? Pray, do tell!”

As always, this pain-in-the-neck friend of mine provoked food for thought. I pondered. Fact is, a significant trait of modern life is the manipulation of people through mass communication. People are forever being converted to customers and impelled [seduced?] to buy products through advertising. Similarly, movies too unleash certain emotional needs, desires, dreams and anxieties that can be best fulfilled through feel-good images in movie halls.

In times of stress, change and conflict [specially] movies appear to emphasise and reinforce values for strong, human connect, through glitz, glamour and gloss that are wonderfully healing. This effort is single-mindedly mandated to transport the tired, frustrated, helpless and confused souls to the never-never-land-of-happy-ever-after! Anthropologists believe that the invention of the printing press, radio and movies has been as revolutionary as those of the wheel and coming of steam.

On closer inspection, movies are indeed popular because - in some fashion – they meet some of the modern man’s deepest [hidden?] needs. Present times are the best examples when life has taken a cosmic toss and the crystal ball has been flung out of planet earth! Insecurity, apprehension and fear of the unknown hold us in their deadly vice grip. This terror is no longer restricted to metro cities but has spread to small towns and villages too where traditional, revered, old-world values have been hi-jacked by the seductive city-centric ones.

Confusion has been further confounded by problems and conflicts relating to ideology, giving rise to the sudden blitz of How To brand of 'gyaan' books turning to bestsellers for a bewildered and blown-out constituency. In this bleak scenario, everyone looks for an escape route, a world of saccharine-mush and fantasies which soothe the frayed nerves.

Like all drama and literature, movies too extend the experience of the audience vicariously and translate problems which are common to us into specific and personal solutions with which identification is easy. Interestingly, the aam junta are mostly very critical and negative about scenes & portrayals that depict in-your-face realism, dismissing it with “Bakwas – Yeh to hum roj dekhte hain!” but gladly lap up impossible situations of the glamorous lead stars changing clothes and locales six times while romancing a spectacularly choreographed song! This is because movies have a surface realism that plays tricks with the critical faculties and makes them believable. Call it wish fulfilment or wilful suspension of disbelief, it has and will always work with the vulnerable and star-struck audiences.

The common statement is that the main job, agenda and function of the movies is – to entertain. Actually, the E word is not a bad word at all because all entertainment can be informative, educative, enriching, even - at its best – empowering in a way that schools or preaching can never hope to touch. Why? Because it touches the heart and emotions, not the head and intellect.

At the end of the day, wisely or unwisely, movies meet our desperate need to cope, confront or escape from major roadblocks disturbing our life. Anxieties, loneliness, insecurities vanish to embrace the impossible dream. Movies provide us vicarious experience beyond our boxed-in-world and suggest solutions to problems, models for human relationships and a set of values symbolized through new folk heroes.

It would be foolish to de-value, ignore or dismiss the social and psychological significance of movies because like all institutions they both reflect and influence society. How you take it and what you make of it (somewhere over the rainbow or the yellow brick road to the Wizard of Oz or a ribbon of dreams ... or conversely, a deceptive short-cut to the world of hell posing as heaven?) – is totally your call!

Views are personal

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