Has Morality Disappeared from Bollywood Cinema?
Blood And Gore Soaked ‘Entertainment’
This critic recently watched several films, at a stretch. Among these, are four films that go much beyond cinema’s major objectives of entertainment, information, education and social change. Most films and OTT web series do throw up entertainment for the viewers even if the other three objectives are not met.
The films and OTT series this critic refers to are Suman Kumar, Raj and DK’s ‘Guns Aur Gulab’, ‘Haddi’ directed by Akshat Ajay Sharma and ‘Neeyat’ directed by Anu Menon. I was pulled to watch ‘Guns Aur Gulab’ because of the wonderful star-cast had the late Satish Kaushik in one of his last roles, Rajkumar Rao, Dulquer Salmaan and Gulshan Devaiah, some of the most talented and versatile performers in today’s Bollywood cinema.
‘Neeyat’ of course, pulled me in for its thriller element, and two wonderful actors, we do not watch too often, Ram Kapoor and of course, Vidya Balan. There was a fourth film also, a feature named ‘Kuttey’ starring Naseeruddin Shah, Kumud Mishra, Tabu, Konkona Sen and Arjun Kapoor in stellar roles.
I found all four films extremely disappointing for most of the footage, and shocking because of the mindless and needless violence disguised as “action.”
Action is a double-edged knife within mainstream cinema’s vocabulary. It keeps the narrative moving and dynamic and stops the film from dragging meaninglessly. But “action” can also be used needlessly and without any sense of ethics, breaking every rule of education, entertainment, information and social change cinema is expected to fulfill.
In ‘Guns Aur Gulab’, there is hardly any visibility, verbally or cinematically, of “Gulaab” or rose, except for the name of the small town where the killings and torture keep happening endlessly. The violence is justified openly by the perpetrators who use each killing as an invisible medal hanging round their proud necks.
The story is set in early 1990s in a small town called Gulabganj, where rival gangs vie for control of the local opium supply. A narcotics investigator Arjun (Dulquer Salmaan) fresh from Bombay finds himself caught in the middle of things.
A local mechanic, Tipu (Rajkumar Rao) tries to reckon with his criminal father’s legacy, even as he pines for the pretty school teacher Chandralekha (Bhanu). Each gangster is worse than the other and has a paper-thin back-story, perhaps created to rationalise their brutal behaviour.
The competition is about who can grab the entire poppy production in the area. The drugs are manufactured in the local factory set up by Ganchi (Satish Kaushik) who fights for sovereignty with the rival gang to collect the profits from the underground drug market.
Though Arjun (Dulquer Salmaan) offers some hope of a reprieve from the meaningless killings, it does not come about. The dialogues scattered with ribaldry and vulgarities can lead you to create a new dictionary of obscenities. Gulshan Devaiah is a misfit as Atmaram.
The film opens with the brutal killing of hitman Babu Tiger (Arijit Dutta), Ganchi’s right-hand-man, and Tipu (Rao) is his son who displays a lack of grief at his father’s funeral.
Tipu hates to be involved in crime and rejects Ganchi’s offer to take his father’s place. He prefers to work in a motor-cycle repairing garage named Vayu Motors. He dreams of opening his own garage someday and then propose to the English teacher Chandralekha (Bhanu), though he himself doesn’t know English at all.
The most amoral part of the film lies in the inclusion of students of the local school who, in school uniform, try to get involved in the run-around and get trapped in the no-exit situation created by the dangerous and cold-blooded killer Atmaram.
Atmaram is blessed with having ‘more than a cat’s nine lives’. The film could have stood its ground without the inclusion of school students. There is no reprieve from violence, killings, patricide, manslaughter. There is no trace of remorse or any punishment by the law and order machinery which is equally, if not more corrupt.
In fact, Tipu, who never dreamt of following his father’s profession of a hit man, feels proud of finally proving that he is indeed his father’s son! Ganchi’s son who becomes a transgender, has no compunctions in killing his father in cold blood in the safety of the intensive care unit of a hospital. What a film! Really.
‘Haddi’ directed by Akshat Ajay Sharma, could truly have turned out to be a powerful statement on an eunuch’s revenge against evil forces that destroyed the group of hijras who warmly accepted her as a trans-woman. But the gross violence spoiled the soul of the film, including the performance of Nawazuddin Siddidui in the title role.
‘Haddi’ is an interesting story about a eunuch, with a sad backstory. She surgically becomes a woman, and joins a group of eunuchs headed by the affectionate maternal figure of Amma (Ila Arun). She is anointed into the group, and after her surgery is in recuperation for forty days.
During that time she could hardly walk without assistance, but became Amma’s favourite. She becomes Harika from Hari. When Amma is killed along with her group of hijras by Pramod Ahalawat (Anurag Kashyap) who owns, controls and manages the human skeletons’ factory.
Hari, got named Haddi for his special skills in peeling the flesh off corpses, and polishing the bones to be traded through the underworld. After his eunuch ‘family’ is killed, Haddi promises revenge.
He strips off his feminine image and becomes a “man” once again because he feels it might help him in killing the guilty, and he does that. Anurag Kashyap hams his way through his role, while Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub is reduced literally to a skeleton.
There is the incredible love story of Haddi and Imran (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub) who wed in a court marriage. This was to be followed by Hindu rituals when Ahalawat and his gang landed up and killed everyone. Ahalawat is seen listening to loud music on his ear-phones, throughout.
Haddi, himself is an expert in brutal and cold-blooded killings as and when he feels he should. The police, hand-in-glove with the local politician Ahlawat ‘helps’. No accused ever sees the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. The blood and gore cut right through the narrative of a eunuch who becomes a woman, and then becomes a “man” again just for revenge.
The less said about ‘Neeyat’, the better. It opened on the large screen and was soon followed by an OTP streaming series. Anu Menon could have chosen an Indian original instead of ripping off from several foreign “family-reunion-mansion-murder” mysteries shot in foreign locales which seems synthetic, borrowed and artificial.
Vidya Balan as the investigating officer who arrives out of the blue to investigate cases of corruption by the head of the family (Ram Kapoor) is a big let-down. Kapoor is killed off early so that too, is a disappointment.
One is often reminded of much stronger murder mysteries from the Agatha Christie school. Director Anu Menon failed to handle such a big acting cast and the film collapsed on a false note.
Here too, the guilty runs scot-free and is never caught. Even good actors like Neeraj Kabi and Shahana Goswami are reduced to glamourised junior artistes which they seem hardly interested in.
‘Kuttey’, which marks the debut of its director Asman Bhardwaj, the son of Vishal Bharadwaj, divides its story into four parts. This includes an epilogue followed by three chapters: ‘Sabka Maalik Ek’, ‘Aata Kya Canada’ and ‘Moong Ki Daal’. These titles may not make any sense at first, but as the events unearth, we know why.
Every lead character in the film, except for the biggest mafia king of the illegal trade (Naseeruddin Shah), is a policeman and is thoroughly corrupt. Among these is Gopal (Arjun Kapoor) who is suspended from the force but walks around in uniform and carries on searches in suspicious cars quite freely.
The top police chief (Tabu) is not only openly corrupt but is also promiscuous, a heavy drinker who uses coarse language all the time. She also looks too old for the character she plays.
The ‘business’ involves looting all the ATM vans carrying huge amounts of cash, and sharing the loot. What Naseeruddin Shah is doing in the movie keeps one wondering about his desperation to sign any role that comes to him.
Kumud Mishra is quite good but Arjun Kapoor maintains his low scale of acting. Everyone is killed in the end, including the Naxalites living in the jungles, except Gopal who is in for the rudest shock of his life in the twist to this otherwise twist-less film.
Bollywood cinema is currently vacillating between the two polarities of wholesome entertainment, and films that brazenly project negative values, decaying morals and celebrate them as celluloid symbols of the heroic and heroism.
These four films clearly illustrate an unabashed and almost embarrassing celebration of diabolic killings, lootings, smuggling, fake surrenders. The question that arises in the midst of these ‘anti-social’ films that make a mockery of values our parents taught us on honesty, ethics and industry is – is this 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.
“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,” wrote Aditi Shome-Ray on the ‘DNA Webdesk’,
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."