FILMS: A POWERFUL TOOL OF MASS COMMUNICATION AND MASS INFLUENCE
Back when I was studying Mass Comm. and Journalism at University, I realised how the modes of mass communication are essential for moulding people’s minds and shaping cultures. And, without a doubt, films are the most powerful tool. Storytelling, drama, videography, music, dance, fashion – it has almost every form of visual or performing art forms!
I figured out that cinema can either distract you from all things turning the world into a dystopia, become a didactic method of telling you what not to do, or simply hold a mirror or a window in front of you. But, whatever it communicates will have an undeniable influence on the mass. Well, that’s the whole point of communicating to the public, isn’t it?
Let’s take Bollywood for example. For decades, it has told us that when women say ‘no’, it means ‘yes’. At the risk of offending all incels and rape apologists, I’m going to say that this dialogue, repeatedly uttered in Indian movies, in an important contributor to the rape culture. You may say that you have neither experienced nor observed the influence of such a poisonous message. I would like to ask you to open your eyes.
It’s 2019, and the TV soap heroines are still sacrificing their meticulously built careers for family and kids. Don’t tell me that this has played no part in raising the expectation in the minds of middle-class moms-in-law about the sacrificial streak in their sons’ potential brides. Things have gone so bad now that the Supreme Court has to interfere in family matters and mandate that housewives should be treated as a family member and not a housemaid.
In a nation that still thinks, ‘love is friendship’, thanks to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the importance of films as a tool of mass communication cannot be denied.
It’s probably difficult for a man to accuse his fellow bro of hating and hurting women. It’s easier for a woman to deny that she has given in to patriarchy all her life by accepting everything as societal norms. There’s no denying that, at this point, films have been successful in glorifying patriarchal practices and trivialising their effects. We, as a mass, have been distracted from the reality of the mass.
I’d also like to ask you to check your privilege. If you’re a good man – good for you. If you’re a vocal woman who recognises and fights against family sexism – good. But there’s a reason a film is a tool of ‘mass communication’ – ‘mass’ is the key word here. And, as writer and columnist Chandril Bhattacharya said in a recent TV show, there’s no logic or pattern as to how the mass is going to behave.
The mass doesn’t necessarily have the ability or education to tell right from wrong, especially when the wrong is served on the big screen with a side of heroine’s hotness and the promise of romance and submission. You cannot expect everyone in the mass to have the ability to use formal education for anything other than securing a job and earning money. Let’s stop encouraging meritocracy by associating an educational certificate with sensibility or humanity.
When society has internalised that possessiveness is a sign of love, that a woman can only feel complete when she prioritises her family and her child, many members of the mass don’t even know if there’s anything wrong in a film like Kabir Singh or Sultan. And when we have the handsome hunks like Shahid Kapoor essaying the roles of a lover boy with a medical degree and six pack abs, abusive traits and alcoholism automatically become desirable character flaws. The regressive tendency of a man to turn a friend into his wife and expect her to live life in her husband’s glory is seen as a trait of a traditional man who provides for his family when the character is played by Salman Khan.
To top that, it’s not only a bad influence on the toxic people walking amongst us but also terribly harmful for the victims. When a woman is torn between her ambition and her child, she is guilted into motherhood by Bollywood films. When someone in a dysfunctional relationship sees that a woman, just like her, is greeted with a romantic song and a kiss from a hot man if she tolerates all the abuse a man throws her way, her own efforts to stay in a relationship by acting like a rehab centre to help a man in need of psychiatric attention get validated – on big screen.
Remember when the Twilight Saga and Fifty Shades of Grey met with criticism? The stories had the potential to influence a large number of teens and tweens to mistake abuse and stalking as passionate, messy love. Remember when Raanjhanaa did not exactly strike as a romantic flick to some of the viewers, who despised how Sunder creepily shadowed Zoya?
It would be the same if a certain Kabira Singh had manhandled a Pritam from her college.
And, that essentially brings me back to where I had started – that films can influence a large number of people in a single go, irrespective of the gender, class, and education. When people see wars ending in a big win and celebration and are encouraged to ignore the financial distress on the country or the bloodshed, they want to bomb neighbouring countries. When they see the blood, gore, and torture in a movie about serial killers who finally end up in jail, they understand it’s wrong.
And, when they see anger and control issues being rewarded with a relationship ending in marriage (which is supposed to be the ultimate yardstick of success), they start to think that possessiveness, jealousy, abuse, and even marital rape, are signs of love. I’m not saying that films are the only reason sexism exists. Aren’t there enough movies telling people what’s right? Well, people don’t like it when a source of entertainment becomes preachy. The answer lies in the treatment of the characters.
In conclusion, I believe it’s a filmmaker’s responsibility to tell the story of an abuser, an addict, a criminal, a stalker, a rapist, in exactly the way that the character deserves – with no glorification, no reward, no sympathy, no celebration. And, as members of the mass, it is our responsibility to listen carefully when a community says that a particular film seemed offensive to them.