Violence and Masculinity in Cinema

The Indian cinema landscape is one that has seen massive evolution in terms of themes and contents over the years. It is globally recognized for its idiosyncrasies and manner of representations. Cinema has reflected what our human experiences are, and what our society has created and holds onto as ideals. But the art form itself is a vehicle of change, often bringing many issues into the limelight and generating public discourses. Cinema has great influential capacity and can reinforce or challenge many notions. Oscar Wilde said that “Life imitates art more than art imitates life”. This is often verifiably true. Heroes in movies often become the standards that youngsters aspire to be, and many have paid dearly for trying to do whatever possible to look like or be like a character they saw on screen.

A particularly interesting phenomenon in a lot of mainstream cinema is the violence portrayed in it. Anyone who has watched a couple popular movies will agree that this is not an isolated phenomenon, but something considered intrinsic to the storyline. We should also note that most of the scenes of violence are hugely exaggerated, even to the point of being comical. The hero seems to have inhuman powers and those around him, no matter how many in number will typically always fail in defending themselves, let alone in attacking him. The slow-motion editing and sound effects, the camera work as well as the dialogue all together create a certain kind of sensationalism which is to lead the audience into outbursts of applause. This prompts us to ask what part violence plays in the story and why do we have such portrayals of it.

First off, it is understood that these scenes are supposed to be praised and are to emphasize the heroic position of the character. While the villain may unleash such violence and prove that he is a worthy opponent, his capacities always fall short of the hero. And it is almost unheard of that a heroine, even if the movie is focused on her, engages in such violence to prove anything. The notion is not even considered. Violence becomes intertwined with an idea of masculinity, apparently best depicted through aggression and overpowering, even if it means destroying. We can also consider how this might be influenced by the stereotypical motif found in many stories of the West and the East, of the hero who saves the damsel in distress, often fighting many monsters to accomplish the task. Patriarchal ideas of men having to save women, and also having to ‘prove’ their masculinity through certain acts have contributed to these ideas. It is also worth remembering that these notions are detrimental to both women and men. Aggression becomes ‘natural’ for men and an overt representation of it in cinema is applauded. On the other hand, a woman who might even be angry for a legitimate reason is considered as ‘too-emotional’ or ‘hysterical’. These double standards are seen in cinema as well, engrained in our consciousness so well that we dare not question it.

The legitimacy afforded to violent heroes who consider their conquest of enemies and women as trophies influence a generation growing up seeking for acceptance. They look up to these people as heroes and without anyone to tell them otherwise, let themselves be controlled by their anger. This might be learnt at a young age, but it lasts for a lifetime. Is it any wonder then that domestic violence and abuse increases on a day to day basis, even in the homes of those considered well-educated? As long as we are praising heroes who are heroic by virtue of their beating up anyone who dares to cross them, even when the hero might be in the wrong, we are perpetuating the notion that violence is power. And power is also considered praise-worthy and something everyone should aspire to have. It is also a quest for power that affirms rape culture and rape jokes in the minds of many, and when violence is glorified on screen, it is bound to have its effects on the psyche. Perhaps it is time that we chose to look more closely at the various causes rather than the symptoms that plague us, and change the things we affirm and promote as something worth aspiring to in society.

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