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Drug trafficking, horror-related films having deleterious effect on young minds

Bharat Dogra

Whatever moral they be seeking to propagate, two separate trends in Hindi cinema appear to be having particularly deleterious effect on youth, adolescents and children – those related with drug trafficking and horror.
Drug-trafficking is a frequently mentioned crime in Hindi films and of course it is condemned by these films. In addition a number of Hindi films have taken up various aspects of drug addiction in its social and cultural context as well and not just as a crime. Some films which may be mentioned in this context include “Udta Punjab”, “Jalte Badan”, “Charas”, “Hare Ram Hare Krishna”, “Dum Maro Dum”, “Shaitaan” and “Paanch”.
Certainly the overall context of the treatment of this issue of drug addiction is to express worry and concern over it, yet on the whole several popular movies are also likely to have attracted many more people, particularly youth, to the world of drugs because of the very attractive setting in which the consumption of drugs is seen to be taking place, to the accompaniment of song and dance.
The trend-setter in this context is the “dum maro dum, mit zaaye gum” song ( smoke away all distress) from Dev Anand’s “Hare Krishna Hare Ram”. This song is filmed on a very attractive heroine Zeenat Aman and her beautiful companions consuming drugs and singing a song which seems to sum up their thinking in a way which resolves all guilty feelings. The song not only says that drugs are the easiest way of forgetting problems, it also adds--the world has not given us anything, so why should we care for this world, let us just enjoy these drugs. This seems to be a very convenient thinking if you are trying to get rid of any inhibitions or guilty feelings. Any remaining guilt can be forgotten by the repeated chanting of Hare Krishna Hare Ram! Hence the song appears to initiate the hesitant youth to a new world in which beautiful girls and good looking boys have no inhibitions in taking drugs together while singing and dancing. This looks a very attractive setting which some young film-viewers may be tempted to join, regardless of the fact that the film may also be speaking against drug addiction. The song rhymes very well, has a lilting tune and comes easily on lips so that many people like to hum without thinking much about what it says. No wonder that this has become a cult song and many versions have appeared. In fact one film is also titled “Dum Maro Dum.”
In similar other songs special lighting effects have also been employed to enhance the attractiveness of such settings. A song like “Manali Trance” from more recent times appears to have no need of getting over any guilty feelings and is shockingly celebratory about consumption of drugs and the culture of drugs. The fact that some of such songs are filmed on very popular actors also increases their appeal, as also the fact that a link is somehow established with some religious symbolism to get away with extolling drugs in a popular film. A song in “Aap Ki Kasam” film “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar Kanta Lage Na Kankar, Ke Pyala Tere Naam Kaa Piya”, filmed on the most popular team of Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz in a very attractive way, is a clear example of this. Both are seen to be intoxicated while singing and dancing. This has a very catchy tune and became an immediate hit, played again and again even on festive occasions where normally anything said in support of drug addiction would be taboo. A song from “Go Goa Gone” film while extolling drugs finds it easier to get away with it by making a reference to Baba Ji Ki Booty.
In fact some singers, lyricists and their songs have been so repeatedly celebratory about the culture of drugs, alcohol and guns, particularly in Punjab, that a question has to be raised regarding their motives and links.
Clearly there is a need to be more cautious to avoid presenting consumption of drugs in a popular setting in movies and videos which are seen by a very large number of people, particularly youth.

Horror films

Another trend having negative impact on people, especially children and youth, is that of horror films, which manage to have a significant number of viewers. The reason given is that several film-viewers find it curiously comfortable to confront the world of unknown horrors while reassuring themselves of their own safety from all this. The sensation seeking instinct is also satisfied by these views. Whatever be the reasons for some people devoting their precious time to getting some films to scare them, the overwhelming evidence is that the vast majority of these films have a negative social role and are best avoided.
A widely felt impact of watching horror films relates to uneasiness and disturbance in sleep. In addition there can be rise in panic, anxiety and obsession. Fairly harmless and even routine activities around us can lead to suspicion, worry, anxiety and even panic. This can be much more for children, of course, but in addition even for grown-ups with special susceptibilities. Disturbed sleep and frequent anxiety over a longer period can in turn lead to other health problems.
According to a study by Harrison and Cantor for the University of Wisconsin, when 150 college students were surveyed regarding the impact of horror films during their childhood, in terms of the immediate impact felt by them 52% said that they suffered from sleeplessness and anxiety and 25% said that they suffered from obsession. What was even more worrying was that 25% reporting a ‘stretching’ effect in the sense that some of the adverse impacts continued till years later.
A more specific impact which may be important in the context of India is that here horror depiction may be related even more to several superstitions and regressive beliefs which are completely irrational but nevertheless strong in society, for example those concerning demons (including female ones—churail) and snakes, particularly cobras. When familiar techniques of horror films are used to present an even more distorted, exaggerated and fearful view of these demons and superstitions, the result can be really very horrible, as can be seen in some such films.
Therefore it is best in the overwhelming majority of cases to entirely avoid horror films. However in some rare cases use of horror imagery may be actually necessary to tell an otherwise good story that needs to be told. The most obvious example that comes to mind is that of the various film versions of the classic work of fiction by R.L. Stevenson –Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Here in the transformation scene—when Dr. Jekyll is transformed into Mr. Hyde-- some horror images are unavoidable and these gave to be repeated a number of times as demanded by the story. However even in such cases the effort should be to try to keep the horror impact somewhat limited and to concentrate more on the basic idea of the story which in this case concerns the clash between the forces and instincts of evil and goodness even within a single individual.
The Hindi film version of this classic novella titled “Chehre Pe Chehra”, Produced by Tilak Raj and starring Sanjiv Kumar, has in fact done well to concentrate more on the message and less on the horror. Still it is not advisable for children and adolescents. This adaption has departed from the novella in several respects and its message towards the end of the film becomes more religious than ethical. It was nevertheless an interesting experiment of a science fiction film in Hindi with emphasis on not forgetting moral issues while going ahead with indiscriminate scientific experimentation, a theme to present which horror had to be used in some scenes but it was used with some restraint. If only the film maker writer had taken care to better explain the motives of the scientist in terms of what he was seeking, the Hindi film audience not used generally used to such themes could have better appreciated this film.
On the other hand, a film-maker who feels more familiar with the genre of horror films and is thinking more unabashedly only in commercial terms can end up concentrating more on the horror aspects of the story and thereby may shift the focus from the essence of the story to diversionary, sensational aspects.
Hence the policy or principle should be to try to confine horror images only to those films where these are essential and to try to place some limit on horror images even in these films. In most cases, film viewers are best advised to avoid horror films altogether and in fact children should keep away strictly from all horror films.
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The writer has been involved with several social movements. His recent books include “A Day in 2071” and “Man over Machine”

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