“In the end, you can’t understand the things men do.” – Commoner, Rashomon (1950)
It has always been of extreme fascination to mankind, to connect ideas poles apart, assimilate them and come up with a new non-linear manner of understanding an idea. Legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 masterpiece “Rashomon” brought into a still nascent world cinema, a rare style of film making. Dialogue oriented, non-linear, fresh, unapologetic, grotesque, axial cut filmmaking.
The movie revolves around the repeated retelling of the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife from the viewpoint of four people including the spirit of the samurai who died. Each one has a different take, a different interpretation, all left to the discretion of the audience. Each narration, a complete contrast to the other. Some true, some fuelled by ulterior motives but each appearing equally authentic. More than its contribution to celluloid, what makes the movie relevant even now is how it has severely influenced myriad disciplines by giving rise to what is now known as “The Rashomon Effect”. Academically explained as not the only difference in perspective, but as something that occurs particularly when diverse views in combination with the absence of evidence elevate or disqualify any version of truth especially when there is social pressure for the closure of the question.
In simple terms, the description of the same event from different vantage points. Now what makes me interested in the “Rashomon Effect” is not in explaining complex themes in psychology or geopolitics, but how the Indian media is the perfect example to understand the phenomenon especially now when the moral compass of our media is fluctuating like never before. No dictionary can explain the “Rashomon Effect” with the conviction and depth of meaning with which our news media does it daily.
The media, the so-called ‘fourth pillar’ of our democracy has always been acknowledged as the watchdog of the nation. It is the media’s responsibility to protect and lubricate the very pragmatic engine that runs the nation and its polity. It is without a doubt that only a well informed, politically conscious citizenry can make the democratic exercise fruitful. It is the media which triggers such a mechanism wielding immense amount of information and commentary, bridging the gap between the common man and the Raisina Hills.
The immense amount of responsibility and power handed over to the media by the society necessitates the media to be its own watchdog! A task I am very sorry to say, they have conveniently ignored. Our news media is increasingly becoming partisan, with all events being coloured in hues that suit their own will. A partisan media bias is dwarfing ethics, and morality and probity is being reflected. The ubiquitous media responsible for portraying events accurately to enable citizens to form their own opinions is now more interested in disseminating opinion than facts these days. We see how skilfully the media ‘manufactures consent and dissent’ every election season. The blatant hypocrisy of the media which criticised its American counterpart for propagating agenda during the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections has now come a full circle.
Increasingly run by corporate houses and their ideological coterie, our media pays only ritual obeisance to media ethics which they now use only to establish the operations and acts of the media as sacrosanct. The reporting of the Pathankot attack is another perfect example of each channel coming out with its own version, like “Rashomon”, each appearing completely authentic and true.
Unlike, “Rashomon” which ends with one final true narration imbibing elements of all the four individual narrations, here the poor Indian viewer and his capacity to have a correct, unbiased opinion is dilapidated and lost in a morass of politically coloured news and facts triggered by corporate compulsions.
It takes just five minutes to understand which political party the channel genuflect to. Rhetoric has replaced substance, TRP has replaced ethics. Conflicting opinions coupled with the gall of statistically enumerating dubious facts have ensured that the very opinion formation of the common man is nebulous and often unconsciously biased. The myriad news channels are not like mediums providing various bits of the same jigsaw enabling the viewer to ultimately get an authentic bigger picture but have become like agencies catering different pieces of different jigsaws each making no sense of the other, each catering like characters in “Rashomon”, to their own selfish desires. With panel discussions reduced to shouting marches and channels going to any extent to establish their opinions, the Indian news media seriously needs to recoup itself.
An authentic, first class news media can only be driven when it is placed on both ethics and pragmatism, at the same time transcending the contradictions of both. It might sound like a quixotic project but you need to target the stars if you have any hope of at least landing on the moon.
“Men are only men; that’s why they lie. They can’t be honest to themselves.” – Rashomon.