How Can We Justify The Depiction Of Toxic Masculinity In Films As ‘Art’?

I still remember this meaningless Ranbir-Anushka-Aishwarya starrer, “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”. People didn’t think much of it. The song “Channa Mereya” topped the charts for a long time; people loved it, so did I. Then, after quite a few months, Karan Johar came out with a “justification” as to why Anushka’s character had to die in the movie. According to him, she had to die because she didn’t reciprocate the love felt by Ranbir’s character; her death was thus poetic justice!

A realization dawned on me that day. In retrospect, it’s something I always knew but never quite pondered upon. How does a filmmaker see the movie he is making? How does he see his characters? What are they to him? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the commercialization of art had undermined the accountability of the artist.

And no, I’m not just talking just about “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” or the very recent and extremely controversial “Kabir Singh“. I’m talking about most of the mainstream movies in all regions/countries, with particular reference to Bollywood.

Since not many people know about “You” starring Penn Badgley and his remarks on the obsessive murderous stalker he plays, I’ll draw your attention to something more familiar. Remember Devdas? The man every guy wants to be because heartbreak is too damn tough to handle?

No, no, I’m not talking about how Bhansali depicted it in 2002, although, that’s the depiction that made every heartbroken man a Devdas, almost overnight. I’m talking about the man who wrote it, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay.

In an interview, he lamented writing it, said that he considered it the worst work of his lifetime, which he wrote under the influence of alcohol and desperately wished that it had never been published. He wished it was never a part of his literary works.

One might just ask him to not be too harsh on himself, had he been alive, but the romanticization of the character leads everyone to see themselves as Devdas. Chattopadhyay, in all probability, saw precisely how this undertone in his novel could be construed and extrapolated by the masses. Hence, the well-founded lament.

Of course, there are many disturbed characters around us; there are tragedies, which find a place in literature and cinema. But that’s not the crux of the problem at all. If an artist makes the right effort when portraying such characters, if the narrative is justified, the subsequent acts of the few viewers who are still emulating it are indeed based on their twisted selves.

But you know what? Forget the audience, forget “people babbling on Facebook”, forget any ‘-ism’. Forget all of that for a moment.

What Is Art?

Art is the representation of the mental state and the perception of the artist, a form of self-expression.

Remember English Literature classes? How we tried to decipher the meaning of the poems from the poets’ point of view? It’s just like that. When we see the art we question the point of view of the artist, we ask whether he validates his grey characters or chides them, we look into the narrative.

Of course, this is lost on many, and this is the reason I think maybe commercialising art to this extent wasn’t a good idea. Not everyone in society appreciates art in its true form. It’s why artists are said to die hungry. If the artists who revolted through art existed today, they would be mocked for being “over-sensitive and dramatic”.

Our generation consists of several “book lovers”. I barely found anyone in the school library or when book fairs came by. But they all turned “book lovers” overnight, proudly showing off their collection of Chetan Bhagat’s books. The man single-handedly managed to turn people—who made fun of bookworms—into “book lovers” by giving them the brazen “real” content they were hungry for.

Thus was born a new faction who started “appreciating art and seeing it for what it is”. They are the ones who dozed off in English Literature classes because studying the perception of the poet was boring. They would instead not think and mock those who do. The fact that whatever nonsense sells as art is being lauded by these people as “viewers of art” is funny, if you think about it.

Art, sadly, is no longer about self-expression. It has been moulded into something for pure entertainment and is otherwise unnecessary.

The truth that art affects its audience is lost on all, including most “artists”. They have forgotten how history shows us that art had been central to every revolution on the planet, be it tiny or massive. Thus, to them, art is for entertainment and those who think of it as something beyond entertainment (be it critics or those who are influenced by it), must be crazy. Such a shame!

But I truly hope true artists will continue to do what they do best. Keep changing the world, one stanza, one stroke, one chapter, one frame, one dialogue at a time. Because we need you now. We need you the most.

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