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Gadar 2 to Animal: Is The Unhinged Violence On Screen A Reflection Of Our Times?

What does the immense success of films like Gadar 2, Animal and Jawan speak about the times we are living in?

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A simple internet search reveals that the highest grossing Hindi films of all-time, as of January 2024, are Jawan, Gadar 2, Pathaan, Baahubali 2, and Animal. Some of the other commercially successful films to have released in the last couple of years from outside of Bollywood include Pushpa, KGF: Chapter 2, Vikram and Kantara. These are seemingly straightforward mainstream affairs with big stars and even bigger budgets. But if one looks closely, an unsettling pattern emerges. A pattern of uncontrolled rage, resentment, aggression, and an appetite for barbarity.

Now let’s not make any mistake about it, action films have historically done well in India. What’s different now, is the inherent desire of these protagonists to resort to extensive bloodshed in order to entice a wider audience.
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This says something about us, as a people. Cinema succeeds when it’s able to reflect the mood of a nation. We watch what we sow. Bachchan’s socially agitated and rebellious “angry young man” was able to capture the imagination of the whole country in the 1970s because those films highlighted the general frustration of the youth of that era as a result of widespread unemployment and corruption.

What does the immense success of films like Gadar 2, Animal and Jawan speak about the times we are living in?

Amitabh Bachchan's 'angry young man' was able to capture the imagination of the country in the 1970s.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Once the economy opened up in the early 90s and we all got drunk on Coca-Cola and hope for the good life, the Rajs, Prems and Rahuls entered our lives. It became all about loving your family, loving your Swiss vacations, loving your fluorescent hoodies, crossover films, and NRI relatives.

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Whereas now, we are in “Naya Bharat” – demanding to be noticed by the rest of the world; it doesn’t matter whether that’s for its economic ambitions or increasingly divisive political ideologies, wearing its Hindutva on both its sleeves, operating in only blacks and whites, looking at other nations as either its allies or its enemies.

As I type this sentence, those from the far-right are busy boycotting an entire archipelagic state to promote tourism in Lakshadweep. You can’t make this up, gone is the post-truth era, we are living in the post-punchline world now. Whatever joke you make up in your head today to post online, has already happened yesterday.

We’ve all been witness to national news channels openly cheering and “celebrating” when homes of minorities were being demolished by state bulldozers. If Pakistan ceases to be a country tomorrow, a handful of these anchors sitting inside their fancy, chilly studios might dissolve into thin air without a word, because they’ll have nothing left to say. However, this is not an assessment of their personal politics, they are only serving what they know will find a ready audience. 

It’s the same section of the population which will buy a ticket and go watch Sunny Deol roar in front of a Pakistani crowd – standing in Lahore – telling them that if the people of Pakistan were given a choice to settle in India, then more than half their population would leave right away.

What does the immense success of films like Gadar 2, Animal and Jawan speak about the times we are living in?

A section of people will happily watch Sunny Deol roar in front of a Pakistani crowd that if the people of Pakistan were given a choice to settle in India, more than half their population would leave right away

It’s a far cry from another hugely popular Deol outing from the late 90s – Border (1997) starring Deol, Jackie Shroff, Tabu, Suniel Shetty, Pooja Bhatt, and Akshaye Khanna, among many others – which, despite being a film about the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, could end with a line like: “Mere dushman, mere bhai, mere humsaye… [my foe, my brother, my neighbour…]” A major motion picture made today with big stars about an Indo-Pak conflict probably won’t be allowed such freedoms any longer. Since the slogan on the streets has changed to “Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maro saalo ko”, how can our cinema be left far behind.

There was a time, not too long ago, when Indians welcomed constructive criticism and valued intellectual opinion.

Today, we live among trolls. So, if a noted poet and scholar like Javed Akhtar finds the success of Animal (2023) – a film that has come under the scanner for being disturbingly misogynistic and violent – he’s not only viciously attacked on the internet by fans of the film and the stars associated with it, but also mocked brazenly by the official X handle of the film.

Certainly, a democracy such as ours grants everyone the right to disagree with someone’s opinion or their work, but the line between what’s an acceptable way of communicating the same and what’s not, has been thinned almost beyond recognition now.

Perhaps some comfort can be derived from the fact that in the same year in which Bollywood gave us a hit in The Kerala Story, which The Guardian described as “an Islamophobic fantasy”, humane and more gentle films like 12th Fail and Three of Us have also found acclaim – and in the case of 12th Fail even box office validation.

Any art form, whether it’s cinema, music, or literature, cannot be held responsible for changing the world around it. Yet, nearly every piece of art that exists certainly holds a mirror to the time in which it originated and its predilection.

And the cracks on our mirror are more prominent than ever in the past. Francisco Goya was able to create the immortal work titled “The Third of May 1808”, which evokes the horrors of war, because he had lived through the years of the occupation of Spain by French armies. Cinema has often been blamed for having a negative influence on society in our country. Possibly now is the time to watch and reflect and learn from our mistakes. We don’t often get the world we desire, but we certainly get the films we deserve.

(Sayantan Ghosh lives and writes in New Delhi. He works as an editor for a publishing house. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s alone. The Quint neither endorses them, nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Jawan   Pathaan   Gadar 2 movie 

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