Why Are We Watching Darker Content
Why Are We Watching Darker Content

...and what is it actually doing to us?  

Movies are becoming darker, not just visually but tonally too. Gone are the days when Amitabh Bachchan would punch bad guys two feet away from their faces, still managing to send them somersaulting through time and space. Today, the angry young man prefers killing the baddies with an axe alone, while two dozen men and their guns sing in the background.  

Violence in movies isn't new to Hindi cinema. Who doesn’t remember Rekha feeding villains to an alligator in 1988’s Khoon Bhari Maang or Manoj Bajpayee stabbing someone in broad daylight in 2012’s Gangs of Wasseypur? However, violent movies are a new sub-genre slowly emerging in today’s culture, exemplified by Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal, which is either discussed as an avant-garde piece of storytelling or something problematic, signalling potentially worse developments to come.  

While intellectual debates rage on both sides, similar to a Jedi-Sith MUN conference, it's the average viewer in the middle who is likely the most impressionable. "I was quite appalled," says Alaokika Motwani, a psychotherapist based in Mumbai and Goa, sharing her initial thoughts on Animal. She adds, "But one aspect to consider is whether it's a creative license for someone, a projection of how they feel?" Motwani further explains, "Will someone become a serial killer if serial killer movies are popular? The other aspect is, how are people in general reacting to it?"  

Dark Cinema-1.jpg  


The general audience seems to be gravitating towards heavier, more violent movies. Despite its 'A' rating, Animal nearly reached the Rs 1,000 crore mark at the box office worldwide. But why are audiences in a culturally conservative country, where a kissing scene between two leads might be obscured by flowers touching, suddenly drawn to watching someone getting dismembered with an axe? What exactly does it tell us about the audience today? “Trauma is one of the main things that would predispose a person towards something like this. When we talk about violence or anything traumatic, there’s a history behind that person also acting out,” says Motwani.  

"Perhaps the individual comes from a background where they've been exposed to violence. When you're immersed in violence, you inevitably become a witness to it, shaped by your surroundings and upbringing. Unfortunately, whether one likes it or not, there can be a subtle absorption of such influences. It's a combination of witnessing violence and experiencing it firsthand while growing up. Your childhood environment, family, and neighbourhood all play a role, much like shaping clay into pottery. However, it's important to note that not everyone from such backgrounds will necessarily exhibit violent tendencies," she adds.  

Dark Cinema-4.jpeg


Does that imply that such audiences are looking for some sort of release? A catharsis of sorts? Not according to Motwani, who points out, "Let’s say Animal was watched by 50 per cent of women. What release are they getting? It’s about control." Further elaborating, “If you think about the semantics a little deeper, you’ll see how patriarchy plays a major role in this. It's about what women have been, and men have been conditioned into. So, when we are watching something like that, part of our conditioning also comes forth. Women may cringe, but they’ll still watch it. It's the same thing we saw with Arjun Reddy. Why was it such a big hit? Because there was something about the conditioning, getting activated, and a woman actually either looking at that man with fascination or horror, but both were attractive to her. But at the same time saying, 'Oh, my God, how could I not have a man who cares for me and obsesses with me, so there's so many deeper semantics that go into it. Remember that horror is also attractive because there's something so taboo about it. It's a fascination in some way.”  

As Motwani points out, horror and violence are attractive on screen. However, there lies a difference between violence in movies and violent movies, an important distinction. There are many horror movie fanatics in Hindi cinema itself. Who can forget the cult of Ramsay Brothers movies and the niche yet popular following they had? But the boundary-pushing of the amount of onscreen violence was really popularised by the early wild wild west years of Hindi web series. Shows like Sacred Games, Paatal Lok, and more not only pushed the envelope in terms of storytelling but also in terms of “can they really show that?” 


Dark Cinema-6.jpeg


Referring to Michael Apter's book Dangerous Edge: The Psychology of Excitement, it's that people are drawn to horror and violence in movies when they feel physically safe, emotionally detached, and confident in managing the dangers depicted. You’re not scared that Jason Voorhees is going to chase you in the middle of Bandra with a machete. But replace that with a scene about domestic abuse being celebrated and cheered on in theatres, and it tends to trigger something, right?  

This then begs the question, why are we becoming so desensitised? "Because we’ve been fed a lot of stuff," says Motwani. Further explaining, "The media and social media significantly contribute to heightened anxiety, especially during events like COVID. Exposure to content that amplifies anxiety levels can worsen the situation, with media inundating us with information, consciously and subliminally, triggering physiological responses. When we become absorbed in what's displayed on screens, we often lose control over the content we’re exposed to. While we can choose not to watch, repeated exposure can lead to desensitisation and apathy. This cycle prompts mindless scrolling instead of pausing to reflect on environmental factors."  

Dark Cinema-5.jpeg  


But it isn’t just the Instagram-fuelled mindless scrolling that Motwani is referring to. The apathy and numbness desensitisation bring also demand a higher and higher stimulant to make you feel something. Case in point – the sudden popularity of True Crime shows or dramas. While most come to shows like Emmy-winning Delhi Crime or House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths for the sheer tragedy and bizarreness of the situation, they stay for the shock and awe factors. 


This may seem harmless considering you’re removed from the situation; it also tends to curb your empathy while reading or hearing about ongoing tragedies. For instance, a wife in Pune recently murdered her husband because he refused to take her to Dubai on her birthday. Similarly, a woman was arrested by Gujarat police last year for allegedly killing her five-year-old daughter by smashing her on the floor. If asked, they’d seem truly horrific yet TRP-charting Crime Patrol episodes, instead of national headlines which they are.  


But they sadly aren’t isolated, yet we somehow seem to have developed a thicker skin towards them. It’s almost as if we’re watching actual human tragedies, but through a lens that is distant and apathetic. Motwani recommends pulling away from social media for a bit to counter this and to be mindful of what you watch. But the bigger question that remains is, how the hell did we get here in the first place? 


contact us :
Follow US :
©2024 Creativeland Publishing Pvt. Ltd. All Rights Reserved