Will Mumbai terror attacks change Bollywood fundamentally?

By Priyanka Khanna

New Delhi, Nov 30 (IANS) As Mumbai tries to recover from the terror attacks that shook and shocked the city, speculation is rife whether these strikes would effect fundamental changes in the portrayal of violence in films and other media.

Cinema halls have been symbolically shut, film releases deferred, live shows cancelled and England' cricket tour truncated. But will the slowdown in showbiz be the only reaction or would tinsel-town denizens take a leaf out of Hollywood's book and take stock of the social purpose of entertainment?

When the twin towers of ther World Trade Center fell in the Big Apple, Hollywood had made a conscious decision to stop and think before letting anything insensitive or offensive go on the marquee. Films depicting violence were dropped or rewritten, actors like Bruce Willis declared they would not do violent films and demand for movies with family values shot up.

It is widely known that post 9/11, Hollywood executives met with White House advisor Karl Rove to discuss ways by which the media system might in some sense serve what amounts to a propaganda agenda. The initial - and persistent - skittishness of Hollywood to have any perceived connections with 9/11 seems to have fallen into place immediately following the siege. On Sep 12, 2001, the intended Oct 5 release date of an Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller called "Collateral Damage" was postponed, and the film's promotional campaign was altered to remove this slogan: "The War Hits Home!".

At around this same time, a trailer for Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" was withdrawn in the light of its depiction of the World Trade Center as a landmark.

Though by now it is no great revelation to say the changes brought about by 9/11 in the world of mainstream films did not last too long but the terrorist attacks of Sep 11, 2001 seem to have to date traumatised the artistic and show-business sectors into a near silence.

Columnist Michael H. Price observes that the first major-studio movie to deal semi-directly with 9/11 was New Yorker Spike Lee's "25th Hour" (2003), a crime melodrama that opens with a view of the Ground Zero setting. It was as late as 2005 when Danny Leiner's "The Great New Wonderful" depicted 9/11's impact on those not connected to the immediate attacks.

After "The Great New Wonderful", Paul Greengrass' "United 93" came that dealt with the thwarted hijacking of that day that prepared mass audience to the overtly sentimentalised tribute that Oliver Stone pays with "World Trade Center". All in all, Hollywood producers are till date treading cautiously with respect to 9/11.

Though Hollywood is rarely a good example to follow, but an increasing number of Indian audiences are feeling that it is time for our filmmakers to pay heed to warnings by social commentators against glamourisation of violent and socially deviant behaviour in films and by extension, in other media.

The argument that exploitative violence in entertainment media does not generate more violence holds true, but on the other hand social commentators say that such depiction increases negativity in society.

According to a media study, "Mounting evidence suggests that negative perceptions of women in entertainment can affect women in real life. Research examining onscreen violence toward women finds that emotional desensitisation can occur after viewing as few as two films with sexually degrading and violent themes.

Studies also show that men who view a number of films in which women are portrayed in sexually degrading situations become increasingly less disturbed by violence against women and less sympathetic toward female victims of violence. In addition, films initially found demeaning to women are judged to be less so after prolonged exposure."

Here is hoping that post the terror attacks in Mumbai, the entertainment industry of India would consider a 'take stock moment'.

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