A hero, or a parent?

Every time a hero breaks out of the scene to go on a fake, self-righteous monologue addressed at the audience, some passionate storyteller somewhere dies. In one of last week’s releases, the protagonist often takes such detours, and each time, to loud appreciation. A good punchline, or in the case of the film in question, a lengthy sermon, it seems, does the trick these days — never mind that it isn’t particularly well-integrated into the story. Sometimes, you have to wonder: is that the protagonist talking, or your parent?

“Sinning is wrong.”
“Stalking is wrong.”
“Violence is wrong.”

You may ask if good films over the years have been devoid of messages. The answer, obviously, is a resounding no. Every story comes with an agenda, however restrained. But that’s the beauty of a story well told. The lessons come through in subliminal ways. It needn’t even be said that this is a more effective method of getting the messages across, too. After watching a Thalapathy, you make a call to your friend not because the protagonist addressed you with a lengthy monologue on the virtues of friendship. After Pisaasu, it perhaps dawns on you to express your love for your child more, and it’s not because Radha Ravi’s character talks about the piety of the father-daughter relationship. After The Pursuit of Happyness, you are motivated to turn your life around and it’s  not because Christ Gardner looks into the camera and tells you that if he can do it, so can you. That sort of aggressive marketing is for advertisements, not films. When a story is told well, the lessons make themselves felt in imperceptible ways.

What’s truly alarming is how guarded people are about expressing their criticism over films with such a self-righteous protagonist. “Come on, he means well.” It’s almost as though people don’t go to films for the stories. And make no mistake, good stories are not those whose protagonist routinely steps out of his character to deliver moral lectures. Regardless of how well-intentioned such films may be, such inconsistent storytelling must be called out. Well, at the least, they mustn’t be glorified.

It is also sometimes said that at a time when there are films which promote depravity and violence, such films are a welcome change. Tarantino, when questioned over the the potential ill-effects of his films, once memorably said: “But I make movies. That’s not real life. That’s fantasy. Kids over the age of 12 can tell the difference.” While movies can and will influence, you have to hope that any adult worth their salt will know better than to rely on fiction for moral advice. In any case, a film’s appreciation mustn’t be commensurate with the number of lectures in it. But given the state of things, it appears that such ideas would be better conveyed by a protagonist who steps out of his character to address the audience.

This column was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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