When Bollywood Inspired Real-Life Crime: Should Cinema Always Be Blamed?
New Delhi: The ‘Dexter’ – inspired sinister murder of Shraddha Walkar in Delhi has brought into focus the influence of cinema on life. The culprit, 29-year-old Aaftab Poonawala cited the American TV series ‘Dexter’ as his inspiration for allegedly killing his live-in partner and butchering her body.
In another incident, Ghaziabad police unravelled a four-year-old crime with a young woman’s testimony of how her mother killed her father. The body was buried in a cement pit under a house, much like what happened in the Bollywood film ‘Drishyam’.
“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” wrote Oscar Wilde in 1889. It’s difficult to justify the Irish playwright because there have been as many real-life crimes inspired by cinema and vice versa. Since the focus now is on the former, let’s take a look at some movies that led to criminal incidents in real life.
Pushpa – The Rising
In this blockbuster movie, Pushpa, Allu Arjun is seen successfully smuggling red sandalwood in his truck. A man from Maharashtra got inspired by the film and tried to smuggle sandalwood while he was travelling on the Karnataka-Andra Pradesh border. When he was caught by the police the accused revealed that he got the idea for the crime after watching the movie.
Khosla Ka Ghosla
The crime Brach busted a gang who were selling Delhi Development Authority plots to people in New Delhi. During their interrogation, the gang revealed that they got the idea from the movie Khosla Ka Ghosla.
Shootout At Lokhandwala
Inspired by Vivek Oberoi’s character in this movie, a Meerut boy kidnapped and later brutally killed his classmate after the victim’s father refused to pay ransom money. In the police investigation, the accused revealed that he got the idea from this Bollywood film.
Bunty Aur Babli
Bunty Aur Babli was a fun film in which Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherji pulled off con after con. Taking inspiration from the film, a man and a woman took to crime to make quick money. Caught by the police a few years later, they revealed that they got inspiration from the movie. After their release from jail, the couple continued with their criminal activities.
In this hit film released in 2016, John Abraham is seen robbing a Goa casino. Inspired by the movie, a gang of four bikers tried to rob a bank in Kerala.
But is it right to blame cinema for such incidents?
Research shows that people who are predisposed to violence use films as they tend to have a cathartic effect on them, Dr Beulah Shekhar, professor of criminology at Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan National Institute of Criminology & Forensic Science told news agency PTI.
“That catharsis provides psychological relief to people through the open expression of strong emotions,” Shekhar added.
Film historian S M M Ausaja recalled “Parwana”, a 1971 psychological thriller film starring Amitabh Bachchan as an infatuated lover-turned-murderer that came under fire for its ‘negative’ impact on the psyche of the cinemagoer. In the film, Bachchan’s character kills Om Prakash in a running train and this was recreated in real life by a man, he said. “At the time, that murder was replicated in a similar way after seeing the film. There was a controversy and a lot of people had asked for a ban on the film,” he told PTI.
In December 2010, a husband in Dehradun killed his wife and cut her body in more than 70 pieces. Police said he was inspired by the Oscar-winning film ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ which shows Anthony Hopkins as a cannibalistic serial killer. In shows and films, said criminologist Shekhar, that part of killing and mutilating is somewhere “normalised or made cool”.
An ICICI bank official, for instance, last month looted Rs 34 crore from a bank in Pune, reportedly motivated by the globally hit Spanish series “Money Heist”. According to Ausaja, it is incorrect to blame cinema for the heinous crimes that happen in society.
“You have to draw positive influence out of cinema, literature, and art. Only a sick and abnormal mind will draw such parallels and do things in real life. It is not right to blame films. Whether international or Indian stories, a person is bound to look for an escapist way to commit a crime and if he is getting an example of it, he will try to replicate it,” he added.
“Crime films are there to give you edge-of-the-seat experience and not get inspired by any of the things that we do. It is for you to come and experience and enjoy. There are other movies that we make to get inspired and that should also be taken as an example,” the director told PTI.
Blaming the entertainment industry flat out for such “inspired” crimes is not the way forward.
“Criminals get what they look for, they draw what they look for. We cannot make a blanket statement,” Pathak said. Sociologist Sanjay Srivastava believes art and life usually exist in a loop rather than a simple cause and effect relationship, but the entertainment industry can’t be held responsible for such heinous crimes.
“We should be thinking of the broader context: why do men behave the way they do (and how do ideas of the all-powerful man circulate)? How are gender relations constructed these days? If more young women chose live-in relationships outside marriage, are they also constrained to keep them secret and hence not be able to talk to family and friends in case of problems? These are the kinds of things we should be focussing on,” Srivastava told PTI, referring to the Walkar killing.
In director Neeraj Pandey’s view, the media is responsible for blowing things out of proportion, using names of films or shows to purposely draw parallels with real-life incidents. The filmmaker said he would often receive forwarded messages about news reports of a “Special 26” kind of robbery, a reference to his 2013 film about tricksters who pull off a heist by posing as CBI officers.
“There is also a CBI officer in the film. Why don’t people learn from him as to how to detect something? You cannot be selective in assuming things. There is an antagonist and there is a protagonist. It is up to the people who to choose. It is for the consumers to figure out the right and the wrong,” Pandey told PTI.
In Beulah Shekhar’s view, media literacy is the need of the hour. “It’s the duty of the parents and the adults to talk about the media because films might show how to get away with murder. It’s important that we help the children to not be passive consumers of media and films but analyse them,” Shekhar said.