Deep Water, Gehraiyaan, and more raise morally troubling questions

Indian cinema of old had clear lines of demarcation. We knew who was the villain or the vampire. He usually smoked and drank, and she played the seductress. The good man or woman rarely engaged in any of these activities. Take, for example, Hindi-speaking actor Pran. He huffed and played with his drinking glass. Not the noble hero. Padma Khanna or Helen would mock and tease the men. Not the heroine.

Granted, that dividing line wasn’t quite as sharp in Western cinema where good heroes took a whiff — like our famous Humphrey Bogart, who walked and talked in a whirlwind of smoke. But that was because smoking and drinking were normal, perfectly acceptable as a way of life in the West and even in some Far Eastern countries like Japan.

But now, cinema around the world is entering dangerous territory. He is considered morally degraded. One of the first films that shocked me was Woody Allen’s Match Point – yes Woody’s – in which the main man, Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ Chris Wilton, murders his lover, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) when her demands begin to interfere with her marital happiness.

More recently, I was appalled when Alisha trial yoga teacher Deepika Padukone left her lover, Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi) to drown at sea and get away in a motorboat! Jitesh of Rajat Kapoor portraying a business associate knows about this offense but agrees to keep it secret for a price.

More recently I watched Deep Water on Amazon Prime Video. It’s helmed by no less of an auteur than Adrian Lyne – who’s given us such splendid films as Fatal Attraction (with Glen Close and Michael Doughlas) and Indecent Proposal (with Robert Redford and Demi Moore).

Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel, Deep Water despite having two brilliant actors – Ben Affleck and Ana De Armas – is not only hugely disappointing but incredibly amoral. Vic (Affleck) and Melinda (De Armas) have an open marriage, and she starts taking one lover after another (which I find him doing), and each of them disappears. Vic kills them. He drowns one of them in a pool with a loud party right in front of it. Another guy is taken to a remote wooded area and bludgeoned to death! Melinda suspects her husband of being behind it all, but ends up becoming an accomplice. wow.

The cops appear once and seem to investigate superficially. What joke!

Lyne can take refuge in the fact that he was following the source material. But, please, why would a good director take a novel like this for his work? A bad choice after a 20-year hiatus. Again, Charlie Macdowells’ Windfall on Netflix with Jason Segel and Lily Collins shows a married woman shooting her husband and an intruder, and walking away with a bag full of dollar bills. She shows no remorse, no scruples. Good!

Deep Water and Windfall – much like Match Point (where the police come across as bumbling idiots) and Gehraiyaan – raise morally troubling questions. We all know that cinema has a huge influence. The time was when teenagers sported Rajesh Khanna’s Guru Kurta. The time was when the boys had Dev Anand’s hairstyle. In Tamil Nadu, Rajnikanth’s ways are copied freely – and reverently.

In a scenario like this, the question is whether cinema should be so insensitive. Doesn’t he have a social responsibility? Should murderers and other criminals be allowed to pass unscathed on screen?

I’m not saying that every man or woman who watches Match Point or Gehraiyaan or Deep Wate or Windfall would be tempted to kill someone they find embarrassing. But the movies aren’t just watched by adults, but also by impressionable young people, who may like to imagine that murder and mayhem are perfectly normal social behaviors. They are not, and the cinema must understand this.

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