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The stabbing of a teacher, Ms Uma Maheswari in a private school by a 15 year old, resulting in her death has devastated the nation. The case took a sensational turn when it was suggested that the boy had watched Agneepath and had been influenced by the violent scenes in the film.

This is not the first time a movie has been held on trial for murder. The Martin Scorsese film, Taxi Driver made in 1976 was blamed by federal investigators for the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley. Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers with screenplay by the man who made violence an art form, Quentin Tarantino, was banned in Ireland and was initially not given distribution rights in the USA because the film was inspired by the lives of real life killers – Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate and was accused of glorifying killing and making it seem glamorous. The film is said to have also incited as many as 12 copycat crimes with officials going on record to confirm it.

The television movie, Born Innocent featuring Linda Blair (formerly seen in The Exorcist) became controversial for its infamous all – female rape scene involving a broom handle. Four days later, a 9 year old was raped in similar fashion and the movie was pulled off the air. The 1999 Columbine High massacre was also attributed to the effects of media violence as it was discovered that the killers were into video games that demanded shooting skills.

Getting back to Agneepath and the Chennai killing, it appears that the age old question of whether the arts inspire violence in real life has been reopened with conflicting opinions being aired back and forth. On one side, we have those who have slammed irresponsible artistes for feeding youngsters and the easily impressionable a steady diet of sex and violence that has resulted in the moral turpitude that has taken over the nation. Others have retaliated by saying that it is far too simplistic to lay the blame at the door of artistes and it is the audience who should exercise a little common sense when it comes to interpreting art. Besides whatever happened to art for art’s sake for God’s sake?

Experts are undecided on the issue. Most agree that while there is a strong correlation between excessive television viewing and aggression and it is certainly true that the mass carnage plus orgiastic mayhem that has become the norm in television shows has desensitized the viewer to violence they are unwilling to go out on a limb and say that yes, movies, TV shows, video games, rap and heavy metal music spawn murderers and rapists. That is because no amount of research can stop that last assertion from coming across as ludicrous and something a silver – tongued lawyer would say in court to earn his or her reputation as a shark in a suit.

Going by the box office reports for Agneepath, clearly a lot of people have watched the movie and save one isolated case nobody felt the urge to kill. And while it is understandable for people to harbor some ill will against Hrithik Roshan for being so damnably good looking, talented, rich and all too aware of the same, it is just mean to blame his film for such a horrifying incident. Surely a lot of factors would have contributed to the disturbed mental state of the boy that would have prompted him to do such a thing?

Those on the other side of the fence however are also justified in their concern. A lot of the content available in popular media is not suitable for children. I once saw a 5 year old bash up a semi - nude prostitute while playing a popular video game and found it extremely disturbing. It may be argued that not every kid who is exposed to opportunities to beat up working gals may grow up to be a rapist or worse, the Boston strangler, but the odds of such children exhibiting unduly aggressive behavior patterns and hostility become inordinately high.

While such arguments are valid, one feels wary while voicing them because this country is notorious for moral policing and censorship. Worse, this country is notorious for playing the blame game. Its citizens blame the government for the hash job they do running the country while they themselves are far from model citizens. The government blames the opposition in answer to every accusation that is hurled at them before returning to their uninterrupted porn viewing or some nefarious scheme or the other to rob the populace blind. I am planning to blame the frequent power cuts for disrupting my train of thought if my editor pulls me up for not doing a better job on this column.

Perhaps, therein lies the problem. None of us are willing to take responsibility for our actions and are forever looking for someone or something to blame. It is time to grow up and stop making excuses every time we encounter something so screwed up that it forces us to acknowledge ugly, unpalatable truths about ourselves and those around us. In the meantime, we can continue to look to the arts to inspire or entertain and take the best of what it has to offer while ignoring the worst like the good swan from Hindu mythology which has the ability to drink only the milk from a concoction that is part milk and part water.

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