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Understanding violence and films

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The third day of Film Bazaar 2018 witnessed the first Directors Jam. The session titled ‘A time for violence’ saw filmmakers Devashish Makhija and Ivan Ayr having an in-depth conversation on portraying violence on screen with head, creative development, Dharma Productions Somen Mishra. They were joined by Nupur Sinha, a producer and writer based out of Los Angeles and Delhi, who was a last minute addition after filmmaker Vetri Maaran couldn’t make it. The idea was to make sure that women were also a part of the conversation.

Talking about what drove them to understand the meaning of violence and how it has helped them in their work, Ayr admitted that there was no single incident as such. “Growing up, we see violence normalised around us, for instance, teachers hitting students. Kids too, witness elders fighting which sometimes transforms into violence. Also, parents take their kids to cinema to watch films which glorify violence. In this way we have become numb and violence has become a part of the culture,” he said.

Makhija however had a very personal experience. Growing up as a Hindu in a Bangla Muslim slum in Kolkata, the Ayodhya riots brought the violence almost to his doorstep. “I was around 12-13 years at that time. We were told to lock our gates that night and that we would be attacked for sure. We all gathered on the terrace and I remember I took a kitchen knife with me. The whole night, the only thought passing in my head was whether my hands would be steady enough if I needed to use it,” he recalls. As luck would have it, the night passed without an incident, but it stayed with Makhija for a long time. “I wondered what brought out that violent instinct in me and where would it have taken me if there had been an attack,” he said.

Sinha meanwhile was born in Lucknow and admits that in India violence was normalised. But when she moved to US, the world changed for her. “Parents hitting kids was a normal thing here in India but there they can be arrested,” she says. Having a nephew and niece caught in a school shooting and not knowing their status for 4 hours was a tense time for her while the 9/11 attacks also hit close to home for her as both her dad and uncle were near the sites under attack. “The rest of us were down in India and for a week I couldn’t get in touch with my dad as all the connections were down,” she revealed.

While for Ayr, his portrayal of violence in the films were done without a second thought, Makhija admitted that the in the aftermath there were physiological effects. “I used to be very into toy guns before. After the childhood episode I was scared of these. Thus, I make it my mission not to ‘sexify’ violence, but there is no escaping it,” he said.

Ayr however admits that the choices that a character makes in the film are not necessarily right or wrong. Sinha adds that people’s morality also differs based on where you come from and what you have faced.

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