It seemed like a good argument at the time, but gradually I understood that Medved was a conservative political commentator – often motivated by religious orthodoxy – and that his book was shrill and one-dimensional, presenting just a single side of a complex topic. (Studies have indicated that screen violence can also have a cathartic effect on viewers, making them more passive and less inclined to emulate what they see.) There will, of course, always be movies that use violence or bad language gratuitously, or in a way that contributes nothing to narrative or character development – but it’s equally possible for such work to push boundaries and to shake viewers up by using options that were not available to artists in a more conservative time.
As Martin Amis pointed out in his fine essay "I am in Blood Stepp'd in So Far", when the Hollywood censorship code was revised in 1966, “film edged closer to being a director’s medium, freer to go where the talent pushed it”.
As we now know, the talent pushed it away from the mainstream of America and towards the mainstream of contemporary art, while playing to its own strengths - action, immediacy, affect...(The complete essay can be read here)
...Does screen violence provide a window or a mirror? Is it an effect or is it a cause, an encouragement, a facilitation? Fairly representatively, I think, I happen to like screen violence while steadily execrating its real-life counterpart. Moreover, I can tell the difference between the two. One is happening, one is not. One is earnest, one is play. But we inhabit the postmodern age, an age of mass suggestibility, in which image and reality strangely interact.
Watching recent films like Ishqiya, Yeh Saali Zindagi and No One Killed Jessica, it seems like Hindi cinema is somewhere near that uncertain place where the American cinema was in the late 1960s. In the past couple of years, the censorship rules pertaining to profanity have become less rigid, and many films – especially the edgier ones set in the hinterland – now routinely use language that would once have been unthinkable in a mainstream movie.
Naturally, the results are mixed – new freedoms always bring missteps and over-indulgence, but there are also the occasional moments that feel just right. Take the early scene in No One Killed Jessica, which establishes the spunky character of the TV reporter Meera: when a co-passenger on her flight gushes on stupidly about the Kargil war being “so exciting”, she shuts him up by smiling sweetly and saying “Aap wahaan hote toh aapki gaand phat jaati”.
The scene is hugely effective for a number of reasons: 1) the startling use of a once-severely taboo word in the midst of a laidback conversation, 2) the fact that the word is preceded by the respectful "aap" and spoken by Rani Mukherjee, who has played mostly vanilla characters (in terms of their speaking habits, at least) in her career up to this point, and 3) the guy on the receiving end so clearly deserves to be put in his place that we in the audience feel vicarious pleasure in his public humiliation. The balance between the "bad word" and the faux-polite tone is perfect; a putdown expressed in milder language (or in an angrier voice) wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same impact. The moment also adds to our perspective on Meera and the contrast between her and the film’s other protagonist, the mousy Sabrina.
With Sudhir Mishra’s Yeh Saali Zindagi, on the other hand, though I liked the film, I wasn’t convinced that it would have been less effective if it had slightly cut down on the maa-behen gaalis sprinkled through the script. They fit certain characters perfectly – such as the crooked policeman wonderfully played by Sushant Singh – but at other times their use felt forced, as if the film was trying too hard to be gritty. But on the whole, I think we can look ahead to some exciting times as scriptwriters and directors work out how best to use the new liberties available to them.