All the bad lessons movies teach us

Published: November 5, 2010

Do films like Dabangg promote the values we want to see in society?

Amidst a plethora of job applications, I decided to take a break and treat myself to a no-brainer movie.

It was not much of an endeavor to pick a Bollywood movie for the purpose. I found myself playing Dabangg on my DVD and what a treat it was.

Despite taking a break of a couple of years from Bollywood, to my utter amusement, I discovered that Bollywood movies have not changed much.

The story line of most movies is the same, where a man is either a gangster or a corrupt official with his own sense of justice and his own way of accomplishing it. It brought back memories of Gangster, Khal Nayak and the like. The winning formula of such stories is to base it on the life of a gangster or rebel with no sense of respect for law. This gains brownie points among the fan-followers of such reel heroes, who are not only from the uneducated but also the educated class, who then copy the attitude and persona these reel-heroes portray in the screen in real life situations.

Corruption, justice and gaalis – now that’s entertainment

It has always intrigued me as to how these movies are supposed to positively influence our masses and after watching Dabangg I could not resist the urge to pen my thoughts. One of the most disturbing aspects was the foul language used in the movie. Does this mass media ‘cinema’ want to show that abusive language is somehow cool? But the worst was yet to come. I wonder as to how they even come up with such bizarre plots where the “hero” is a bad guy in this movie.

Chulbul Pandey (Salman Khan) is shown as a corrupt policeman, satisfying his conscience with his own sense of justice. If any readers had the misfortune to go through this torture, they would not have missed especially one baloney scene where Pandey pardons a criminal just because he has a girlfriend. So much for art and quality entertainment.

Why does it matter after all?

Bollywood movies have a huge market in Pakistan and majority of our people depend on these movies for entertainment. However, such gibberish movies are quite unhealthy for our society; let me try to clarify why.

To quote one example, tobacco sales have been proven to have shot up after people watched war movies showing physically fit men smoking cigarettes while making crucial decisions.  Many a time, producers and directors also put the use of drugs into their movies to make them enjoyable or “cool.” It didn’t matter that they were corrupting and manipulating the masses without even knowing it-or did they?

Similarly, by showing that somehow rebels and criminals are “cool” as long as they satisfy certain standards of “good,” the cinema is indirectly promoting and encouraging the mafia culture. The entire picture is flawed to begin with, because it preaches that as the system has failed to provide for everyone, unjust means of attaining your goals as long as they serve your ends is “cool”. Instead of correcting the overall system, one can join them and then serve his ‘own’ sense of justice by hook or crook. Is this the message we want to give out to our people?

Setting such examples is unhealthy socially, economically and politically. Small mafia groups and drug lords have strong roots in many parts of Pakistan and the situation becomes worse when the media portrays such acts as “cool” and such people to be heroes.

Lights, camera… socialization

There is no denying that poverty, illiteracy and unemployment should be factored into this discourse, but cinema has long hidden in the shadows and needs to acknowledge its share of blame. Such movies have a destructive impact on our society, especially when the majority of the audience consists of illiterate and young people, who are highly impressionable. These people are highly influenced by this mass media and try to imitate such acts in real life. Such movies influence impressionable minds, as people act and dress as they see and are incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Movies have now been around for more than a century and they will continue to impact us and future generations. The purpose of cinema should be to entertain, educate and benefit its audience, rather than defining universal wrongs as okay. People watch movies to break from the monotony of their routine life and it should have a good influence on them.  It can aid visual learning by imparting education and quality entertainment by depicting the realities of life and showing the evils of society to make people understand life better.


Aismab Asif

A graduate of LUMS and Cardiff University who is interested in the social, political and cultural environment of Pakistan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • omais

    Wonderful write-up,,,, Very few of us thinks in this way…..Keep it up!

    Btw i personally enjoyed da movie :pRecommend

  • Raheel

    for years i have held this view..and its good to hear someone paying a head on apparently tiny issue but it surely has a huge impact specially on people as you pointed….illiterate who are not perhaps vocationally illiterate but on socially illiterate…now similarly one can argue..regarding the holly wood movies and their farfetched story line from reality…but the audience purely take that for entertainment…unlike our masses who’s only sense of reality is the experience coming from watching movies…you must have heard this line often ” don’t you see how that happens in movies” ?Recommend

  • Patriot

    despite of me not being a big fan of indian movie, i think we should be fair with them….in the last few years which i assume the author has missed they have infact come up with some different movies…i do recommend the auto to watch peepli live, aakrosh and if in some relaxing mood watch 3 idoits…i think all these movies had some good msgesRecommend

  • aismab

    The purpose here was not to call the entire bollywood industry phony. They indeed come up with a some socially relevant movies, especially in the recent past they have evolved to some extent by bringing out movies like 3 idiots but my point here which you missed clearly is that movies like dabaang and khalnayak which have bizarre storylines depicting ‘gunda’ culture as cool promote values that are destructive for the masses.Recommend

  • Hamood

    I stopped watching Bollywood more than a decade ago. Here is a movie industry that is clearly out of ideas and is “inspired” heavily by Hollywood (Read: Plagiarizes Hollywood without shame). Not only that they have copied hundreds of songs from Pakistan’s poor Lollywood industry. There is a series of videos on youtube that provide footage of both Lollywood songs and their copies by Bollywood. I wonder why Pakistani nation especially the women cling to an industry that produces 95% stolen or garbage movies.Recommend

  • Aid

    few movies today are good man! Dont be too ignorant and biased. Perhaps we too can borrow ideas and make it relavent for our islamic society rather than watching everything from hindu perspective.Recommend

  • Lalit

    Author seems to be a bit confused. on one hand she confesses to have intentionally gone for a no-brainer,but later she seems to revert her decision of using brain.well that was in a lighter vein.movies basically are made for entertainment.In our part of world most of the people go to cinema hall just to get relief from their daily tensions.even a layman knows what he or she is watching on big screen is just the figment of someone’s imagination,a fantasy.a more common saying goes like”this is real life,not a movie”.what you are suggesting by the criterion of a good movies is basically preaching, la communist countries,where morality and good behaviour are forced down the throat of the viewer. movies like Godfather and Sholay became cult hits not because they were morally and ethically correct but because they struck a chord with every viewer.and please don’t doubt the wisdom of average viewer.moreover it is oversimplification to demarcate the society in black and white,its actual colour is gray.Recommend

  • Hamood

    @Aid, obviously you didn’t read my post. I said 95% are bad. I don’t care whether they are from Hindu perspective or Christian perspective. I start yawning when I see actors crying in one second in the slums of Bombay and then break out into a song and dance routine the next in Switzerland.Recommend

  • randomrandom

    I agree with Lalit, why waste time analysing a movie which you already called a no-brainer. Kind of stupid actually. Recommend

  • Lalit

    @Hamood,for a movie industry which produces hundreds of movies 5% good movies is not at all a bad performance.even an ardent fan would of bollywood would never recommend most of the movies.even Hollywood produces a lot of crap. Recommend


    Dear Writter I dont agree with your thoughts that indian movies are same as they were there is group of people called them a target segment so to full fill the needs of each segment they have to select different topics as they also produce some fantastic movies as well 3 idiots my most favourate following by Fanaa, Rang day basanti Lagan and so on as u it self admit that our mostly society is illiterate then how can they understand movies which i explained above moreover in country like Pakistan where dying is cheap then surviving and no any entertainment places for a common man terrorists attacks and suicide bombing is common where these common people goes and movie like dabang which u quoted as an instance is basically made for common man so keep them enjoying mam ap na deka karain.Recommend

  • Sarah Munir

    I cant tell u how proud I am of u! and I havent even read the article yet! :DRecommend

  • wasiq

    very well articulated piece i must say first of all..secondly for all of those disagreeing with the author should be informed about the fact that the movie under discussion has actually done some significant business..all who say that its a no-brainer to begin with are forgetting that it goes out of the domain of being just a crappy movie when it secures such a place in the box office..
    I mean for any film industry producing crap even in the high 90 percentile, if the crap gets recognized and widely followed, it actually becomes a concern for any insightful citizen about the frame of reference of our everyday audience..
    So in short the point is well copied in this very thoughtful and well-written piece, please don’t let yourself down by baseless criticism, although there has been some constructive as well :)Recommend

  • AA

    Well written..!! Keep up the good work…Recommend

  • Ghausia

    Yet another pointless piece discussing how movies/Bollywood are evil. Yawn. Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    To some extent they do……..I rem a song beedi from Omkara, some parts of it were criticised for bad langauge and sarak chaap kind abuses……….and after dabang, almost every young child is found singing “munni badnam hui…….” :_)Recommend

  • Anoop

    “The purpose of cinema should be to entertain, educate and benefit its audience, rather than defining universal wrongs as okay. People watch movies to break from the monotony of their routine life and it should have a good influence on them.”

    –> Perhaps you should make movies instead of sitting and whining about how bad a particular movie was and what you think,not just A movie should be, but all movies should be..

    My argument is simple. You cannot dictate or advice any filmmaker what kind of movies should be made. That is the point of art(Yes, Bollywood is art). In art there should be no boundaries. That doesn’t mean bad movies should be encouraged. I am saying, director is the maker and he should make a movie what he thinks is commercially viable and good. The audience will decide if its worth watching or not and make it a hit it they like it(even if its a bad movie).

    What you are suggesting doesn’t come under Art. Its dictatorship. China is a giant in every way but it cannot match the movie making abilities of Hollywood or Bollywood. Why? Because they want control.

    I think if it magically were up to you, you would single-handedly kill Cinema in India, which would also mean that Bollywood would have lost Taare Zameen Par, Rang De Basanti, Lage Raho Munnabhai, 3 Idiots, etc, which completely come under the category of ‘Film with a Social Message’ that you have probably missed during the 2 years where you didnt watch any Bollywood movies.

    Very bad article. Criticizing a movie, I understand and even I do it. But, saying only these kind of movies should be made and other ‘idiotic’ movies discouraged is against the concept of Art.

    Be glad that these kinds of movies like Dabangg dont come out of Pakistan. Infact, not many come out at all! Recommend

  • Klues

    They are there to create madness, hate, debauchery and corruption in our society. Without them you wont need to borrow from int’l banks and spend on law and order and fight wars to avert savages plundering our lands from across the border.Recommend

  • Fahad

    Well, if the writer was in a mood to watch some “brainy” or “sense-making” stuff, then watch documentaries! Why opt for cinema. To some extent, I agree what anoop mentioned (even though we did not agree in some other point, but that’s irrelevant!).

    Making a movie is an art; let the people decide what they want to watch. Out of my busy schedule, when I feel like watching a movie, I would prefer movies such as the Dabangg because I do not want things to make sense – I want to be in a world of fantasy, where impossible is possible which looks good as well.

    There are good movies as well – but getting back to the point of senseless movies, if I was an Indian, I would enjoy watching “Border”, “Gader – ek prem katha” etc even though the movies make sense from nowhere – but still being an Indian I would love to watch an indian guy crushing enemies (in that case they were Pakistanis).

    Enjoy the cinema man, or else watch interviews, documentaries, or read non-fictions etc.

    Plus, look at it this way. Your article has around some 18 comments, and may be if you are lucky, you may touch 60 or 50 (100 : jackpot!), but the movie dabangg did a business of over 130 crores – so chill man – no comparison!Recommend

  • aismab

    To the critics,
    If you had read my article properly you would have seen that the rationale behind my criticism of ‘such’ NOT all bollywood movies is the inability of illiterate and young to differentiate reality from fantasy.
    Secondly, from your high chairs you are writing hate remarks, any one smart would have guessed its not about Pakistan or india, and its not about You and I either. Such movies are yes a form of entertainment for us but did i say they influence us in a harmful manner? Read with your eyes wide open before you write anything next time, I am finding it really hard to not put u in the same category!
    “Such movies have a destructive impact on our society, especially when the majority of the audience consists of illiterate and young people, who are highly impressionable”Recommend

  • Anoop


    “is the inability of illiterate and young to differentiate reality from fantasy.”

    Again, nobody in a free society should tell anyone else what to watch, what not to, what is good for them,what is not. You didnt advice them, you simply said its not good for them.

    Illiterate people,who watch these no-brainer movies, are not dumb as you seem to suggest. They have a very active imagination like the rest of the literate bunch and can differentiate between good and bad. If they can vote in a good government and vote out a bad one, they can certainly decide which movie to watch for ‘Entertainment’ purposes.

    Regarding the young, its the parent’s responsibility to teach children what is good for them,what is not. If a parent thinks Dabangg is an unsuitable movie then he/she must act on it appropriately. You, as a writer, can only to go the extent of deciding how bad or good the movie seemed from your perspective. Provide sound theories and reasons and let the end-reader decide.

    Thank God you are not on the censor board of Indian Cinema. You would have been responsible for its doom.Recommend

  • aismab

    Lets not get all sentimental, just because its an indian movie does not mean that you have to keep calling it art illogically. Irrespective of its origin, a movie goes beyond the dimension of a no-brainer when it preaches harmful lessons like translating corruption into “cool”.
    Translating the use of foul language, corruption and abuse of women etc as cool all in the name of freedom of speech and choice is taking it a bit too far!!! It’s quite perturbing to realize that some people with access to education and internet can not understand the gravity of the issue I am addressing here. To keep such a segment of cinema that defines universal wrongs as cool’ alive and popular is quite alarming for people like me. Let me break it down to you.
    Majority of people in Pakistan are illiterate and young for whom cinema is the only sense of reality and its unnerving to see media portraying ‘gunda’ culture as cool to its audience. Such moral breaches then lead to further societal problems as people talk in sarak chap languages and some may even take up arms and form small gangs( partially due to illiteracy, poverty, unemployment) because sanjay dutt looked ‘cool’ doing that in so and so movie. As far as our young are considered, I remember when I was little I saw an entire set of amitabh bachan’s movies where he is shown a baray baap ki begdri aulaad’ whose entire future is drowned into alcohol. Ahemm..need i say more?
    It might be fun for some segments but you have to think in terms of the overall impact of such cinema on our society. If we keep feeding them evil junk how do we ever expect our majority to evolve and progress into successful economic contributors.Recommend

  • Anoop


    “Lets not get all sentimental, just because its an indian movie does not mean that you have to keep calling it art illogically.”

    –> Movie, any movie is an artistic expression. Any creative expression could be called an Art. Dabangg is such an expression.

    If not how do you define Art? So Art has to have a stamp from you before being considered as Art?

    Please dont make it an India Pakistan issue. Just because you have a Muslim sounding name that doesn’t mean you are a Pakistani, it doesn’t even mean you are a Muslim, you could very well be from India! I merely said if you were given the control of the censor board you would strangle it with your definition of a Good Movie and Bad Movie. I am saying this without any prejudice.

    Movie business alive in India because there is not much control. Your argument is impractical.

    “As far as our young are considered, I remember when I was little I saw an entire set of amitabh bachan’s movies where he is shown a baray baap ki begdri aulaad’ whose entire future is drowned into alcohol. Ahemm..need i say more?”

    –> Parents are supposed to monitor what their child sees on the Internet and on TV. With new technology this is possible via parental control options on DTH and on the Computer.

    Europe is the best example. They have no issues with alcohol and some movies accessible to children have scenes considered improper in the Sub Continent. Although they dont have illiterates, they do have young and their young have not ‘gone bad’. They usually grow up to be good citizens, even though they have watched people drinking Alcohol and make out on screen.

    I refuse to believe that illiterates can vote, decide the future of a government but cannot decide what is good or what is bad for them.

    You have written an article for the sake of writing it without any thought process going into it, is what I believe.Recommend

  • aismab

    Now you are just ranting because you have exhausted all possible ways to attack my article.Recommend

  • Anoop

    “Now you are just ranting because you have exhausted all possible ways to attack my article.”

    –> Haha, sure.. If you say so.

    Also, have a look at the guys who are also saying similar things to what I am saying. Recommend

  • Rakhshanda

    aismab, i think you need to accept the fact that many people just do not agree with your point of view. they are not trying to attack you or your article.
    that’s what the comment section is for. Recommend

  • Nobody

    Based on the few blogs I’ve seen you comment on, tt seems your only purpose in posting comments is to shower everyone with your “vast knowledge” of, well, EVERYTHING apparently, and almost always closing with a line dripping with disdain and condescension. You’re entitled to your opinion and free to post it, as is everyone, but I’m curious, is your ONLY point to criticize, judge, or prove yourself as a know it all, OR do you have something of substance to contribute? Even occasionally….? Might want to try it once in a while, it’ll be good for your mental jewelry ;) Cheers! Recommend

  • Anoop


    Unfortunately you haven’t come across the Articles which I have commented positively on. But, thanks for your comment. Cheers!Recommend