The Triptych Nature Of Modern Art, Mental Health And Mass Media
The preposterous and problematic reactions by the media and movie-goers alike, over the sad demise of a celebrity with an interesting filmography, gives a surface glimpse about the still prevalent misogyny that runs in the society as well as the trend of distraction posed by the government post-2014.
Around the time of late 1430s, a German man named Johann Gutenberg, looking out for opportunities, was very frantic to figure out how to bring in money. At the time, there was a trend in attaching small mirrors to one’s hat or clothes to soak up healing powers when visiting holy places or icons. The mirrors themselves were not significant, but Gutenberg quietly noted how lucrative it was to create mass amounts of a cheap product. During the 1300s to 1400s, individuals had built up an extremely fundamental type of printing. It included letters or pictures cut on squares of wood. The square would be dunked in ink and afterwards stamped onto paper. Rather than utilising woodblocks, Gutenberg used metal. This was known as a “movable type machine,” since the metal block letters could be moved around to make new words and sentences. With this machine, Gutenberg made the first-ever printed book, which was a proliferation of the Bible. Today the Gutenberg Bible is incredibly important and included in the historical legacy.
Gutenberg’s printing press was an innovation that changed the way we behave, interact and live. Scholars had a great opportunity to spread their words. Politicians used it to spread the pamphlets. Soon, artforms changed. The media, as we know it, was born. Artists, painters, writers, monarchs, traders, etc. were benefited for years to come. It was the internet in the 15th century.
Today, modern art has changed its shape, colour and form. What Gutenberg Printing Press did to the human discourse back in time, the internet has done it for the postmodernists. The press has evolved, just like everything in this world, also changing the social fabric of the society in general. It has interlinked three different phenomenons — Modern art, Mental health and Mass media — and formed them into a triptych. The form, I believe, is misused and tormented by a set of people to set propaganda. It runs on our phones daily — tweets, memes, short videos, fake news (by verified handles) and the mainstream news channels.
Let’s get to the point.
14th of June could have served as the date of awakening towards mental health issues. Sushant Singh Rajput, an actor with a very interesting filmography, left his fans in a complete shock after the news of him passing away due to suicide started doing rounds. Mainstream media quickly picked it up, twitter timelines got jacked and the film world was mourning. The very first reactions which came forward were on the lines of possible murder. The investigation got in place. People had all sorts of views regarding the high-profile suicide — depression is real, we want CBI enquiry, Bollywood is responsible for his death, nepotism, Kangana Ranaut is the queen, alleged girlfriend’s involvement, and whatnot. The negativity seeped in. The shock of the untimely death of Sushant Singh Rajput was sadly replaced by the silly, preposterous and problematic reactions by the media and movie-goers alike.
Bollywood (although I like to call it Hindi Cinema) and the people working in it have been on the platter of controversies and blame-game for a long time. It’s a public industry unlike any other. You are constantly been watched, revered and criticised. This also makes it easier to put the people working in the industry at a radar of suspicion. Time again time, Hindi Cinema has faced some serious allegations. Be it untimely deaths of rising stars, casting couch or nepotism; this industry has seen it all. but, is it that cruel? I suspect not. Is the competition tough? I suspect yes.
We have seen examples of people rising from the dust and reaching the heights of success with all their hard work. We have examples of talents finding their way up the ladder with only-and-only their determination to succeed. Yes. There is an advantage to kids whose parents have been working in the industry for long. They have the network, the friends and the contacts on their finger-tips. But, for how long? — Everything fades away post 2–3 films. The audience remains the king. They accept you and they reject you. Then the number-game kicks in. Also, is there any industry where nepotism and favouritism don’t exist? Sorry to break it, but it is everywhere. It resides in your very homes. Your parents won’t give away their factories to a well-deserved youngster, who has a BBA degree from an average university, and who knows the business from in-and-out. They will give it to you (unless you deny). Same goes with a pan-shop owner and with the founder of a tech-giant. The debate anyway is obsolete, as the last decade gave enough new talents and opened avenues where talent can be judged and revered based on merit.
Over time, it turned out that nepotism was only a media-induced narrative. It changed as the days went by. The news anchors themselves got bored. Just a month after Sushant’s death, mainstream media started debating over a possible murder. His then-girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, also an actor, was roped in and was made a victim of an ugly media trial. The witch-hunt, the bloodlust and the need for TRP for all media channels, demonstrated only the surface glimpse of still prevalent misogyny that runs in the Indian society. They started talking about the Bollywood mafia and Bollywood bullies, without realising that they are becoming the part of the very narrative that they had set earlier. The irony resides in shame. Journalists are busy disclosing Rhea’s personal chats on the national television, but move away from the transparency of PM Cares fund. I read a tweet by the actor Shashank Arora, where he said — Indians in 2020 believe more in a woman’s witchcraft capabilities than the possibility of male mental health disorders.
In the mainstream scenario, if there is something fishy, when did the news anchors became the judges? Most of them have never even studied journalism. Everything boils down to a distraction. Similar tones were found during the Padmaavat controversy and Hritik-Kangana affair. Again, it is done very systematically. The audience is taken away from real-pressing issues. Spread of COVID-19, rising unemployment, farmer suicides, centre’s inefficiency to deal with problems and the very recent one — the epic fall of GDP. There are just so many.
The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh, widely hailed as his magnum opus, depicts the view outside his sanatorium room window at night, although it was painted from memory during the day. Art scholars recount several interpretations of the painting. Van Gogh painted it from a room in the mental asylum at Saint-Remy where he was recovering from mental illness. There’s an odd connection between Van Gogh’s painting and life; and Sushant’s artistic aspirations. Creativity, no matter how much it is in the trend, will always be a lonely affair. It is an emotionally draining process. You peel out layers of yourself only to discover that there’s a sync between you and your art. And that sync is overwhelming at times.
Social media has given voices to the people; one plus to the platforms. On the contrary, it has given a pathway to a barrage of negativity, fake news and unnecessary citizen journalism. There are countless videos on YouTube where people have become investigators in their way. The race for higher views has given birth to accounts which even claim that the star was murdered (without any proofs or proper investigation). Most of the twitter accounts with the display picture of Sushant were created in June 2020. It seems very systematic placement, not to forget that Bihar elections are on the way, and BJP has already started their election campaign in the name of ‘Justice for Sushant’. A tragic death is used as a political weapon by the political mafias, Bollywood starlets (no matter how much talent they have in acting) and the members of the ruling party. I’d like to know how many of these people even went to theatres when Sonchiriya released or when Dibaker Banerjee’s Byomkesh Bakshy was making rounds. There is a strategic effort being made to silence the imagination of the citizens, to numb the people from questioning and to bank-in crores of rupees from the brands in return. Seems a full circle.
The rudimentary ideas of the society do not just affect the old, they are very much instilled in the young too. When people still strictly abide by their homophobic beliefs, it is even harder to consider mental health. It becomes a far fetched dream to make people realise that psychological health is important when even the basic biological truths are condemned. The same thing is happening post the tragic death of Sushant. A Film star with talent, fame and money; an average Joe’s aspirations, dies of suicide? “Something is fishy”, is the only explanation that can be given by a person who doesn’t understand the gravity of depression.
Takes me back to think about Gutenberg. The guy was looking out for some bucks. Maybe with good intentions and with the revolutionary invention, he did change the world and the ways we behave. His invention gave birth to different ways of communication. Van Gogh got a worldwide recognition only after he died. Sadly, the ugly circus post Sushant’s death isn’t a fascinating one. As a former journalism student, I solemnly abide by the basic journalism 101— Always question authority. But this pro-government journalism will be remembered and talked about in the dark pages of Indian history. It is going to be memorable, but are all memories worth the remembrance?