At the end of Netflix’s murder mystery series ‘Don’t F**k With Cats’, Deanna Thompson (aka Baudi Moovan) breaks the ‘fourth wall’ (or whatever the term is for a laptop); stares directly like she wants to look deep within you and asks ‘Are you complicit’? It is a deadly stare. In a series littered with gory details of murder and animal torture, that moment has stayed with me.
The intriguing trailer of Zindagi Tamasha and its title track perhaps is asking a somewhat similar question albeit from a different angle. Mob mentality is a well-established phenomenon. Isn’t social media in some ways representation of mob mentality?
With the Netflix series, there is no room for empathy for the ‘perp’. It starts with the title. We don’t get to know the why. The assertion is that he wants to be the hero of his own life. His vanity, his hunger for fame, his mother’s indulgence all are given to us as the reasons behind his mind-numbing activity. If you read about the ‘his’ history online, which was revealed during the trial, there seems to be a lot of childhood trouble. Two abusive fathers leading to mental health issues are not discussed. Perhaps, the makers felt that the family were making excuses. Or they thought that given the lack of remorse on his part, there was no need to distract the audience.
Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan in terms of narration and characters is possibly closer to Zindagi Tamasha than the Netflix’s show. It reflects on the pitfalls of modern society and how certain things are off-limits if you are not born with a certain level of privilege. The fear of being outed as a ‘perp’ in society, shapes the two lead character’s life.
On the flipside, with Zindagi Tamasha, there is a ‘perp’ who has been outed with a viral video. Restricted by his status in society, a young daughter and ailing wife, this man is presented as a victim (few will disagree, tbh). He didn’t ask for it. He is doing all he can to get rid of that stigma, but the mob is unwilling to let him be.
The issue (at least initially) with Netflix’s show was a western concept of animal torture and how that should really be a red flag. Masaan was very relevant in terms of about casteism. How the state apparatus and the very society we are part of, makes life undesirable. While Zindagi Tamasha focuses on the use of religious dogma and societal norms as a tool to beat the person they have declared guilty. An interesting mix of the real world and social media universe collide.
Looking back at all the three stories, I feel that the filmmakers are asking the audiences to reflect. With Don’t F**k With Cats, reflection eventually comes from Baudi Moovan. Did ‘the mob’ push him the wrong way to get justice? A least one person in the documentary is asking that question.
Masaan’s silence is reflective of the tonality of the film. But it again poses the same question in a subtle manner. What are we doing as a society?
With Zindagi Tamasha, it remains to be seen what route Sarmad Khoosat and his team has taken. But it does look like that it will try to shake us out of this slumber. For how long can a benign moment of weakness or a private activity be used to blackmail people? Or even if a crime is being committed, how to deal with it? For how long will we push these people off the edge or in case some cases towards more gruesome activities?
All three films are telling stories of different individuals. This isn’t an attempt to equate the three individuals or situations. However, what is more, fascinating (some might say dangerous) is the reaction of the society towards them.
There can be a variety of answers of the question posed by these films/shows. Given that the internet explosion is relatively new, there just isn’t research on it to offer a direct and definitive answer. The future generation will look back at these cases and find solutions.
But such films are a reason for us to celebrate. In the age of crony capitalism, films are either a cash cow or a vehicle to build a brand. Filmmakers like Sarmad Khoosat are taking a risk, in more than one way. It’s commendable.
*Zindagi Tamasha releases on 24th January