A time came when I started enjoying advertisements more than the TV serials during which they were shown. Most of you might have felt the same. The quality of programme was deteriorating while that of advertisements improving day by day. Once I remarked to my neighbour, “This programme is wonderful . . . except the part between the opening credits and the closing credits”. Nowadays I am also getting interested in disclaimers and statutory warnings.
Television series based on fiction usually showed a disclaimer simply stating that they were purely a work of fiction. On the other hand, some others that were based on supernatural stories used to stress that the stories were true, perhaps to add spices to their recipe. One disclaimer, which definitely makes me feel tense pertains to religious feelings. But the most common disclaimer is: “No character of this film is real; any similarity to anyone dead or alive is purely coincidental”. As soon as I see such a disclaimer, I get alert and curious: “I wonder who they mean!” And for the next two hours I keep busy trying to figure out which character of the movie is similar to any real public figure.
Then of course, come the treatment of animals: “No animals had been harmed while making this movie”. I think that is required by law, and not directed by pure compassion. I have always doubted the sincerity of love that humans show towards animals and to fellow creatures. Sorry, pure skepticism, I can’t help it.
Now the attempt to get cleared of all wrongdoing went to such an extreme that a recent Punjabi horror movie (actually a ghost movie, not horror) Sardarji had the following declaration:
“. . . no living beings, plants, animals or ghosts have been harmed . . .” Amusing, isn’t it?
It was humourous and a sarcasm on disclaimers. This page lists the five most common disclaimers shown before Bollywood movies.
But does anyone read or pay attention to these disclaimers or statutory warnings? These messages are displayed at the beginning of the movie, when viewers are still taking seats and adjusting themselves in cinema halls, or arranging snacks and gossiping when watching TV at home. Worse still, when people watch them on YouTube, they simply forward that segment and jump to the main film. Then who gets to watch these messages? One colleague remarked this to me and suggested that statutory warnings (for example, ‘smoking is injurious to health’) should be displayed during the movie and not at the beginning.
Interestingly, one friend told me that this experiment has been done in a recent Bengali movie. Perhaps the problem of viewers not paying attention to disclaimers and warnings was disturbing the film producers also. In a scene from this movie, the villain assaults the heroine and during the tussle, drowns her head into a fish tank. The lady somehow manages to rescue herself and hits the villain hard. However, in the confusion, fishes had entered all her clothes, and now we see her taking all the fishes out of her clothes, muttering in a low voice, “All creatures shown in this movie have been created using computer graphics”. Now that is creativity!
In another scene, the villain ties up both the hero and heroine and prepares himself for the end game. Now the heroine screams, “Save, save, help, help!” Superstar Dev (not a part of this movie, instead just a guest appearance) turns up and points a gun at the villain. The latter gets scared and gives in. Dev pulls trigger, and lo, it was not a gun, instead a cigarette lighter! But he doesn’t light any, puts it down, and tells us with his peculiar smile, “No, cigarette smoking is injurious to health!”
Coming back to disclaimers, while movies are required to display the disclaimers before start of the film, in literature such disclaimers are often given at the end of the story. I would like to mention two stories from contemporary Bengali literature. Unfortunately, I do not remember the titles or authors of these stories. I would only tell you the central idea.
One was a novel narrating the life of a young college student who had great talent and promise in cricket. He was loved by his friends and admired by all players of his own and rival teams. There was a middle-aged man in the town, who himself had been a good cricket player in his time but could not pursue that career due to political reasons. Presently he taught sports at a school. This latter gentleman offered coaching to our hero, who happily agreed.
The story unfolds with college events, mischief, romance, and so on. And of course, politics. When college elections came, local leaders proposed our hero to stand for the president’s seat as he had huge popularity, and offered him all assistance. The young man hesitated, but the leaders — of course eager only to carry forward their own objectives — kept on pressing. He was given books and written material to read, invited to party meetings, and asked to attend lectures and speeches — all with an aim to persuade him, or rather brainwash him. His coach strongly opposed his movements, and stressed that he pursue his aim in a single-minded way and polish his talent in cricket to the maximum degree possible. The young man differed, first mildly, then strongly, and parted ways. He did not like the coach influencing his life’s decisions. The coach was sad, indeed very very sad.
From that time onwards the young man’s life moved on a roller-coaster facing several difficulties in personal, academic, sports life and also political life. There were some small victories and losses. Eventually, not only did he lose touch with his expertise and talent in cricket, but also the balance and sense of direction in his personal and academic life. Slowly he kept falling in a downward spiral having lost everything and gained nothing in return. All friends, including his love-interest, had settled in life and were chasing their own dreams, while he was still struggling to rescue himself from the political maze. At the end of the novel we find him giving cricket coaching to young children.
From a technical point of view, the novel was very nicely written. In order to give a sense of time to the life movement of the young man, and the prevailing atmosphere, the writer had used the real political landscape of the country — Congress, CPI, Trinamool, and BJP. Thus, in the narrative we find two stories being told in parallel — one story was of the politics and governance of the state as was happening during the past several decades, and the other was the story of the young man. So far so good. However, the most interesting fact was that these political parties were not named as Congress, CPI, Trinamool, and BJP; instead they were called as green, blue, red, ocher etc. And in the end there was the obvious disclaimer! It was indeed amusing, as you did not need to be a rocket engineer to decipher whom did the red party (for example) represent.
The second story was a short story, but the idea and the formula were the same. I cannot say whether both pieces had been written by the same author. Even otherwise, we have seen the practice that once a novel, movie or music becomes successful or popular, other people in that field start using it as a formula, or rather template, with little or no change.
In this short story, the storyline was completely different, though the formula was similar. A young man and a lady were in love and wanted to marry. Nobody seemed to have any objection. Their fathers were leaders of different political parties, which were — well, different. That is to say, they were neither partners nor rivals, just different.
When elections approached, the political landscape changed and several political games were played that saw these two parties become arch-rivals. Of course, this also meant that the almost-certain marriage between the young couple was broken, the lady was married somewhere else, and the young man was left to sit beside the village pond and sing sad songs.
But it did not end with that. After couple of years, maybe one or two, a no-confidence motion was brought in, and a lot of horse-trading started in the assembly. All this new political game saw the old enemies turn into friends and become part of the coalition government. However, the love life of the couple had already been permanently ruined by politics, though politics apparently did not lose anything.
In this story also, we find the different political parties denoted by red, green, blue labels, instead of their real names. And of course, we also find the same disclaimer at the end of the story as used by the novel. Sometimes I wonder what might be the motive behind the disclaimer at the end of this and the previous story. What was the reason of showing these, when it was pretty obvious who these stories were referring to? For example, this same formula had been used by Hindi novelist Bhagawaticharan Verma in his novel Bhoole Bisarey Chitra, where he narrates the life of a young man in the light of the final years of the Indian freedom movement. He used the real names of all parties and people of that time. Or you might remember that Byomkesh Bakshi story where the mystery unfold in the backdrop of the newly obtained political freedom. Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay also used the real names of all political leaders. Then why didn’t the writers of the stories we are talking about did the same? I also think of those messages, which give advance clarification on similarity to individuals, or make excuses for political or religious undertones. Is it because the present political atmosphere of the country is very complicated and volatile? Is it just an attempt to wash off hands from all responsibility just in case any part of the story upsets anyone? Indeed, nowadays people get upset easily, on trivial issues, and of course, nobody really wants to land into trouble. After all, today anyone can be dragged to court for defamation on anything. But if one is so concerned about upsetting anyone, why to produce such work and not use imagination only?
Whatever be the basic reason behind these disclaimers, one thing is certain — now I am getting more alert and attentive to the disclaimers in any form. Sometimes that is the primary object for me to look up on any media or object. For example, after publishing this post, I would also share it with my Indiblogger friends. If you happen to visit the Indiblogger website and scroll down to the bottom of the page, you would find a disclaimer that would definitely leave you scratching your head: