Can criminal content take the fall for a criminal?

Experts cite the ongoing Mehrauli murder case to speak about the possible creative inspiration that could transpire into real-life atrocities, the role of OTT and production houses and more...

Nov 22, 2022 09:25:00 AM | Article | Eularie Saldanha

A body chopped into 35 pieces, intestines churned into something inconceivable. Messages going out from the deceased’s phone for months to avoid missing suspicion…A food blogger carries on with his day and casually invites other dates home, while his partner lies chopped cold like ground poultry in a 300-litre fridge sitting in his apartment.
 
Sounds nothing less like a thriller movie running on the big screen, does it? 
 
The Delhi Mehrauli murder case revealed that the man behind the not-so-fictional story was Aftab Amin Poonawalla, and the victim, was his live-in partner Shraddha Walker.
 
However, the story seems to be heading in more directions than one, with each passing day. And there's one specific detail that caught our attention.
 
As stated by the accused, the American crime show Dexter, was what led him to commit the odious homicide. Going by a moral compass, this would mean so many things, including the fact that more than half of the content available on OTT platforms would belong to the crime genre.
 
Does this then mean that these OTT platforms need to take some amount of onus for what transpires from reel to real?
 
What content’s got on crime
 
 
The story quoted Mumbai-based clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany, who said, “If people say that they are addicted to the serials, that itself is a problem and the main cause of mental health issues.”
 
She went ahead to share how the age group of 18-40 are the ones who like crime since it gives them some kind of adrenaline rush in their body.
 
While this could be one way of seeing it, there’s always more than what meets the eye.
 
Lacerating the belief that creators are accountable for criminal behaviour, Sunder Aaron, co-founder, and principal, Locomotive Global Inc, said, “There is no relation between television shows and heinous crimes. If we want violence such as this to stop, then we must start by asking the right questions that allow us to get to the actual cause of such behaviour in our country.”
 
The investigation also revealed Poonawala’s Google search history, which involved methods to clean blood and other details about the human anatomy.
 
Sanjay Tripathy, co-founder and CEO, Agilio Labs, belaboured this fact, by stating that there are enough options on the internet to get information, through videos, chats, and other one-on-one calls through multiple platforms.
 
“It is difficult to control the content as it is made for a global audience. So just blaming a few OTT or TV channels will not solve the issue. Reels always inspire people, be it in science, sports or in crime. It is important to identify such individuals early by their close circle and report them to wider family/society/authorities so that they can get help at the right time,” he added.
 
A sneak peek into the sinister
 
The media story also quoted the psychologist saying that most of the crimes conducted were examples taken from TV series, with their clients sharing that most of their nightmares were about crime and murdering someone.
 
Dissing this, Lloyd Mathias, business strategist, investor and former marketing head of HP Asia, said, “Illegal and criminal acts are just that, and the law needs to come down hard on these cases. Finding justifications and post-facto rationalisations just doesn’t make sense.”
 
However, not debunking the fact that a person’s mental state of mind does have a lot to do with how he behaves in a social setting, Aaron stated, “We should ask how and why a person was raised in such a way that could have led to this horrific behaviour. Was this person neglected, or abused? What are the other societal pressures and reasons that led to producing a person who could do such an awful thing to a fellow human being?”
 
Getting into the practicality of the situation, Mathias added that rolling out policies to gauge the mind space of a viewer consuming ‘A’ rated content is not possible. “This would be tantamount to moral policing, which will be wholly unacceptable in a free and open society like ours.”
 
Realistic responsibility
 
Experts stated that the biggest responsibility that platforms and production houses have, is to remain creative and authentic in their work and to support creators who have good stories to tell.
 
For Zubin Dubash, COO, ShemarooMe and its digital business, the responsibility lies at every level, especially at the decision-making stage. “When a show is being created, the studios need to have their filters, and the same applies to all stakeholders in the life cycle of consuming any content. If those self-checks are in place, a lot of sleaze, misogyny and gore will never reach the audience." he explained.
 
It is interesting to point out that the accused also googled the Anupama Gulati murder case, which took place in Dehradun in 2010, to draw ideas from it. Mathias backed this piece of information and said, “Holding cinema and other creative platforms responsible for maintaining the moral compass of society is both unfair and impossible. Both art and life are inseparable and often inspire and influence each other.” 
 
Again, Aaron reiterated that shows and films are not the reason that killers, robbers and rapists exist and experts have spelt out loud that perpetrators usually find a way to commit their crimes, and then blame others for it.
 
Nevertheless, Dubash shared that he too is often at crossroads when taking hard calls about not falling for what’s ‘cool’. “It is not an impossible task to strike the balance at a content shortlist level. We do it and it's worth the sweat and debates that go into it as a business,” he said.
 
For every criminal activity that can be linked to a cinematic inspiration, there are a hundred others that occur.
 
Coming to the boundaries that need to be drawn, Mathias believed that cinema should have full creative freedom to reflect themes, as long as they do not transgress the limits of the law.
 
"There will always be the occasional instance where a criminal act can be correlated or even inspired, but using this as a yardstick to judge a creative product is patently unfair," Mathias surmised.