Last week I saw 'Viruddh' in Gymkhana. Amitabh Bacchan plays an ordinary aging man, whose young son gets killed in the hands of a rich and powerful guy. AB is driven to a point where he takes the law in his hands, kills the villain, cleans the mud-stains that had been created on the image of his deceased son through a very farcical lawsuit to try the murderer. Of course, he goes to jail afterwards.
I feel, there are three effects of depiction of violence in movies.
When movies have shameless depiction of violence, there's a clear intent to kindle the basic feelings of violence in the audience. People with lots of violence pent up inside -- occasionally with some reason, but mostly because we are biologically programmed to be violent -- and unable to give vent to them, find immense relief from the pressures thus created, by watching somebody else doing those things. One has the liberty to place oneself in the place of whichever character one identifies with or idolises with the most, and live some experiences that one wouldn't dare to in a normal life -- murdering someone, making love to a very attractive man/woman, etc. The feelings which get vent this way aren't necessarily negative or violent. Feelings of pent up love, patriotism etc. also find private expressions through movies. My father, for instance, who finds it quite hard to express well how much he loves us and everybody and is quite caught up in his self-created image of strict and edgy person, finds a very powerful vent to his soft emotions while watching movies. He usually sits with a towel in his hands, and has it dripping with his tears after a single session of movie-watching. :) Movies aren't a multi-billion rupees industry just without reason.
The other effect of depiction of violence is, of course, the kindling of the right kind of violence. It's undeniable that there're evils everywhere. We need power and violence to fight them in many cases. In this age, non-violence can't tell itself from cowardice, even though they are fundamentally different. However, we are prone to get into cowardlike attitudes of resignation more often that not. That happens because callousness and insensitiveness is often the only escape from a persistent feeling of helplessness. More often than not, this insensitiveness to real problems overshoots the line of optimality. A whole people turn deaf and dumb to exploited by another people who take advantage of this. Rebellion at all levels gets necessitated then. Movies, and other media, do have the power to give us the necessary shock-therapy for awakening us from our soporific attitudes. Again, violence depiction is just one of the things that can be passed as a message. Many lessons can be learnt from movies (and other media) if one honestly depicts the right things, and one watches with an open mind.
There's a third, and not so obvious effect, of which it's my main intention to talk. I feel, movies which end in a violent climax have a deep terrorising effect on us. Our logical mind is well capable of noticing the relation between the undoing of the evil, and the way that was brought about. While we get charged up to fight evil by seeing the possibility of its end in the movie, the fact that only a very extreme act of violence brought that gets surreptitiously registered in our mind. A person of normal strength and courage is never going to resort to some extremes of violence, however hard he's driven towards it. If it's craftily shown to him that only a very violent act can bring an end to evil, he will easily believe it. His response: a conclusive resignation and surrender to his own plight.
There are many acts of courage and strength which are not violent in nature: honesty and integrity aren't the least of them. Hard-work, self-reliance being two more to count. It requires a much more expert storytelling to show that these are ultimate weapons against many atrocities. The instances of thorough implementation and success of these virtues may be rare, which proves the point that it's difficult to achieve freedom through non-violent means. But they exist, and an astute observer will notice the much greater heroism involved in them.
But, I wonder if that's at all the intention of many filmmakers. Very talented film-makers who have made movies showing extreme violence have been known to have direct or indirect links to the underworld. I wonder if they are to the Underworlds what writer used to be to the social reformers: careers of messages. While for centuries, writers and artists have effectively conveyed many forwardlooking ideas to the common people, I am apprehensive that many good filmmakers do a very good job in slowly uprooting all faith in goodness and non-violence in the normal public, to make cynical cowards out of them.
We must take care in absorbing hidden messages from movies. If life-partners aren't earned by singing songs running around trees, then liberation from social-evils can't be obtained by going about shooting villains.