“I believe all people are good. Some just do bad things.”
Said BB King, the legendary Blues artist, in a 2009 interview to Telegraph when asked if he believed people were fundamentally good.
But the most popular plotline in the history of storytelling had always seemed to suggest otherwise. As far as I can remember, the plotline of ‘good winning over evil’ had transcended media. From books to movies to bedtime stories, this construct of storytelling reflected in almost everything we heard or saw. My grandmother’s bedtime stories were no different. In her stories, both good and evil were born such – fated to follow their pre-determined destinies. Amar Chitra Katha, a popular children’s comics in India, followed suit and created virtuous versions of mythological epics Ramayan and Mahabharat. In these recreated versions, Lord Rama from the Ramayan and the Pandavas from the Mahabharat were depicted as incorruptible heroes who could never suffer any lapse of judgment.
If every coin has two sides, we had only seen one.
Interestingly, though, in the past decade there seems to have been a steady shift in mainstream conversations around the concepts of good and evil. Let’s take Mahabharat for instance. We seem to have travelled a long way from the times of B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata, a television show that had captivated millions of Indians in the 90s with its almost pious depiction of the complex epic. While in the past many intellectuals had explored the intricacies of the Mahabharat, it is only now that popular fiction authors have delved deeper into imagining the motivations of both – the supposed ‘heroes’ and the ‘villains’ – why did they do what they did?
Chitra Banerjee Divakurni has written Mahabharata from the point of view of Draupadi, the wife of the five brothers Pandavas, weaving a story of duty versus desire, especially when painting a portrait of her relationship with her husbands’ arch nemesis Karna. In the book ‘Palace of Illusions’, Draupadi is not a woman compromised or a pawn for her husbands and the enemies, but a woman willing to manipulate and strategize to get her way. In the same vein, a recently launched general entertainment channel called Epic has gone so far as to create a show called Dharmakshetra (Duty’s Battleground) – where we see both the Kauravas and the Pandavas having to equally answer for their actions at the court of Chitragupta, a Hindu god assigned with the responsibility of maintaining records of the actions of all human beings.
American television too seems to have embraced the idea of ‘greys’ with multiple mainstream shows encouraging stories that showcase good and evil existing as sometimes complementary opposites, sometimes part of a single individual. Once Upon A Time, a show that weaves fairytale characters into modern fantasy plotlines, recently let the Evil Queen (the nemesis of Snow White) discover the hero within her with Snow White and Prince Charming by her side. Similarly, Daredevil, a recent Netflix winner, spent an equal number of episodes developing the intimate, vulnerable side of the villain Wilson Fisk as the number of episodes they spent on telling the hero Matt Murdock’s origin story. In the end, the show almost got you confused about whether Wilson Fisk truly was evil or was his perspective as justified as Matt Murdock’s.
It makes one wonder, what could have caused people’s sudden fascination with the likes of such morally ambiguous characters and story lines?
There could be multiple reasons, but a possible hypothesis could be something the internet calls ‘outrage fatigue’. A fatigue brought about by constantly reacting towards unhappy news and seeing an ever growing list of real-life ‘villains’. The fatigue also seems to emerge from the realization that these ‘villains’ actually live amongst us and belong to the same society we belong to.
Then how did they choose a path so different from ours?
I believe that attempts to answer this question have encouraged people to seek out stories that help them understand and embrace context – whether in stories or in life itself. Increasingly, people are learning that positive or negative behaviour can be an outcome of environment and experience, leading to choices. And choices too can lie outside the purview of subjective moral codes.
So then, isn’t it time that we move beyond branding anyone good or bad? Maybe the answer lies in questioning the simplistic idea of the good vs. evil construct, especially in storytelling. Maybe it is time to create newer, more intimate bedtime stories to impart lessons of tolerance, love and duty. Stories that celebrate the black, the white and the greys of people, their journeys and their lessons learned.
- Sanchari Chakrabarty
This post was originally featured here
Sanchari is an Executive, Brand Communications in DDB’s Mumbai office. She is a mini-celebrity on Instagram (follow her @sancharisays), worships at the altar of the World Wide Web and believes that within Bollywood dialogues, lies profound wisdom. You can get in touch with her on twitter @sancharisays
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