Exploitation cinema followed the generic thriller, horror, action and crime themes in the eras of 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. These kinds of movies were mostly aimed for moviegoers belonging to the age group of fifteen to twenty-five. However, at the turn of the 21st Century, exploitation cinema took a startling turn in terms of its representation of violence and sex. Oftentimes, makers used hardcore trauma as a convenient plot tool to advance the movie. At the same time, the makers were irresponsible in exploiting this imagery in terms of providing very little trigger warning for viewers. Consequently, this led to severe triggers for viewers who suffered from PTSD, anxiety or other mental health disorders.
The horror genre has been notorious in producing movies of this kind. The slasher horror movies which often show explicit gore have infrequently used proper censorship. The issue of censorship is debated widely. In terms of what is proper and improper, the censor board has often used regressive cultural norms to enforce arbitrary censorship. However, in terms of a factual representation of bodily harm, censor boards are often lacklustre. This gives rise to movies often exploiting harmful stereotypes for the sake of comic relief too. For example, blatant homophobia and transphobia are shown as a laughing point in movies like ‘Humshakals’ or ‘Bol Bachchan’. Furthermore, movies often use sexual trauma as a plot point to forward the movie. For example, in the movie ‘Simmba,’ a brutal rape plot point is used as a character arc for the protagonist.
Another harmful use of sexual trauma in exploitation cinema is when it is used as something which makes women powerful. This is harmful because it reinforces the idea that women are capable of tolerating pain. Hence, they should be pedestalized for this ability. Women often have been at the receiving end of emotional, physical and sexual trauma. This is not because of their tolerance but because of sheer brute force. Movies which romanticize the idea of women having to go through a traumatic incident in their life to become powerful is harmful as it perpetuates the idea that women by default are weak. It also glorifies the systemic abuse that women often face. Examples of this can be seen in movies like ‘Mother India.’
Furthermore, sexual trauma is often used as a tool in exploitation cinema which fall under the genre of torture porn. For example, in movies like ‘I Spit on Your Grave’, the protagonist has to go through a harrowing incident for her to become capable enough to exact revenge on her perpetrators. These movies rely heavily on manifesting violent imagery. This is exploitative in the sense where violence and sex intertwine to provide a sadistic viewing for the audience. In movies like ‘A Serbian Film’, violence once again is used to attract and shock the viewers. Hence, in movies like these, violence is only used like a background musical score which is vicious in its nature.
Exploitation movies often give the excuse of dealing with taboo topics for their existence. However, such topics can be shown in a different light which does not exploit lived experiences. For example, Zee5 recently released a web series called ‘Mafia.’ This series delved heavily into issues of caste-based violence. However, the series once again used this violence as a plot point to shock the viewers rather than explore in-depth the causes behind it. This becomes problematic as lived experiences are reduced to an artistic expression which is shown without any trigger warnings. On the other hand, movies like ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha,’ talk about deep-seated taboos in Indian society without exploiting trauma.
Violence and sex can be shown in movies to be imagery. Censor boards often find wrongful problems with harmless representation of sex. Simultaneously, movies and shows which exploit trauma and use violence and sex as a means of aesthetics and plot points are often given a free pass. Responsible representation is important while producing movies which deal with heavy and uncomfortable matters. Art has the capacity to spread important messages but when its representation becomes so abusive, it loses its meaning and only becomes another tool of oppression.