Use of abusive words or slang has been universal in daily conversations of human beings across the globe, since times immemorial perhaps. However, in this piece we’re only interested as to how such cuss words have progressed to more hardened and stronger forms on the celluloid and how they have conquered other very conservative celluloid forms. This is not at all a research paper either; but, interestingly, there is lot of research on the progressively hardening swear words in Hollywood movies-researchers even listing out movies with the maximum number of swear-words used in the dialogues by the characters, one finding a maximum of a near thousand such expressions in a movie of around 90 minutes’ duration. In early times societies in the west too were more conservative, and therefore the swear-words were of the relatively innocent types like ‘heck’, ‘what the hell’, ‘damn’ ‘shit’ and so on. The shift toward the hardened cuss words involving the ‘f‘ or ‘f‘ or ‘as*e’ varieties can be traced to the early seventies in Hollywood movies. Over time it steadily progressed to the early nineties and then the progress has been exponential with almost every movie using those words liberally. It is said or even believed that developing countries like India lag behind any ‘progress’ in America or the by about two decades. So, we first examine the scenario in India.
When we were in schools times were not modern like today’s, but definitely families were more cultured rather than conservative, and for decent families the uttering of swear words was a taboo. Whatever cuss words were in circulation those were limited to a handful of back-benchers and the usage was purely of local slang. Most of us were awestruck on hearing such words. Nevertheless, at times we used to learn some very uncommon local slang, and in the spirit of a new discovery on learning about a never-heard-of word without understanding its meaning I once uttered that in a sing-song way before my mother. My mother angrily ordered me to shut up immediately, and I inculcated the ‘decency’, again.
In college days some outside influences from other parts of the country-mostly from the northern side-gave new and stronger abusive slang involving the mother or the sister invariably. In the course of higher studies the words learnt increased substantially, slowly graduating to the ‘f’ or ‘a’ types in the eighties which is corroborated by the fact stated above in regard to Hollywood films starting the initiative in the seventies. Of course, this does not mean that the swear-word phenomenon is an increasing function of higher learning. However, we can say confidently that this has a lot to do with the modernity, urbanization and the frequent international film festivals which in turn mean more ‘exposure’ to Hollywood and other ‘liberally realistic’ films from other countries.
From the Golden Era of Bollywood or Hindi cinema of the fifties-sixties up to the present-day technically sound movies the mainstream movies thus far are mostly free of the hardened or modern swear words-limited only to the relatively innocent local abuses-thanks to their aim of ‘family entertainment’ for more robust commerce. Only a handful of movies that claimed to be different in terms of subjects or storyline or ‘stark-realism’ used those hardened words, albeit selectively enough, to not offend the censor board members too much. Most filmmakers noticed the use of the hardened swear words in daily conversations of particularly the modern ‘progressive’ youth population, but still did not go ahead with a liberal dosage in fear of the censor board where the members still leaned toward decency or conservatism-of course, becoming steadily more tolerant. The mainstream television serials in India of course have been totally free of the specific swear words, again thanks to the ‘family’ perception. Mind you, we’re not talking about sexual content or vulgarity in any national/regional movies or serials.
Hollywood movies with the growing exposure of the youth in a modern digital India have succeeded in penetrating the Over The Top (OTT) producing and streaming serials/movies in a brutal way, because there were no censors or regulatory authorities for these productions till recently when the Government of India woke up to this ‘threat’ to decency. Nowadays, go to any serial or movie on an OTT platform and you’ll immediately find a ‘content advisory’ that starts with the aspect of ‘foul language’ among others. The R or X rated films which were restricted earlier to youth below 18 years of age are available with the 13+ ratings. This means that the words of the ‘f’ or ‘a’ varieties are set to engulf the country soon or have already done so. Nearly every male or female character in the OTT productions mouths a ‘f’ or ‘a’ word almost in every dialogue with or without any necessity for doing so. Thanks to Hollywood, this is a fashionably ‘liberal’ trend that rages at the moment.
But still. Why at all? Is this realism of the third kind in humanity? Researchers say that Americans or Westerns use just about 1% swear word of the hardened varieties in daily existence while their movies use it beyond 25% in a single movie. This rule can be fully applied to the Indian people too in regard to the OTT streaming. We suppose the phenomena of a spouse addressing his/her life-partner as a ‘f*** as*e’ is still considered very offensive in any household across the globe. But unfortunately, we find such expressions in abundance in the ‘family’ scenes involving parents and even children of Hollywood movies or the Indian OTT.
I’d leave it to you if we need to just laugh at this unique ‘realism’ or be concerned about this, rampant in the large, small and micro screens across households-households the members of which in reality do get separated from each other by those very screens.
Chinmay Chakravarty is a professional creatively engaged in writing. He has a special liking to see people happy and smiling always. So he has devoted a sizable chunk of his writing time to humor pieces based mostly on daily life and observations. He was an officer of Indian Information Service and superannuated from the post of Director, Press Information Bureau, Kolkata in November, 2019. Published his first book on Humor ‘Laugh and Let Laugh’ in 2017 and his second humor fiction ‘The Cheerless Chauffeur and Other Tales’ in 2021.