Crime, courtroom drama in Indian entertainment: How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary

The report studies the way in which the police and judiciary are represented in Indian entertainment in crime and courtroom narratives, and its impact on shaping citizens’ understanding of these institutions and the democracy-building project, at large.

Crime, courtroom drama in Indian entertainment: How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary
  • The genre of crime and courtroom dramas in Indian movies has widespread vigilante justice, and often the glorification of extra-judicial means to deliver justice. This influences viewers to support vigilantism and fake encounters by the police in real life.

  • In referring to the police and judicial systems, character dialogues and actions in these movies, TV shows, and web series contain references to low levels of trust and a perception of inefficiency. However, narratives that show justice being achieved through judicial methods against the odds inspire a level of trust in the system among the audience.

  • Senior lawyers, judges, and police officers in movies, TV shows and web series are most often represented as Hindu, high-caste, males. Women are most often shown in familial roles.

In the world of Indian entertainment, crime and courtroom dramas are popular and engaging narratives that have sustained over the years. In the past, iconic films have been made in this genre (Deewar, Gangaajal, Damini, among others), add to that popular TV shows (Crime Patrol, CID, Adalat, etc) that have familiarised audiences with police and legal institutions. It has led to the genre enjoying huge commercial success at the box office, as well as raking in high TRP as TV shows.

Consequently, the police and the judiciary have become well-known premises, characters, and themes in the world of narrative fiction. In a study conducted by IBM, in which they coded around 4,000 Hindi films, it was found that ‘honest police officer’ is one of the most common introductions for a male character in Bollywood. On the other hand, lawyers are usually associated with negative personality stereotypes.

Crime courtroom drama in Indian entertainment How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary

These stereotypes find their way into culture and common perceptions of the police and judiciary. The impact of entertainment on viewers has been well documented, with various studies from around the world proving that we are influenced by characters and themes we watch on screen. Thus, understanding how the representations of public institutions (government, police, and judiciary) shape our perception and engagement with them is an important question in a democracy.

This report is a quantitative and qualitative analysis of how the police and legal system are represented in a sample of over 30 crime and courtroom dramas in mainstream Indian films, television shows, and web series from 2016 to 2019. Of this sample, the report conducts an in-depth analysis of nine specific media pieces:

Film: Pink, State vs. Jolly LLB 2, Si3 (Tamil)

Television: Crime Patrol, Saavdhan India, CID

Web series: Delhi Crime, Criminal Justice, Sacred Games S1.

For the quantitative analysis, 25 codes across categories such as types of crime, modes of justice delivery, references and perceptions of trust around public institutions, character demographics, etc., were developed and applied to character actions, dialogues, and plot lines.

Crime courtroom drama in Indian entertainment How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary

Crime courtroom drama in Indian entertainment How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary

Crime courtroom drama in Indian entertainment How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary

Crime courtroom drama in Indian entertainment How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary Crime courtroom drama in Indian entertainment How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary

Crime courtroom drama in Indian entertainment How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary

Crime courtroom drama in Indian entertainment How the genres sway popular opinion on law and judiciary

These were the major insights from the research:

  1. The genre of crime and courtroom dramas in Indian movies has widespread vigilante justice, and often, the glorification of extra-judicial means to deliver justice. This influences viewers to support vigilantism and fake encounters by the police in real life.
  2. In referring to the police and judicial systems, character dialogues and actions in these movies, TV shows, and web series, contain references to low levels of trust and a perception of inefficiency. However, narratives that show justice being achieved through judicial methods against the odds inspire a level of trust in the system among the audience.
  3. Senior lawyers, judges, and police officers in movies, TV shows and web-series are most often represented as Hindu, high-caste males. Women are most often shown in familial roles.
  4. Entertainment can serve as a powerful tool for legal education. It was seen that exposure to information about PILs (Public Interest Litigation) on-screen increased awareness of the same off-screen.

The report aims to serve as a starting point for a conversation on the need for greater media impact research, creating networks and accessible research resources on the judiciary and police for writers and filmmakers, and improving democracy through responsible stories about public institutions and civic participation.

To read the entire project, click here.

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About the authors:

— Aishwarya Viswanathan is a researcher and visual artist, with a keen interest in video cultures and its role in political mobilisation and activism. At Civic Studios, she is exploring the representation of police and legal institutions in Indian mainstream entertainment.

— Roohi Bhatia has worked in content management, qualitative research, and PR across the development and corporate sectors. She is passionate about creating content that drives social impact at scale. At Civic Studios, she manages audience research and creative production.

— Anushka Shah works as a researcher at the Center for Civic Media, MIT Media Lab where she runs the Civic Entertainment project, and is also the founder of Civic Studios. Anushka has a background in applied statistics and digital text analysis, and has previously worked with non-profits and political parties in India. She divides her time between Mumbai and Boston.

All images and infographics courtesy of Civic Studios.

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