Narasimham: Why Deontology Fails?




As I continue my spree of watching Vintage Malayalam movies, I encounter commercial flicks and art films alike. Narasimham was an iconic commercial flick by none other than Mohanlal. I didn’t expect this film to be thought provocative at all. Yet, it helped me solidify my view on morality.

The film centers around two major conflicts: one between Induchudan and Pavithran, but also one between Induchudan and his father, Justice Menon. While the former is the archetypal battle between good and evil, the latter is a nuanced characterization of the relationship between father and son. For context, Induchudan was sentenced to prison for 6 years on murder charges. During the conviction, his father refused to believe him and refused to take any action that would’ve favored his son’s case. Instead, he chose to retire and leave town without facing the reality in front of him.

Rather than the action itself, what makes this interesting is Menon’s justification for not believing in his son. As a Judge, he was trained to see the claims of the accused with suspicion. Since he is an adamant follower of the morality that the constitution bestowed upon him, he chose to make it his ideal. The viewer immediately feels something is off. Within the circumstances, this doesn’t seem right. To make sense of things, let’s come to the German Philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant proposed a deontological ethical system, which essentially states that morality is composed of strict rules that apply in all situations. For instance, Kant believed that lying was morally wrong in any situation. According to Kant, if a person were to ask the whereabouts of someone you knew in order to kill them, the right thing is to tell them the truth. This is intuitively unappealing. Moreover, as we discover the role of intuitions in morality, this system of morality seems irrelevant.

What might be the solution, then? After all, our constitution is based on Deontology up to some extent. The film gives the answer to this in the form of Induchudan. Later in the film, when Menon is accused of Indulekha’s murder, Induchudan proceeds to give him the benefit of the doubt. This is the crux of Teleology. The right action changes on the basis of its telos i.e. purpose. It’s okay for a police officer to restrain people during a protest, while a civilian doing it is unethical. Just like language, morality is embedded into the social context of the problem. Here Menon applied his professional ethics in the wrong context: his family.

With expectations of Narasimham being just another commercial flick, I was pleasantly surprised. It probably is the case that nobody had intended this to be a talking point of the movie, but for some reason, the deontology of Justice Menon stood out to me. Little did I know, it would turn out to be a case study of Teleological Morality.

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