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india’s great tamasha- female violence. maybe bollywood, too

female stigmas abound in india due to omnipresent sexism: sexism in the judicial, religious, educational and social systems. women are tarnished; women’s honor are at stake; widows are ashrammed; educated girls end up marrying off and settling into relationships with men less intelligent than them, because of arranged marriages or tradition or pleasing parents. nothing wrong with ‘marrying down’ but marrying down and being treated or considered lesser is certainly a problem!

the latest rape of a journalist in mumbai brings head-on the question of female violence and why it continues.
a tweet posted by shabana azmi delves into this issue: “crass lyrics, voyeuristic camera angles, fragmented images of heaving breasts, swivelling navels, swinging hips rob women of autonomy. so much easier to blame than to reflect and share part of the blame. all sections of society including films need to analyse how we are part culpable.”

while no one parameter can be blamed for the rise in any crime, it is scientifically proven that watching aggression increases the tendency of aggression according to IANS in times of india 7 march 2013. when there are too many rape scenes in movies, the objectification of women itself can impact minds. if that is promoted, it will have its impact.

so what of films? is there any cause and effect?

in the USA, jim carrey refused to play a role in kick-ass 2 to distance himself in the wake of the recent sandy hook massacre. he tweeted “in all good conscience i cannot support the movie’s extensive and graphically violent scenes” [nytimes 25 aug 2013].

in india, where rape is becoming more and more commonplace, where does cinema stand? are there any indian jim carreys willing to take a stand against rape?

bollywood of the 1950s to 1980s almost had a set rape “formula”. a dimly-lit or dark room, a yelping woman, dressed traditionally or not, a callous villain and a hero who saves the helpless victim. although this has diminished on the silver screen, rapes are on the rise off-screen: india witnessed a staggering spiral of 873 percent in rape cases between 1953 and 2011, according to statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau.

there are many rape films. yeh hai aurat, bawandar, Mehboob Khan’s “Amar”, B.R. Chopra’s “Insaaf ka Tarazu”, N.N.Sippy’s “Ghar” and Rajkumar Santoshi’s “Damini” to name only a few.

yeh hai aurat glamorizes rape where the girl who went for a job begs the rapist for mercy; bawandar where nandita das is gang raped and she reports it but faces police ridicule and nothing comes of it in the end.
damini tells the story of a beautiful woman who dances beautifully, and whom shekar falls in love with. everyone falls in love with damini on the groom’s side, too, and the couple moves to their house where a servant is being raped by shekar’s younger brother. damini and shekar try to stop it, but too late. the Gupta family [husband’s family] conspires to cover-up this shameful incident, but Damini is unable to get this incident out of her mind, and finally decides to inform the police. she does so, and is instantly shunned by the Gupta family, and asked to leave the house. The police arrests Rakesh and three of his friends, and the matter is taken up in court, and Damini is asked to testify. Damini is portrayed by the Gupta family’s lawyer, Indrajit Chhadha, as a mentally unstable person, with everyone from the Gupta family to her very own dad testifying to that effect. Damini is confined in a mental institution for two weeks by a judicial order. Unable to bear the mental torture in the institution, she escapes and runs into a down-and-out alcoholic lawyer by the name of Govind, who has the rape case re-opened. the maid-servant dies in hospital, and the police write her death off as a suicide.

what message do films like these impart to a public hungrily imbibing and worshipping cinema and cinema villains like gods?
films are make-believe nature, even in the western worlds. they DO reflect reality and sometimes, a lot of reality. india’s past cinematic history shows a set pattern of villains who played over and over rapists: pran, prem chorpra, shakti kapoor and ranjeet. rape was sometimes a revenge tool or used by these men as a mark of superiority over the fairer [and darker] sex, but whatever the reason it was there unabashedly a feature of films. all of the platitude we see abt rape or heckling or eve teasing which we see in films then and today only makes for women to be scared, NOT the rapists.

yes, today’s cinema don’t have as many rape scenes, but they do have highly sexual lyrics instead, uninhibited skin, lovemaking in songs like munni badnaam and sheila ki jawani which are aggravators of increased sexual violence against women. it is not on the big screen only but real life.
according to IANS, times of india march 7, 2013, rape has vanished from newer bollywood because a new generation has arrived which doesn’t have cinema as an avenue for titillation; there are other far superior means. rape in the 1970s and the 1980s unfortunately was used more for its ‘item’ value than as a necessity of the script. there was no internet, no access to porn and no open sale of desi Playboys, and the families were largely conservative. today’s generation has access to myriad forms of nudity, and they won’t watch a film just because of some skin in it. films may impact people’s psyche, but at the same time there are other important factors that can’t be ignored in perpetuating sexual violence.

many people in india just stand by and let things happen; the law and order of the country; the society – all crimes are a result of collective factors. when films show rape scenes, they often focus on the suffering of the girl instead of showing the consequences borne by the man. if consequences are shown, it might inculcate a feeling of fear in men, we’ve seen how ads send out subtle messages, whether in india or other parts of the world.

in the discussion on rape at http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/we-the-people/impunity-of-rapists-impotence-of-system/288226?vod-mostpopular we learn that india has taken as long as 5 years to consider a rape case. at some point isnt it obvious that the poor woman would just drop the case and moves on? nothing changes because unless retribution is swift, it is forgotten. when a rape occurs in india, why isn’t the question of female violence not lie in the way the perpetrator looks? does the fault of rape or violence or molestation lie in how women dress or look? and can it not lie in the way we see bollywood movies which give vicarious pleasure?

if film is like morphine in people’s veins, india needs films which can deliver impact. films with character names like pallavi [the 25 yr old law graduate raped then killed at her home], soumya [who was shot dead coming back from work and whose case has been going on for 5 yrs and is in the lower courts still], or bravehearts or jyoti or damini or nirbhaya [all names given to the delhi girl gang raped in a bus, and left for dead last december] etc? just like pooja bhatt – actress- who uses her real name in most film roles she’s played. giving names of raped women and girls could certainly resonate with the public each time they see or say that name or discuss the film.

pooja bhatt is also a female director in india who is promising for women if she commits to making films where women can speak out against this kind of violence. her paap, holiday [remake of dirty dancing], dhoka, kajraare [pro-women as it explores finding true love despite having a ‘disreputable’ position as bar dancer] and jism 2 [normalizing a porn star in lead role] are good attempts at showing women in a strong roles. but let’s bring on roles where they are not glamorized or empowered with sexual presence, as though that’s their sole purpose, but give women roles where they are discriminated against or raped and fight the system and win. or more pertinent to indian culture, why not a farhan akhtar film, who is part of the panel of this talk against violence to women. a male director would certainly enjoy more freedom and popularity than a female director on the same theme. and why not put famous actors and actresses while at it? that way the viewing, identifying public is sure to stop and think about rape as cinema is india’s bloodline.

bollywood -like hollywood- has always normalized gender inequality, no matter how accomplished a woman in this millennium. film is first and foremost a pleasure distillery for all, but especially in india. [see my blog “hubris of capitalism or commodification of women?”]

pooja bhatt makes movies on women, but no one wants to see them. as does tanuja chandra. no one wants to see a deepa mehta movie where women are strong and fight all systems: religion, tradition, customs etc. they’d rather burn down cinema houses or stop the filming because the reality of women’s lives that mehta wants to put on film is offensive to hindu culture. or a mira nair film, empowering a moushami to leave her bengali husband and take off to paris because she is sorbonne-trained [namesake] and has a french lover. an independent thinking educated beautiful woman.
note! both mehta and nair are filming out of india because of limitations and on women .

why does india’s movies for strong women or reality-based movies only make it in the western world or in film festivals and human rights festivals and not in india where it HUGELY matters? why aren’t these strong or independent women-themed movies more commercial like other blockbusters?

barriers can’t be easily broken by filming in india. doors are closed to those daring to film on women’s injustices. even locally made films like lajja end up subscribing to pleasure. people slander women who film on indian women saying they’re westernized if they show the harsh reality of women’s lives in india. change must be considered imperative for indian women, because a worse problem has cropped up: the already filmy sexual violence is now being compounded by the explosion and quick access of porn on mobile devices and home computers.

a recent study by national institute of mental health and multiple professional orgs [american medical assn; american psychiatric assn; american psychological assn ] all consider media violence exposure a risk factor for actual violence. the weight of the study supports the position that exposure to media leads to aggression, desensitization toward violence and a lack of sympathy for victims of violence. if for USA this study supports violence against children who are inundated with social media, for india it is WOMEN. the sexual harassment law does wonders to deter predatorial men like those who drove around that bus looking for a girl to rape in delhi last december. in india there’s no affirmative action for women harassed or raped; no impunity for men, and utter ridicule by police which we see in so many films. this makes sexual violence like a fashion for men: you see, you imitate.


1 Comment

  1. complicity is what audiences feel with actors and actresses in any cinema, but especially bollywood. a small wonder then that violence against women are mimicked without indemnity.

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