Why Indian Cinema Has Never Got Rape Right – Be it Male or Female

Like most children in a hindu household, I was fascinated by Mahabharata. Especially, the vastraharan scene, as BR Chopra visualised it. I remember our school going days when I used to drape a saree while playing Draupadi. My sister was Krishna and my brother was the evil Dushasan. Disrobing a woman of her modesty was a role-play for us. Our parents didn’t stop us. Maybe, they saw all of this as a celebration of Krishna’s intervention and not as the outraging of Draupadi’s modesty. Or maybe, I am just finding excuses to defend my joint family of parents and relatives, and being a hypocrite. Whatever it is, I will not have the same OKAY-ish approach, if I watched my kids enact the same scene.

Well, I grew up a little. I watched hindi films. I saw rape in Bollywood was less of a serious thing, but more of a moment where the woman screams “bhagwan ke liye mujhe chhod do”.

Thank god for some good lessons. Long before people made Facebook memes, I learnt from Sridevi in this Telugu film, that consent has to be continuous. If not, it can be termed as sexual assault.

I also learnt that if you are poor and vulnerable, you are subjected to rape. For example Damini (1993), in which the maid in Meenakshi Sheshadri aka Damini’s sasuraal, is raped. It is one of the most coveted feministy scenes in Indian cinema, where rape was the central theme of the complete film.

In Dil (1990), I remember the false rape charge by Madhuri and this retaliation rape scene, where Aamir reminds Madhuri that a woman loses her modesty and respect if she is raped. Aamir, of all people, should be awarded a prize for working on this ‘rape manual’ of a film. To his credit though, he profusely apologised for it in Satyamev Jayate.

Khair, der aaye durust aaye.

Now coming to sexual assault on men. There are just a handful of films that depicted that. If you look at our laws, there are none, to the best of my knowledge, that protect men from sexual assault. I am not beginning a debate on gender neutrality, but merely stating a fact. If tomorrow I get raped, I have no direct recourse in a law.

Section 354 of the indian penal code speaks about outraging the modesty of a woman. Even the law assumes that men have no modesty. It has more than often been seen as a subject of ridicule. Much that “to take someone’s ass” is more of an idiomatic usage, no matter how problematic and disgusting it sounds.

Even our very intelligent stars didn’t shy from sharing a laugh or two when the films showed them being raped. In Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local, Abhay Deol was raped. It is natural that one would take their most important scenes for the promotional trailer of the film.

There is an iconic scene in the national award winning Natrang, which highlights the role of women. First being an effeminate man is shown as the only option for him to survive, which eventually turns into a bane when he gets raped by men. Though in this case, the film’s director depicted the issue with utmost sensitivity.

Then there are scenes in films like Gulal and Hostel, in which young male hostellers are stripped and raped respectively. The films did depict the gruesomeness of the fact rape is about force, and either (or more) of the genders could be raped. However, I still remember the ridiculing laughter in the theatre while I was watching Hostel.

The most iconic male rape scene is the one in Onir’s I AM, in which Section 377 is misused by the police to not just extort money, but also sexually assault a gay person.

And this scene from Chandni Bar, which shows juvenile prison inmates being forced to have sex.

More often than not, I have experienced bouts of laughter, or the tendency to look away, when such scenes are played. As a survivor of rape myself, I felt numb and naked at the apathy. But I am also also guilty to have laughed during the balaatkaar joke in 3 Idiots. I saw it more as a word play than the meaning of the word itself. But then, Rajkumar Hirani could have chosen a different word. Or a different plot. Maybe then, our chocolate boy Varun Dhawan, would not use that as a reason to justify the way Badri’s molestation scene was shot in Badrinath Ki Dulhania, with people laughing at him, as he tries to cover his body after being sexually assaulted. 3 Idiots set a precedent, Badrinath sets a new precedent. Maybe someone else will cite the Varun Dhawan-Alia Bhatt starrer to justify their insensitive depiction of male molestation. Or maybe not.

I sincerely hope not.

And where most of Bollywood fails miserably, this short film written by Sheetal Kher and Divyanshu Pandit, makes a poignant point.

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