How Much is Too Much?

Art & Culture Magazine Women

Sexual violence against women in film is a reflection of reality but is increasingly becoming a cause for concern.

The finale episode of the much-awaited Amazon Prime series Mirzapur scheduled for release this month shows a wheelchair-bound man forcing his daughter-in-law at gunpoint to sexually gratify another man. 

Outside the constraints of box-office collections and film certification, streaming platforms have created an unimagined space in India for both the consumers and creators of entertainment. Stories from the Hindi-heartland that were rendered invisible in the mainstream have found their place here. 

At the heart of any trending Indian television show lies a handful of genres; crime, money, sex and a heavy dose of Hindi cuss words. And what happens when a group of men sit down and create a film that combines these elements to construct their idea of the real world? Women get hurt. 

If you had to recall the last three Indian web shows that you watched and remember how many of those had at least one scene of sexual violence against women, you shouldn’t be surprised. 

Asks Journalist Karishma Upadhyay, the author of Parveen Babi: A Life and a current writer at Firstpost, “In the name of realism, how much is too much? Because after a point, it loses its impact. It just becomes another scene. By the third time, I am not flinching that a woman has been raped,” she says. 

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, an average of 87 rape cases were registered in India every day in 2019. “There is already sexual violence in the society”, says Krishna Menon, Dean of humanities at Ambedkar University, Delhi. “Cinema is not creating it but is merely capturing it. Hathras did not happen because someone made a film, it’s the other way around.” 

Pallavi Paul, a PhD student at the Centre for Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, says that the real question that we must ask is, “whether they (creators) are merely reproducing the world or is it aimed at actually creating a world for us to discuss and debate”.  

She cites the example of the much-contested episode of Pataal Lok, titled ‘A History of Violence” to add, “While all of these are rapes, the circumstances of these rapes are not elided over. A woman is not shown as a monolithic abstraction, she also has a caste identity and cultural rooting.” 

Riddhima Kapoor, a BA (Hons) student of JNU, couldn’t sleep for three nights after watching the episode. She can’t understand how anyone can believe a man can rape a woman and just walk away, free of taint or consequence. 

“Pataal Lok is a great example because it is a well-made show and it tells the story of people we don’t necessarily know. But a lot of sexual violence in the show is used as a backstory to tell why men turn to a life of crime,” explains Upadhyay. “Most of the writing crew on these shows are men, which is why in a show like Made in Heaven, written and directed by women, there are consequences” for heinous acts. 

Mirzapur and Pataal Lok list no women directors or writers in their teams. But as Dean Menon points out, women can also internalize the “male-gaze” and end up producing the same kind of degrading cinema. Thus, there comes a need to stop looking at it as a male versus female and instead see the issue in the context of the role of cinema in society. If these scenes can provoke a dialogue on sexual violence, then all would not be lost. 


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