Urban legends of noble savage
In the wake of the recent spate of controversies regarding the way violation, rape and brutalisation of women is being used as an analogy by politicians to describe their particular angst at that given time, it becomes necessary to analyse the factors that lead them to situations of such irreversible faux pas. The remarks are merely deemed controversial, and, for some strange reasons unbeknownst to the Indian media, do not count as gender violence when they are spewed by politicians or superstars, or superstars-turned-politicians. In the two recent cases in West Bengal, there is a Member of Parliament, who, in his righteous rage against political opponents, has threatened ‘rape and murder’ to their womenfolk and then had to duly and promptly tender apology for his very non-tender comments, while the other being a young star, then a candidate from the Ghatal Lok Sabha Assembly, who compared his busy election campaign to being raped— ‘you can shout, or you can enjoy’, he ended in all his Tollywood wisdom.
Not that there is any dearth of politicians making irresponsible comments on sexual harassment and rape, such as the ones asking women to call their rapists ‘brothers’ or to avoid the consumption of chowmien or the use of mobiles. Why, just the other day, Goa CM Manohar Parikkar bemoaned the fact that industrialists face 16 inspectors to get permission while rape victims only have to face one. However, while writing this column, I kept wondering whether it is a coincidence that both the aforementioned men have industry connections, and whether the media is at least partially responsible for the way men in our society talk of/perceive/behave with/objectify/brutalise women.
For instance, I have recently come across a vast section of the ‘fairer sex’ going berserk over an idiotic film written and directed by Imtiaz Ali — Highway. I sat through it with the vague anticipation till a very late hour, on one hand, that it shall redeem its terribly insensible and insensitive storyline, while on the other hand dreading the fact that women have, actually, indeed liked the film as it is. I cannot say what caused me more distress. I kept hoping this film is not about believability. I don’t find anything wrong with the complexities of Stockholm syndrome, neither do I resent the reinvention of Randeep Hooda as a dramatic actor of some calibre (when you can make out his dialects through the grunts and general ill tempered bemusement). I am quite elated that a director has finally discovered the marvels of Himachal Pradesh state bus routes approximately five years after I discovered them (long due in Hindi film cinematography).
And yet, a film that purportedly starts out to be a slap in the face of the paedophilic Sainik farm-thronging Khan Market-hopping Delhi elite somehow becomes a slap in the face of all women so far held captive under torture, sometimes raped to the point of death or beyond, and their maimed and mutilated bodies that somehow never made it to the romantic idylls of Lahoul-Spiti, nor sat in the peaceful glades overlooking Keye monastery, dreaming of grasslands and faraway songs. They didn’t have, perhaps, the good fortune of having been kidnapped by the only chivalrous Haryanvi male — a noble savage — who has been touched by a mother’s love, and has therefore been humanized enough not to inflict much bodily injury on a female he apparently plans to violate. Alas, for the spoils of patriarchy and the spoiling of an otherwise perfectly delightful coupling. I am sorry, women of India, dead and alive. What were you thinking, Imtiaz?
His champions, the female league of sympathetic cine-goers, vehemently argued for ‘complexity’ and that ‘when insiders are demons, women find solace with strangers’. Woe be to those that are not as dependent upon the kindness of strangers as to take a group of potential sexual offenders to be their saviours. To the women who cite ‘lack of torture’ as the reason for the girl’s emotional attachment to her kidnapper, I can only say that the gross reality lay in that ‘lack’ thereof (I am obviously still loath to consider force-feeding, gagging, tugging mercilessly on someone’s hair, manhandling, and some good-natured spanking and slapping as ‘lack of torture’). The ‘lack’ of visceral physical abuse detailed in the film in general massively undercuts the deeper sinister mechanism of a hostage scenario, as it does the strange psychosis of a male who wants to pimp out the girl on one hand, and on the other displays a general (incredibly so) air of disgruntled affection, as one would do with a child. I think I liked the creepiness of the accomplice, who tries to beguile the girl into believing that he is a friend and tries to molest her. And strangely, that molestation is almost used as a foil to engage the chivalry of the hero rather to underscore the horrid underlying threat of the situation.
The theme is so complex as to demand a better handling. I am suddenly extremely sensitive to all the kidnap/rape stories, and wondering whether this film does any justice whatsoever to the victims who have suffered immeasurable afflictions under some not-so-chivalrous abusers.
Instead of altering or problematising the paradigms of violence, it merely seeks to give us different registers of the same, as though there could be a choice between a child sex abuser and a violent kidnapper and potential rapist. Are you saying that the latter is better than the former? And that it’s safe for a girl to choose one over the other? That it is alright to feel enamoured of one and disgusted of the other?
I rest my case. Only to take it up again, later, when another man spouts some other ingenious vileness or cinematic or literary plot against our miserable lot.