Deepa: ‘I wanted to study the minds of rapists’

The Asian Age - - News+ - Lekha Shankar

Deepa Me­hta was in Bangkok, in con­nec­tion with the He­forShe Arts Week of ac­tiv­i­ties, or­gan­ised by UN Women, on the oc­ca­sion of In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day. The film­maker held a spe­cial screen­ing of her lat­est film Anatomy of Vi­o­lence to a select au­di­ence, or­gan­ised by the Cana­dian em­bassy.

Deepa warned the au­di­ence that this was not a film they would “en­joy” and she was right.

Anatomy of Vi­o­lence based on the De­cem­ber 2012 gan­grape case in New Delhi, is not a film that is en­ter­tain­ing, en­joy­able, or ed­i­fy­ing. In fact, it’s not even a reg­u­lar “film”, in the con­ven­tional sense of the word.

It has a docu-for­mat, but can­not be called a doc­u­men­tary, as it’s not based wholly on facts. The “script” evolved out of a two-week work­shop held with a small group of ac­tors who imag­ined and play-acted the lives of the six rapists, based on some ba­sic re­search done by the film­maker.

The film goes on to por­tray their lives of ab­ject poverty, re­pres­sion, de­pri­va­tion des­per­a­tion, lone­li­ness, vi­o­lence, pa­ter­nity. The women are mere pawns, not play­ers.

The rape-victim seems a world apart, with her se­cure job, happy fam­ily, lov­ing fi­ancé.

It’s in­evitable that the two worlds have to clash.

But Me­hta de­lib­er­ately does not por­tray the “clash”, as in the gan­grape.

How­ever, her aim was “not to re-vic­timise the victim”, but to de-mys­tify the rapists. Ac­cord­ing to her, the film was not about rape, but about the rapist.

And did she get the an­swers? Me­hta stated that it was not her job to get the an­swers, but to pose the ques­tions.

The child mo­lesta­tion scene of the boy in the first scene of the film, and the con­victed rapist’s un­re­pen­tance in the last scene, are chill­ing and con­tro­ver­sial, in a film that dis­turbs and trou­bles.

Ex­cerpts from a chat with Me­hta:

Your films have fo­cused on the women’s psy­che, till now. So, why this change?

This film is to­tally dif­fer­ent from any­thing I’ve done till now. The gan­grape was so hor­rific that I could not make an or­di­nary film on rape. On the other hand, I wanted to put the spot­light on the rapists, and un­der­stand why they did what they did. Ev­ery film is a learn­ing process for me, and just like I wanted to learn about wi­d­ows, wives, the Par­ti­tion, in my “Tril­ogy”, in this movie, I wanted to learn about the rapists.

The rapists’ sto­ries are har­row­ingly real. How much re­search did you do?

I re­searched for a year, as there were as many as 600 doc­u­ments about the case. But the sto­ries were not all based on the true facts of their lives. They were an im­pro­vi­sa­tion of the rapists’ mo­ti­va­tions and ac­tions, which came about, af­ter two weeks of an in­tense, col­lab­o­ra­tive work­shop done with a bunch of tal­ented theatre artistes from Delhi and Chandigarh, su­per­vised by noted theatre per­son­al­ity Nee­lam Mans­ingh Chowd­hury.

Can you give more de­tails about this col­lab­o­ra­tive work­shop?

I had no set script, like with my ear­lier films. I asked the cast to imag­ine and en­act scenes from the rapists’ lives — child­hood, fam­ily, friends, jobs, trau­mas. Their “sto­ries” were so riv­et­ing that we filmed them all, and that be­came

I got an of­fer to make a film about it im­me­di­ately af­ter the gan­grape in 2012. But it took me two years to process my thoughts and start this film. It’s very sim­plis­tic to call the rapists ‘monsters’. Men don’t be­come monsters in iso­la­tion. They are shaped by their en­vi­ron­ment, and this is what I wanted to study in the film.

the script of the film. In fact, the tough­est part was edit­ing this huge amount of ma­te­rial into a com­pact film.

How would you de­scribe the genre of the film?

I’ve been asked this many times. It’s a cinema verite kind of style- part docu, part real, part ex­per­i­ment. There are no stars, light­ing, mu­sic, make-up, cin­e­matog­ra­phy.

The cam­era is an in­stru­ment that fol­lows the char­ac­ters like their shadow. That’s why it’s jerky, and that’s why the film is raw and real.

What was the pur­pose in mak­ing the film?

I wanted it to be used as a tool and to start a di­a­logue. I was in Delhi when the gan­grape hap­pened, and I was to­tally hor­ri­fied. I got an of­fer to make a film about it im­me­di­ately af­ter the in­ci­dent. But it took me two years to process my thoughts and start this film. It’s very sim­plis­tic to call the rapists “monsters”. Men don’t be­come monsters in iso­la­tion. They are shaped by their en­vi­ron­ment, and this is what I wanted to study in the film.

And what an­swers did you get ?

I don’t have any an­swers, but only ques­tions. There is no quick so­lu­tion at all. Gan­grapes don’t hap­pen just in In­dia, but all over the world, and are part of a so­cial mal­ady. We need to study the prob­lem at the very root. Af­ter all, rape is not the be­gin­ning but the end of a long spec­trum. The process starts much ear­lier — at home, school, so­ci­ety. There has to be a to­tal re-think­ing of male­fe­male at­ti­tudes. When we see the rapists’ lives, in the films, we see that there is no gen­der equal­ity. We see the pow­er­play, misog­yny, sex­ual games. We can start, by bring­ing up out boys right and giv­ing them good role mod­els.

Like our lead­ers?

Not lead­ers like Don­ald Trump, who en­cour­age men and women to dis­crim­i­nate. I think the high­est vol­ume of vi­o­lence against women is in the US.

Q What about In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi?

He’s been say­ing that the girl child is im­por­tant. For a starter, I’d like him to watch my film.

Do you think enough is be­ing done on the is­sue of rape in In­dia, af­ter the in­ci­dent?

Well, the Varma Com­mit­tee and Jus­tice Leila made some sig­nif­i­cant changes in the rape code, and a lot more rape cases got re­ported. But we have a long way to go.

The rapist’s words in the last scene, are cold and in­hu­man... are you jus­ti­fy­ing what he did?

Not at all. Em­pathis­ing is not sym­pa­this­ing. I’m hu­man­is­ing a real in­di­vid­ual. If he has be­come cold and in­hu­man, it is be­cause he has not known an­other life. Do you know that 40 per cent of boys are raped at a young age? I feel that so­ci­ety as a whole, has to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for so­cial crimes like this.

Will your film help to­wards this?

Well, it has trav­elled to many coun­tries and been screened in many spaces­film fes­ti­vals, uni­ver­si­ties, women’s groups. It was shown at Har­vard and Toronto Univer­sity, fes­ti­vals in Spain and Es­to­nia. It’s go­ing to Nor­way, South Africa, and vil­lages in Turkey. It’s been in­cluded in the ed­u­ca­tional cur­ricu­lum at Ice­land. In In­dia, it’s been seen at the Mum­bai and Ker­ala film fes­ti­vals. It will be screened by the Shamb­hali Trust of Jodh­pur in var­i­ous places across the coun­try. I’m happy to of­fer this film to any­one who wants to screen it... at spa­ces which will help to­wards gen­der equal­ity.

As a woman film­maker have you faced gen­der in­equal­ity?

I’ve been very lucky. I was brought up in an ex­tremely open en­vi­ron­ment, both in In­dia and Canada, and have never faced any gen­der prob­lems.

Do you feel you be­long to Canada or In­dia?

In­dia gives me the sto­ries, and Canada gives me the free­dom to make them.

Deepa Me­hta (above) talk­ing about her lat­est film Anatomy of Vi­o­lence; poster (right) of the movie

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