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