Clockwise: A still from Kaabil; Mom; Prem Granth; Damini and Matrubhoomi

Deepali Singh (DNA; August 5, 2017)

Hindi filmmakers are often trashed for their depiction of women on screen, for making eveteasing acceptable, for not giving women meaty roles, not making female-centric films, degrading women by making them do item songs... The list goes on. It’s time to give them some credit. Something changed when no one was looking. Graphic rape scenes, a staple in Hindi films for over three decades, vanished from our films.

From then to now
There was a time when you saw an unknown actress playing the role of the hero’s sister, you could bet that she would get crudely raped at some point in the film. Such scenes were weaved in the script. For decades, Hindi films have shown scenes or sexual assault with little or no sensitivity. I remember a particularly disturbing rape scene filmed on Shilpa Shirodkar and Anupam Kher in Bhrashtachar on a round revolving bed, shot in slow motion. It was clearly designed to titillate. Unfortunately, many such scenes were filmed for that explicit intention. They were uncomfortably long and graphic, with attention to detail. But such rape scenes slowly (and thankfully) disappeared.

Recall the 1980-film Insaf Ka Tarazu where Raj Babbar rapes Zeenat Aman and later, commits the same crime with her younger sister, played by Padmini Kolhapure? The scenes left nothing to the imagination. A number of films made during the ’80s and ’90s in Bollywood depicted rape sequences in graphic detail. Thankfully, that is where the filmmakers of today’s generation are different, or at least, are trying to be. Cut to 2017. There were two releases with the rape-revenge theme. Kaabil — in which Hrithik Roshan sets out to seek revenge for his wife’s rape. And Mom in which Sridevi seeks to wreck hell on the men who ravaged her daughter. I was reluctant to watch both films because I knew it involved molestation scenes. But I needn’t have worried.

The rape scene
Two men pick up a girl in a red dress as she struggles. Another comes running and lifts her up and she is thrown into the car. A hard punch on the face leaves her stunned. An aerial shot shows the car moving along the deserted streets of Delhi, with only the stray dogs for company. The eerily haunting music that accompanies the shot is enough to give you the chills. After a while, the car stops. The two men in the front exchange seats with the two men at the back. The car is back on the road and so is the music. Nothing is shown, yet the audience knows exactly the nature of the crime taking place inside the moving vehicle. That is how the gang rape scene was shown in Sridevi’s Mom. There was no tearing of the victim’s clothes, flashes of bosom and thighs, or men leering over her. We have come a long way. I came away with respect for the director Ravi Udyawar. Ditto for Kaabil and Sanjay Gupta for filming the dual rape scenes in his film.

Being sensitive
There is no doubt that in recent times, filmmakers have become sensitive to how rape scenes are shot and presented. Even Udta Punjab proved that the filmmaker can get the point across without getting into graphic details to relate the horror of the crime across to the audience. For director Onir, no rape sequence has come across as powerfully as the one in Bandit Queen. “It takes a director of Shekhar Kapur’s intelligence and sensitivity to portray such a powerful scene in Bandit Queen. It really shatters you. In recent times, I think the scene that made an impact was in Udta Punjab, also because of the way Alia Bhatt portrayed it. It was heart-wrenching,” he says. Some of Onir’s films such as Bas Ek Pal and I Am have dealt with the issue of rape, specially male rape, but the filmmaker insists that he would never show it. “I would show as little as possible and go to the before and after of it, not the act itself,” he adds.

Thank the censor board!
Akshaye Rathi, film exhibitor, columnist and entrepreneur, believes that there are multiple reasons for the new found sensitivity. “One, is that you can only show that much. If you try and do more, then there is something called the CBFC, which will chop it off. And rightly so, because rape is a hideous crime and you don’t want to influence young minds by showing anything of that sort. One needs to subtly, yet effectively get the horror across,” he explains.

Along with the changing mindsets of both the filmmakers and the viewers, what has resulted in this outcome, believes Girish Johar, film and trade business analyst, is the social awareness surrounding the crime. “Filmmakers don’t want to highlight the act, but instead focus on the evils of the crime. Titillation is not the agenda anymore,” he says. Rathi makes another interesting point. Storytelling in general has undergone an evolution, so things are bound to change, “Even the mindset of the movie goers has changed. Evolution is the name of the game and that’s how it will be.”

Less skin, more horror
Rajkumar Santoshi’s Damini (1993) was appreciated for the manner in which the filmmaker shot the horrific sequence. As the four men muffled the maid’s mouth, the audience is drawn to the expressions on Meenakshi Sheshadri’s face as she watches the crime take place in front of her eyes. “When I shot Damini, the idea was to let the audience view the scene from Damini’s point of view. I wanted their expressions to be as horrified as Meenakshi’s, as they are trying to feel what she is feeling,” he says. The filmmaker believes that while aesthetics should definitely play its role, the magnitude of the crime also has to reach the viewers. “As a director, I feel there has to be a balance between them. Yes, the audience should appreciate the way it has been shot, but they should also be moved by it. They should feel anger at the act. That is the reason I shot Meenakshi’s close-ups of her horrified expressions or Rekha’s expressions when the crime is being committed in my film Lajja,” he adds.

Director Sanjay Gupta, whose Kaabil received rave reviews, seconds Santoshi’s stand. “I don’t think any of us is interested in showing rape to titillate the audience,” he says. In Gupta’s film, the heroine is raped twice but the actual act is left to audience’s imagination. “My film was not so much about the rape, but about its aftermath. It was not about how she is getting raped, it’s about what happens after that. I don’t think graphic details were needed. It is a horrific act by itself,” he adds.

It seems that as long as the message is getting across, filmmakers want to spare audiences the gory and gruesome details. And thank god for that!