By Jonathan DeHart
Over the past year India has been grappling with the nation’s rape epidemic. The brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old medical student aboard a bus in New Delhi last December has served as a lightning rod for this topic. The victim later died of her injuries.
Everyone from her parents to protesters across the nation weighed in on the importance of bringing about justice and, significantly, a greater long-term change. The nation was shaken by the savage crime and rallied around the trial of the four convicted rapists who were sentenced to hang.
This was a start. Yet, instances of violence against women are still being routinely reported in India. In July, six men were sentenced to life in prison for gang raping a Swiss tourist in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Just a month later in August it was reported that a 22-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai was gang-raped by five men, who also tied and beat up her male companion. This begs the question: Is Indian society, at large, ready for a change when it comes to the treatment of its women?
Two filmmakers are taking a different approach to this thorny issue. Rather than picket in front of a New Delhi courthouse, they aim to draw attention to their nation’s problem with rape on the Bollywood big screen with Kill the Rapist? The controversial thriller, slated for release in December and marking the one-year anniversary of the infamous Delhi gang-rape, aims to make “every rapist shiver with fear before even thinking of rape,” says its official Facebook page, which has more than 41,000 “likes” at the time of writing.
Some have criticized Bollywood for its objective treatment of women in its scantily-clad dance numbers. In the 1960s and 1970s the plots in Indian films often centered on male suitors pursuing women until they relented. Kill the Rapist? aims to take Indian theater goers on a more sobering journey. The film’s producer, Siddhartha Jain of iRock Films, said, “Through this film we want to amplify the debate on the issue and show that there is no one solution.” Hence: the question-mark at the end of the film’s title.Funded by two private female investors, Jain plans to establish an anti-rape foundation with proceeds from the movie. The cast largely comprises fresh faces and the film’s total budget is under $1 million. After more than 400 men auditioned for the part of the rapist, the role went to Sunny Hinduja. The woman is played by the award-winning Anjali Patil.
“These are passion investors, who instantly wrote out checks after listening to the story,” Jain said. Addressing the “aggressive title,” Jain added, “Our country is beyond subtlety. There is a cathartic aspect to the title—we would not have called it Nari Ka Inteqaam (A Woman’s Revenge).”
Kill the Rapist? tells the story of a young woman in New Delhi whose home is broken into by a would-be rapist who she overpowers and traps. The 90-minute thriller follows an “independent, career-driven, single” woman in New Delhi who confronts a serial rapist stalking her. Although police fail to help her, even after the man attempts to rape her, she ends up capturing him. The rest of the movie deals with the moral quandary over what she and her two female roommates should do with him.
“Ideally she would go to the police and the law would take its course. But that doesn’t happen here,” Jain said. “So how can she stop him coming after her again if she frees him? So she does something really fantastic that is legal for her. I think at some point, if the law can’t protect you, you have to protect yourself.”
Other directors are also taking up the subject, including Shahid Kazmi, who directed Damini (Lightning) – The Victim, and Milan Bhowmik, a Bengali director who created a film titled Nirbhoya based on the New Delhi attack.
While longer term change may be slow in a nation of more than one billion people, the short-term goal is simple. Chhel said, “If, after seeing the film, a man decides not to rape a woman, I will have succeeded.”