Special

REVIEW - BBC Documentary 'Nirbhaya India's Daughter': neither vulgar nor offensive

March 06, 2015 04:48 PM
Nirbhaya’s parents

Sagarika Ghose reviews the controversial documentary film which the government has banned but which lakhs are viewing on the net

Raucous uninformed cries for a ban contrast starkly with a restrained yet powerful and harrowing film. India’s Daughter directed by Leslee Udwin—widely available on YouTube despite that futile and shortsighted ban on its telecast—on a case that has become a turning point in the struggle for gender justice in India, the Nirbhaya case. The film spares no effort in tracking down and interviewing almost all participants in the tragedy, its relentless legwork resulting in a portrait never seen before, one that chills us to the bone and yet also shows just how wide-ranging Indian civil society’s fight back has been.

In shocking interviews with defence lawyers M L Sharma and A P Singh we hear monstrous voices that exist in our midst, in the midst of so called ““democratic” India, lawyers clad in the black coat of the law, voicing bigoted prejudice and backward views that should force all of us to embark on public introspection.

There is nothing in this se rious film that is either vulgar, offensive or glorifies rape and far from being an “insult” to Nirbhaya is in many ways a tribute to her formidable courage. When the dead-eyed remorseless rapist Mukesh Singh declares “usne haath payr chalaya islilye humne usko maara”— the viewer’s heart skips a beat for a young woman who deserves a national salute from every citizen.

The film states at the start that it has been made with the co-operation of Nirbhaya’s parents and even reveals her name. Feminists have also criticized the long interview of Mukesh Singh, one of the four sentenced to death in the case, as one which may prejudice a case that is still awaiting final appeal in the Supreme Court, and also questioned the manner in which permission was obtained for the interview.

Perhaps the fault lies in the promotion of the film as one centred entirely on the rapist and the publicity campaign highlighting titillating bits of the interview.

The publicity does a disservice to the documentary. The film brings us interviews not only of Mukesh, but of Nirbhaya’s parents and of Leila Seth and Gopal Subramaniam—the two surviving members of the J S Verma committee set up to modify India’s rape laws after Nirbhaya's death-as well as of the Good Samaritan who first saw Nirbhaya and her friend couple lying naked and bleeding on the footpath, the police officers who investigated the case, the doctor who examined Nirbhaya as well as interviews with the dirt poor families of the rapists, including the mother of the juvenile who confesses that she thought he was dead. The start of that great protest movement when thousands of men and women converged on Rajpath are shown as the deeply moving emotionally charged moments they were.

The mincing accent of Oxford academic Maria Misra struck a bit of a jarring note as there seemed to be a cultural distance between her and the Nirbhaya movement, but then the BBC probably could not rely entirely on “native informants” and needed a recognisably western explainer.

Thankfully, Kavita Krishnan, stalwart of the Nirbhaya protests, is also at hand to shed light on how the case became a tipping point.

We see the random everyday-ness of evil. The rapists’ destitute families rearing delinquent, dumbly-enraged sons, a violent opportunity-less society creating rejects living in urban slums, capable of unlimited unthinking cruelty, spurred on by the desire to get even. We see valiant families, parents like Nirbhaya’s, determined to uphold modern ways of thinking even in traditional milieu. And we see the comradely male support of Nirbhaya’s tutor, a young man who helped her push towards new frontiers.

In shocking interviews with defence lawyers M L Sharma and A P Singh we hear monstrous voices that exist in our midst, in the midst of so called ““democratic” India, lawyers clad in the black coat of the law, voicing bigoted prejudice and backward views that should force all of us to embark on public introspection.

But it is Nirbhaya—and not Mukesh—who dominates the film. The invisible towering presence of a woman who worked long hours in a call centre, learnt to speak “good English”, who wanted to be a doctor, is the film’s unseen heroine.

 

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