The best a movie can get
Audiences compelled to swim through the grayness of characters/story is more than one should expect from a superb film
We're all aware of the sort of male stalking that endangers women in public spaces, affecting their mental health, let alone basic security, that one can't talk about enough. And one mustn't stop either. Therefore, this is not to even vaguely compare the gravity of crimes — but I have been stalked twice.
Once, a decade ago, when the person's relentless 24x7 text messages would eventually heat up my cell-phone into complete collapse, while some of them would relate to what I'm wearing — having stepped out of a building elevator! When I did report the case to the city's top cop, upon one of the messages that sounded suicidal, the police, tracking phone records, apprehended the person in less than a few hours.
They found her to be mentally imbalanced; she'd apparently watched films sitting next to me at press previews, and assumed that we'd been watching movies with each other. She was strongly warned. No case registered. I didn't know the person. Still don't.
The second one, more recently, claimed over the phone that someone had been impersonating me in Delhi, and harassing her — even claiming to marry, in a three-line MS Word file, over email. Preposterous as that sounds, of course, you feel for someone going through such stress. The charge against the alleged imposter, if he had slept with this person promising marriage, is rape. Something the Indian judiciary in 2017 (Justice Pratibha Rani of Delhi High Court) took notice of as a mounting problem of soured relationships
being brought to court-rooms as rape cases.
Except over the next few weeks, with this aggrieved person (who I'd never heard of, let alone met), rotating between multiple phone-lines, social-media handles, strange Whatsapp/text messages, and missed calls in the dead of the night, I figured, it was probably me who needed saving from her more than her from the supposed impersonator/imposter.
A senior cop I met for this particular case suggested to me a series of sections of law that I must mention in a formal complaint, which the city's cyber-crime cell did take cognisance of. Only that none of the sections concerned the actual mental harassment: stalking. For, no such section exists. In the eyes of the law, a man can never be stalked by a woman.
Should this be looked into? Not for me to say. It is for people, regardless of gender, to be sensitised to the possibility of such a phenomenon. Me taking up such a cause (even if minor, in the larger scheme of things), is pure advocacy. Folk at large feeling for crimes that hit humans — even if not from your own gender, caste, religion, income-level, etc — make for the kind of universal empathy that strengthens societies, against harassments and misdemeanours of every sort.
Which is the one thing I would've preferred in the recent film, Section 375, starring the super-sorted Richa Chadha as the public prosecutor, taking up for a female survivor, and Akshaye Khanna (in his career's best work), as the defense counsel, standing in for a male movie director accused of rape — could we have flipped the genders of the lawyers arguing the case? Perhaps for the better.
This is to take away nothing from the fact that the accused is a 100 per cent jerk. Actor Rahul Bhat accurately plays this part of a person drunk on an aphrodisiac called power, that inevitably comes with a sense of God-like, use-and-throw entitlement. This disease is perhaps true for every profession — showbiz simply not being the exception. At no point do you root for Rahul's character.
But the case itself isn't as straight and simple as most things seem on social-media, where the mere mention of gender, politics, and religion, fires up people to stand divided on extremes, until either side falls. Judiciary and law enforcers, one would hope, don't work the same way. But how often do you expect a film to delve as deep into the grayness of an issue/case, without taking the obvious sides, while being empathetic at the same time, walking on such thin ice, and yet never falling off?
Smartly scripted (screenplay credited to Manish Gupta, with additional work by Ajay Bahl), brilliantly directed by Bahl (full disclosure: close friend), is one of those rare films, that owes slight debt to Chaitanya Tamhane's Court (for its tri-lingual realism), and Sidney Lumet's indoor classic, 12 Angry Men (for twists and turns in its arguments). But it totally stands out in the age of #MeToo, which led to a much-needed, massive clean-up at workplaces.
And yet, thereafter, it fizzled out by way of real debate, turning it into only about individuals, or turf-war between genders, at least online. Which was never the point of that media movement.
You care for the woman in the film throughout. Some could even care for the guy, in terms of the charges against him. But, eventually, if we understand that no one should suffer — if wholly innocent, or for more than the crime committed — I suspect, the film, like the law itself, would've done its essential job.
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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