The second season for popular and controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” is coming out on May 18. I remember watching this show last year and reading the polarized reviews related to the depiction of suicide in the series. Several mental health experts slammed the series for glorifying it with a graphic depiction and for justifying Hannah’s (the main character) actions through each reason.
In a nutshell, “13 Reasons Why” is about Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who was wronged and isolated by people around her. She falls into depression bit by bit and soon, after a traumatic encounter with her senior Bryce, she decides to kill herself. Before doing so, she records 13 tapes stating 13 reasons why she decided to kill herself and sends each tape to the ones who broke her.
Now, I agree wholeheartedly with those arguments which stated that the show unhealthily blamed her suicide on a third person instead of focusing on her mental health. Maybe the show unintentionally gave a message that you can kill yourself if the odds are against you. But personally what I liked about the show is:
1. It began a conversation about mental health and teen suicides. What the show tries to elucidate at the end is that anyone out of the 13 could have stopped Hannah’s suicide.
2. The show challenges the social evil called “rape culture” which drags victims of sexual assault through mud and sometimes even drives them to commit suicide. The whole shift of focus from the victim to the perpetrator happens in the show.
Leaving aside “13 Reasons Why”, there were instances in the past that actually gave a green light to the idea of suicide and hopelessness. One of the examples I could think of is “Aashiqui 2”. Rahul Jaykar falls into deep alcoholism and depression. He could very well see that Aarohi had prioritised him over her own career and he was pulling her back. So he removes himself as an obstacle by killing himself. “Aashiqui 2” is praised as an epitome of romance but the film clearly depicted and romanticised his Rahul’s mental health issues while depicting jealousy over Aarohi’s overnight success. What’s even worse is that his friends taunt Aarohi saying that “he died so that you could live”.
In “Twilight Saga: New Moon”, Edward decides to kill himself after mistakenly assuming that Bella is dead. The Twilight series has faced a lot of flak for paedophilia, teenage pregnancy, abuse, but seemingly nobody is talking about how the scenario unintentionally glorified suicide. Edward leaves Bella early on but then, he thinks that Bella is dead over a misunderstanding. He decides to kill himself but Bella manages to save him. Edward later accentuates that he attempted suicide not because of guilt but because he couldn’t live in a world where she doesn’t exist. That was Stephenie Meyer’s way of convincing us that Edward still loves Bella.
Ladies, here’s the thing. If a guy tries to kill himself in your name, know that he needs help. Just like in “Raanjhanaa” how Kundan apparently wins Zoya over by saying that “if she rejects him then he will kill himself”. It is like trapping the woman in a corner with no way out. Plus, it is not love but obsession and immense disrespect towards the other individual’s autonomy. Edward’s actions put everyone in danger and after leaving Bella all alone in the forest, Edward wasn’t a hero for doing the same. It is high time people stop using suicide as plot-point for romance.
Then, the mass self-immolation in “Padmavaat” is another horrifying way in which suicide is glorified. The filmmakers and “die-hard” Padmavati worshippers will call it a “factual accuracy” or what happened at the time, but can we sit back and think for a second that Bollywood could have invested 190+crores for a woman-centric film that didn’t involve mass suicide or glorification of upper-caste patriarchal rape culture?
In “Kaabil”, Yami’s character repeats that she is no longer the same after a rape and then kills herself. Suicide was her way of escaping from the “shame” but that didn’t neutralise the shaming aspect. After seeing a determined character in “Udta Punjab”, the suicide of a rape survivor in “Kaabil” was rather a regressive step.
Malayalam films like “Naran”, “Oruvan” and Tamil film “Raavanan” show rape survivors committing suicide, the former two include the killing of a daughter to prevent ‘possible’ rape. The whole “better to die than be raped” angle only highlights victim shaming, especially for any survivor watching the film.
Films could be inspired by real stories. Women and marginalized sections rarely get the platform they deserve, unless they are all glamorous and get to wear good-looking attire. There are stories of women who have overcome the shame and trauma related to sexual assault. There are stories where women have saved women from sexual violence that should take more than two minutes of the screen-time.
Also, it is high time we talk about the depiction of ableism and how suicide is glorified in films.