Trigger Warning: This article contains references to child sexual harassment, sexual violence, and marital rape. Reader discretion advised.
A few days ago I was unfortunate enough to come across a video that grandly announced Vidyut Jammwal’s entry into a film titled Commando 3. There was a lot of anger surrounding this video, and it’s summed up in this article on Hindustan Times published on November 28, 2019. Against my better judgment, I decided to look at the video, and this is the horror that ensued –a wrestler in an akhaada (traditional wrestling space) accosts a school-going girl and forcefully lifts her skirt up. For the sake of voyeurism, and as though she were a hapless puppet, her bare legs were left on-screen for consumption, till the point the hyper-masculine hero makes a classic entry and saves the girl.
A harrowing experience was reduced to the saviour complex of the protagonist. This scene was not called out for what it is–child sexual harassment and assault, and street harassment–all of which are punishable by law and violate fundamental human rights. Instead, it was an ego-massaging moment for Vidyut Jammwal and acted as a catalyst for his physics-defying action scenes.
Watch this video to see why we need a heads up in scenes of violence against women and girls.
After the 300-crore-minting debacle that was Kabir Singh, in addition to Sandeep Reddy’s justification of domestic abuse and Shahid Kapoor’s refusal to take responsibility for the glorification of toxic masculinity, we, at Breakthrough, deliberated over how to intervene in this chaos. Soon after, we put together a petition in Hindi and English on Change.org, directed to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B).
The petition demands that movies comprising scenes with violence against women and girls, including genres such as comedies and romance, that are notorious for glorifying stalking and harassment (here’s looking at you, Govinda and Shahid Kapoor!), have a very specific disclaimer specifying the act of violence and the law that penalises such actions. In addition, the movie should also have a brief public service announcement (PSA) featuring the actors firmly condemning actions that comprise violence against women and girls.
While marital rape has not been penalised by Indian law, it is still a very crucial part of the universal human rights framework. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status.” Calling out marital rape for what it is has become crucial in light of films like Grand Masti and Pati, Patni or Woh where that nefarious Kartik Aaryan can be found spewing rape jokes, only to be met with uproarious laughter.
At this moment, convincing filmmakers and actors to rethink the content they put out and acknowledge their responsibility in light of the social and cultural capital that they occupy is a long road ahead. Till then, with the aid of public mobilisation campaigns, there can exist an intervention in a very vital part of our pop culture.
Harassment, abuse, and assault have been written into the film as the prerogative of the ‘hero’ and his performances of masculinity. When inflicted by the protagonist, the actions are glorified. Incidents of gendered violence get called out for what they are when inflicted by the antagonist – only for the protagonist to sweep in and save the damsel-in-distress. We collectively need the reminder that women’s bodies don’t exist at the disposal of male entitlement and hero-villain ego tussles.
Besides the legal aspect, the disclaimers also serve as a much-needed trigger warning for whom scenes of gendered violence become a source of trauma. Disclaimers and PSAs can also enable the identification of gendered violence, creating a dent in a sea of jeering audience members while He-Man the He-Ro prances across the frame harassing and assaulting women with absolute impunity.
This is where you and I, as very concerned cinema-goers, step in. By deciding that enough is enough and demanding an intervention in this culture of misogyny and impunity. Sign our petition (Hindi/English) and join the 1,00,000 plus strong community in demanding an intervention in pop-culture misogyny through the means of disclaimers and PSAs so that the Real-Reel Rowdy Rathore should have to think twice and thrice the next time he decides to massage his ego and entitlement.