JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

1. The genre of rape-revenge films became popular in the 1970s. Ingrid Bergman’s The Virgin Spring is a story of a girl who is raped and killed by two men. The girl’s father kills these men in vengeance. I Spit on Your Grave is discussed by many scholars including Clover and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas where rape is followed by rehabilitation of the female victim-hero who then takes revenge. [return to page 1]

2. The avenging women films were influenced by the rape-revenge films as well, especially in the representation of violence and brutalization of the woman as well as her vengeance. Like many of the Hollywood films of this genre, the justification for the revenge is often provided through the critique of the legal and social system that deny the woman any justice. As a result, she has to take matters in her own hands. In India, as I discuss later, the public uproar over the public gang-rape of a woman and the failure of the legal system to punish the perpetrators added another layer to the reception of these films.

3. In fact, recently Sony Pictures sued the producers of Partner (David Dhawan 2007) for making an unacknowledged remake of Hitch (Andy Tennant 2005).

4. Baazigar remakes the plot of A Kiss Before Dying and borrows from both film versions (1956 version directed by Gerd Oswald) and 1991 version (directed by James Dearden). These films were adapted from the novel, A Kiss Before Dying, by Ira Levin. Akele Hum Akele Tum remakes Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton 1979). Jism borrows from Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder 1944) and Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan 1981).

5. Self-proclaimed feminist website Jezebel used this headline (“India has a gang-rape problem”) on 19 Dec, 2012 to cover the story of the gang-rape and murder of a medical student on a New Delhi bus. The twenty-three years old student narrated the events when she gained consciousness in the hospital; she succumbed to her injuries later (Shubhomoy Sikdar). She got on a private bus with a male friend at night. There were six other people in the bus, all men including the driver, who first got into a scuffle and hit her friend, who fell unconscious. She was then brutally raped and tortured. After half an hour, the two of them were thrown off the bus. These kinds of headlines do not take into account the uproar and protests happening in India in response to the rape to demand justice for the woman and to make the city safer for women. BBC, Indian Express, and other credible Indian and international news agencies did report the reaction in the Indian Parliament and on Delhi streets, but these kinds of approaches that othered ‘India’ held sway over a lot of Western media. Such a viewpoint also betrays the understanding of rapes in the US (like the Steubenville rape case) as individual crimes as opposed to horrific rapes (and honor killings, dowry deaths, etc.) as inherent to the non-West.

6. The item number is a sexualized dance performance in Bollywood, known for its hot and steamy scenes, often presenting the spectacle of the female body, and having little or nothing to do with the rest of the diegesis.

7. The poster also intertextually invokes a similar polarity between Jackie Shroff and Nana Patekar in the award-winning superhit film Parinda (Vidhu Vinod Chopra, 1989).

8. Given the centrality of mothers in Hindi cinema, the importance of the mother-daughter relationship in these films is crucial in the ways in which these remakes present an alternative. These mothers are unlike the mothers in previous Hindi films like Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957) or Deewar/The Wall (Yash Chopra, 1975). Mother India is often shown to represent the ultimate example of motherhood and sacrifice in Radha, who kills her son, the one who had turned bandit and kidnapped a village girl, to protect the village. The importance of Ma (mother) again resurfaced in the 1970s and 1980s angry young men films. Talking about the mother as a firm fixture in the melodramatic universe of these films, Rosie Thomas argues that

“the mother is a fount of nurturing beneficence and a vulnerable innocent, a protector of her boy child and in need of protection by him (she often appears slightly crippled or blind)…Mother is invariably depicted praying in the home or in temples, advocating humility and nonviolence, preferring folk wisdoms and accepting her fate as the will of God” (167).

The violent women films then have similar familial worlds where fathers are absent and mothers are the affective centers for the protagonists. Except for Koi Mere Dil Se Poochhe, these mothers/motherlike-figures are also blind and provide moral support to their daughters in pursuing a future. They refuse to let their daughters accept their fate, but because of their disability, they are also in need of protection and make their daughters vulnerable to their abusive partners. Instead of the gender divide of the violent men films, where the mothers remain the ideals of sacrifice and the men become actors in their own lives, here the mothers support a different ideal of femininity, where their daughters are encouraged to leave their abusive relationships and pursue new lives. Just as the absence of fathers is required in the angry young men films for the achievement of masculinity, here their absence is required for the development of the victim into an empowered mobile woman.

9. Radha Kumar in History of Doing details the public rape of a girl by policemen in 1972 that resulted in women’s groups demanding justice and better laws. Both Virdi and Gopalan connect women’s outrage over the Mathura rape case with the depiction of rape and revenge in Insaaf ka Taraazu.

10. One of the older themes infused in the remakes to garner sympathy for the female protagonist is the woman’s chastity and marital fidelity even if her husband is abusive. Even for Lalita, forced to marry JB, it is important that the wedding ceremony never gets completed ensuring that he is not her husband. She fakes fainting midway through the phere, the necessary seven rounds around fire that the bride and groom complete. Agnisakshi invokes this ceremony by its very name: “with fire as witness.” While the film raises the question of her leaving an abusive husband and allows her to imagine remarriage, Shubhangi believes Vishwanath is dead. In Daraar, Priya escapes and knows that her husband is still alive. But at the end, even she tries to save him from death, ironically immediately after he tries to kill her. Further, these films are anchored in the melodramatic mode, which maps good and evil on the two polarized male love interests and resolves the conflict by weeding out evil without sacrificing the woman’s ideal qualities.

11. There were singular attempts like Jag Mundhra’s British docudrama Provoked (2006) which deals with the abuse of a diasporic Indian wife who ends up killing her husband and is then jailed for it. Mundhra’s film is a British production and adheres to real life events and thus does not participate in the genre. But largely, commercial films dealing explicitly with domestic abuse don’t reappear.

12. Koi Mere Dil Se Poochhe (2002) is a failed attempt to resuscitate the cycle, unsuccessful because the industrial conventions as well as the cultural factors had changed. In the film, the mother’s (Mansi Devi’s) sacrifice of her son’s life as well as her own functions as a poor caricature of a similar theme in Mother India. Without any accompanying furor over women’s concerns, the film exaggerates the son Dushyant’s evil so as to have more impact. Mixed in is another outdated Bollywood convention of representing Western things as evil. Dushyant’s friends who try to gang-rape Esha are all foreigners and, through association, indicators of his perverse nature. In trying to adhere to a formula that is not viable anymore, the film functions as little more than the swan song of the cycle.

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