Ms Representation: The survivor's story
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author discusses Ruchi Narain’s Guilty
"It is the wives I feel bad for." This is one of the first things a character says when she hears of a man being accused of rape, in Section 375. “Husbands do all the mistakes and their partners face the music,” she adds, explaining herself. It is a tough position to be in. And it is a question that the MeToo movement has brought to our doors. Even though it is crucial, it is uncomplicated to support a survivor when a loved one isn’t involved. But what would you do if your partner/boyfriend/friend/family member is accused of rape or sexual harassment? Would there be a chink in your armour of solidarity?
This is the question that Ruchi Narain attempts to explore in her latest film, Guilty, streaming on Netflix. Nanki’s (Kiara Advani) boyfriend Vijay Prathap aka VJ has been accused of rape by Tanu Sharma (Akansha Ranjan Singh). And Nanki is not just someone. Poetry is the wind beneath her wings. She quotes Kafka, is inspired by Faiz’s poetry and has Rabindranath Tagore tattooed on her chest. Everyone knows a woman who is always suspect to comments like, ‘Oh please, stop with your feminism.’ Nanki is that girl. But what does she do when she hears that VJ is accused of rape? There’s that initial sense of disbelief, shock. And then Nanki settles into hostility towards the survivor. “She manipulated her lack of privilege... She made him sleep with her, you know how men are.” It is saddening how easily women are ready to absolve men of any responsibility when it comes to sex.
I have spoken much about social conditioning and how it shapes our mind to take certain vantage points. And in Guilty, there are multiple occasions when Ruchi Narain shows us the mirror. One of the first things that Vijay says when he confesses to Nanki (about the sex, not rape) is to ask her why she left him alone with Tanu. And then there is the character assassination of Tanu Kumar. “She wears such revealing clothes even after she claims to be raped.” “She is a f**k girl, attention seeker.” “Some women just bring out the worst in men, and Tanu Kumar has trouble written all over her.” Not that Tanu Kumar is the ideal, perfect and most pleasant person around. Even Nanki, for that matter. they come wearing their flaws and scars. Tanu admits to being attracted to Vijay but she didn’t want them to be a ‘show’ to their friends. And the guys thought it would be ‘okay’ because Tanu is confident, even aggressively so, and wears her sexuality on her sleeve. But does that mean she doesn’t deserve a chance to tell her story? A chance at getting justice?
Guilty also makes a fair point about the usage of social media, the importance of the MeToo movement. The movement has received flak for using social media as a major tool in its unfolding. It was deemed that one could say anything. To use a lawyer’s words from the film, “Young girls have gone crazy. I am on the verge of firing all my female interns.” But in reality, it is just power that men aren’t used to women having. According to the 2018 National Crime Record Bureau data, women are reporting a rape every fifteen minutes in that year. While 85 per cent of them led to charges, the conviction rate is a paltry 27 per cent. And reports suggest that between March 2018-December 2019, the pendency of rape cases at judicial courts has increased by 46 percent across the country, with Delhi reporting the highest (353% increase in pending rape cases). This, despite efforts from the judiciary to speed up cases of sexual violence. Social media and the public outcry helps in at least getting a chance for the story to be heard. That there’s a way to ensure that the survivor’s tale is documented and some semblance of justice will someday come.
This is why, as unfortunate as it is, Nanki’s journey could teach us all for a battle with our selves that we need to be prepared for. That no matter who the accused is, the story of the survivor should be heard fairly; and that we stop being enablers of what is a growing pandemic. It is tough to get justice in this unfair world. When Nanki cries on stage saying, “I am ready to speak now, is there anyone there to listen?” it hits right in the heart. We should all listen, and listen carefully and with sensitivity to the aggrieved voices. It is a daunting battle out there, and this is the least we can do to tip the scale back into balance. One story at a time.