'I was emotional when shooting rape scene'

Dayal Padmanabhan’s new film released this Rajyotsava. It talks about abuse, which mainstream cinema has not been getting right

Director Dayal Padmanabhan, known for his movies based on social issues, is against the idea of using sexual harassment to speed-up the narrative or for an emotional quotient.
His recently released movie ‘Ranganayaki’ is about the physical, psychological and societal trauma that a rape victim faces.

“It is a sensitive issue and it should be treated sensibly,” he says.

Realising that poor representation of the issue comes from a lack of knowledge, Dayal took the help of a senior physician who treats rape victims while he was researching for the film.
“I felt terrible while shooting the rape scene. It was scary, uncomfortable and emotional,” he tells Showtime.

Traditionally, the treatment of sexual harassment in mainstream cinema has been very problematic. It has been common to use an incident of abuse to fuel the films’ masala quotient, if not use it for comic relief.

“Many films that show objectification, harassment and molestation show these women being alright with it,” says film studies scholar Aasita Bali. She says Indian cinema doesn’t think of harassment as harassment if the hero does it, and that sexual violence in cinema is only a ‘cue’ for the protagonist to save the victim and show off their heroism.

According to her, films look at women’s bodies as the ultimate tool for revenge. “A woman’s body is usually associated with honour. So, if the villain wants to take revenge on the hero, he will rape the wife or sister, or abduct the daughter, thereby making the hero vulnerable,” she says.

The smarter conversations on sexual harassment happen in art cinema, which suffer from a lack of reach. In contrast, the mainstream films, throwing all caution to the wind, feel no responsibility to get things right. 

This is not to say some like Padmanabhan do not exist. Just that the change is happening at a glacial pace. Films such as ‘Pink’ are fairly decent example to follow up on. Although it’s the man in the story that gets the final pat on the back for its women protagonists’ victory, ‘Pink’ made way for necessary conversations on abuse.

More recently, there was the Vijay Devarakonda and Rashmika Mandanna-starrer ‘Dear Comrade’. In the film, Rashmika, a budding cricketer, has a mental breakdown after abuse by a board member. While the scene where an emotional Rashmika puts her foot down and says it is up to her whether to fight or not deserves some honest and loud whistles, the Achilles’ heel of the film is its conservative cravings to have a Devarakonda in shining armour.

Well, at least it’s a beginning.

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