Sunday, July 19, 2015

ROMANTICISING RAPE / FILM FATALE: COLUMN PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU BUSINESSLINE

THE RAPE OF AVANTHIKA

Bahubali features one of the longest scenes of romanticised symbolic violation ever seen on screen. Why are we as a nation not angered by it?

By Anna M.M. Vetticad


She, a brave warrior, lies on the banks of a lake, falling asleep with her slim hand in the water. Unknown to her, he — an absolute stranger — paints a flower on her wrist.
Furious on discovering the drawing, she sets out to find out how it got there. He unleashes a serpent on her from behind, and while she stands frozen, he — still a stranger — etches another bloom on her shoulder before disappearing from the scene.
Enraged at the assault, she takes off in search of the offender. When they finally meet face to face, he grabs her, and then comes a sexual dance as he pushes and pulls her about, unties her hair against her will, strips her of her practical fighter’s clothing and skilfully transforms the rest of her outfit into more ‘feminine’ garb. He forcibly smears natural dye on her lips to redden them and lines her eyes with the essence of crushed berries. At this point, she glimpses her transformed self in a sheet of water, and quivers coyly before their dance continues. She finally falls asleep in his arms.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a woman is tamed. (Applause)
This scene featuring Prabhas and Tamannaah Bhatia appears in director S.S. Rajamouli’s box-office-busting Bahubali, released in the original Telugu and Tamil, and in multiple dubbed versions last week. It is a visually spectacular film with an engaging story rich in mythological references. Sadly, that’s what makes it dangerous because it has the potential to gain legitimacy among more viewers and to reach a far wider audience than an ugly, unpolished, unintelligent, unimaginative, un-entertaining film.
This aggressive display of ‘love’, in particular, is set against a gorgeous landscape with gentle music playing in the background. The beauty of the scene is designed to lull us into an acceptance of its insidious imagery and message, an acceptance that is bound to attract at least some reactions such as “stop nitpicking”, “have you lost your sense of romance?” and the standard “chill, relax, it’s just a film” to this column.
Actually, we can’t afford to “chill”. Certainly not when human society is still grappling with the meaning of consent in the matter of romantic and sexual relations. Prettified though it has been, the lead couple’s mating dance in Bahubali is unequivocal in its contention that it is okay to fool around with a woman without her knowing, or to force yourself on her when she resists, because that’s what courtship is all about.
If you are among those who are touched by this scene, permit me to plant the seed of a thought in your head. In your mind’s eye, if you replace the handsome Prabhas with Shakti Kapoor (or another actor who usually plays villainous roles), would you still find his actions poignant?
In the Hindi film Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Manu – again a stranger – is smitten when he sees a drunken Tanu lying passed out in her bedroom. So overwhelmed is he by his emotions that he kisses her. It’s unfortunate that many people find it hard to empathise unless they personalise a situation, but that being the reality, if you are moved by this scene, try this exercise: ask yourself whether it would be acceptable if a woman you love — perhaps your daughter — were lying asleep and your son’s friend or the male household help or an unknown man entered her room and kissed her?
If you object to either of the above alternative scenarios, why is it okay to romanticise them in a film?
The question is crucial in a nation as conservative as ours where most parents do not discuss romance with their children and where gender segregation is widespread, as a result of which many youngsters take guidance from cinema. If Salman Khan lifts Jacqueline Fernandez’s skirt without her knowledge in Kick (2014) and she shows anger at first, but soon dances merrily with him, the message to impressionable fans is that women secretly feel flattered by harassment — or what is euphemistically called ‘teasing’.
Impressionable young minds are not the only ones though who shut their eyes to the trivialisation of sexual violence on screen and resist or fail to comprehend non-traditional definitions of consent — and informed consent — off screen.
It’s really quite simple, you know. If she does not know you are doing it, it’s a no. If she does not understand what you are doing, it’s a no. If she says no, it’s a no. If she resists you physically, for god’s sake it’s a no. If she has not said yes, it’s a no. In all the above scenarios, if you replace her with a person of another gender, it’s still a no. And if you don’t have consent but still go ahead, it is rape.
For most people though, the issue of consent arises only at the point of penetrative sex in real life, or on screen with a literal — not metaphorical — depiction or suggestion of forced penetration. Everything up to that instant is considered fair game.
This is why droves of Malayalam film fans defend that scene in Annayum Rasoolum (2013) when Anna is seated on a bus, oblivious to the presence of her stalker Rasool behind her as he quietly passes his hand over her hair.
This is also why the rape of Avanthika by Bahubali is not causing the nationwide outrage that it should.
(Anna MM Vetticad is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. Twitter: @annavetticad)
(This column was first published in The Hindu Businessline newspaper on July 18, 2015)
Related link: “बाहुबलीः ये रिझाना है या बलात्कार?” – Follow-up article  by Anna MM Vetticad on BBC Hindi about the angry right-wing reaction to “The Rape Of Avanthika” and the trivialisation of sexual violence in Hindi cinema    
http://www.bbc.com/hindi/entertainment/2015/07/150723_mysogyny_india_films_bahubali_women_rns

Photograph courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/bahubali.the.movie

Note: This photograph was not sourced from The Hindu Businessline

17 comments:

  1. First of all Avantika offered herself to Shiv for the actual sex. Rape is different. If all you can see is the male character is the only one aggressive, either you are born dumb or person with double standards. Let me tell the perspective which you missed. She was the first one to be aggressive, he wanted to have a conversation. Forget that, she was with murderous rage, a lethal weapon and determination to strike down the person. Guess what? it is all fair for modern feminists coz women can do anyshit and confronting her is anti feminism, right? BTW, rape was there during evolution all the way till modern day. The reasons for rape is lack of education in the society(so on to bad demographics in society, etc), not because of Bahubali or pornography. Analysis is interesting, by partially using facts we can generate different opinions. Your article reminded me of super hit Korean drama about corporate reporters who can create controversy out of nowhere (Korean drama: Pinocchio).

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  2. Nothing wrong is war and love

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    1. One thing all these types of prefabrication's leave out is that Avanthika is slated to leave on a suicide mission to save the queen. This was her only chance to feel beautiful and have some semblance of normal marriage like a regular woman. even after her rough exterior was striped away, it never went any further than that, the director left it up to your imagination. I say the people that imagined a rape occurred are the dirty one's. Most of us felt nothing more happened. It was for us to decide though don't you get it? If you say rape it was your mind not everyone else's meaning you're the perv not the actor.

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  3. †PÆIN† and Vamsi , you completely missed the point.

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  4. To your Q on if Prabhas, if replaced by Shakti Kapoor (any villain type figure say Rana from this movie?), I would still enjoy and will be convinced with the scene! You know why, if you are in Avantika's shoes (I doubt you ever will be! ) and you are fighting for noble mission as a human being but still missing your feminine side! One day, there is this guy who can over dominate her easily if he wants to but still only shows stunts with smile and try to convince his acts are only to show her feminine side and who came all through those dangerous water mountains just to see her smile (remember the last part that convinces her that he is her hero - when he shows that mask that she lost at water falls!! ) She fell for him! That is called LOVE! ROMANCE! And what ever happened after is her own will! He also prove at the end, when she has to go on suicide mission, he comes and say that her mission is his! And stops her from going and asks her be safe and goes on! Now, in which way you thought this guy is rapist!!! PELASE STOP putting the disgusting seeds in innocent people's mind! If you feel that way it is your brain but going on BLOG and making statement like this is childish! GROW UP! Being a women, I am ashamed of you!

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  5. If u cannot read or understand telugu why are u commenting on a telugu film? Check the actual lyrics of the song and try to understand the meaning and then comment.
    -Raj

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    1. Did you ask the same question to non-Telugu-speaking critics who PRAISED the film? Just asking.

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  6. 1. The hero (Shivudu) is a tribal guy without any degree in feminism.
    2. He goes to any extent to put a smile on the faces of the people he loves even if it hurts them a bit. E.g. In the Shivaling scene, after evaluating all other alternatives, he decides to shift the Shivling without listening to his mother. Here is a stubborn guy who doesn't even care for God, yet he doesn't sacrifice the ultimate goal of Abhishekam. In fact, he does it better and ensures that there is a continuous Abhishekam for the Shivling.
    3. The same is the case with Avantika. She is no mood to listen to him, he tries to explain her that he came all the way climbing the mountains to see her and asks her who she really is. She dismisses that and pushes a sword into his chest saying only Lord Shiva can climb the mountains. Only after evaluating all the options, he decides to take it on himself. In the process he first calms her down by bringing out the real Avantika. He reveals that he wanted to see the beautiful face behind the mask, but discovered that she is leading a life that is completely different from her original. Please remember his intention is not to have sex with her but to the real beautiful face behind the mask. She is convinced that he is her true love. This is not a sign of weakness as opined by many but the nature of human beings. What they have is consensual sex.
    It's still the same tribal Shivudu. It was his mom in the first incident and it's his lady love in the second incident. He takes the responsibility of finishing her mission on himself and sets out to discover who he is. This is Baahubali and not Avantika so the director has put a comma to Avantika character by injuring her.
    If you have traveled with Shivudu for the first 30 minutes, you will appreciate this act. If you start and stop with the disrobing of Avantika episode, you are entitled to call it a rape and probably the director failed to convince you.

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  7. Stop making stupid people famous

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  8. The author of this article didn't use brain to understand the whole context of that episode(or used too much brain to put it negatively being so selective)

    I don't see any thing inappropriate in Prabhas-Thamanna track at all. There's nothing to be offended as well, If you understand their characterization properly.
    Thamanna's role has two main angles. First, She has an objective as a soldier. Second, She falls in love with (or accepts love of) Prabhas.

    Let's take the second one first, Thamanna is a "soldier" doesn't mean she isn't a woman and shouldn't love and be loved by a man. This episode is unique in this film. If you observe the improvisation taken place during this episode, Thamanna finds herself with a complexion which she doesn't like when she looks herself in water, followed by the scenes where Prabhas tattoos her (May be "without her consent" to annoy her and grab her attention eventually), and finally comes in front of her to propose his love. When Prabhas decides to propose her, Its so obvious that, She wouldn't accept it as she wouldn't want any distraction from achieving her goal AND also because she believes that she's not so beautiful as she has formed an opinion on herself before. In this situation, If Prabhas can change her opinion on herself, It would be easy for him to convince her to love him, to do so he does change her attire and make her look herself and find how beautiful she is. Now, watching this scene might offend you, if you think that he did it openly/ publicly trying to insult her etc. etc. In the case of Baahubali, it happened in the beauty of nature, where they both meet personally.

    The other angle is "The objective of Thamanna". As soon as She realizes that, she was distracted, She gets away from him by anaesthetizing him. Prabhas follows her, tries to get her out of a trouble coming to her, and promises her to help her achieve her goal. The writer/ director brought it this way so the Prabhas's character is introduced to main theme here.

    Now, I don't know which way Prabhas insulted her. "If he disappears by distracting her from her objective and fail in achieving it eventually by making any false promises", then you may say that the characterization of Thamanna is so weak that She was deceived, which isn't the case here. Its clear that, The intention of the Prabhas's character isn't to deceive her/ insult her. Also, The characterization of Thamanna is strong enough that she never forgets her objective, even after she falls in love.

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  9. Okay first of all although that scene is a bit exaggerated, it has a lot of meaning in it, many people who are lost in their goals and dreams don't realise the importance of their inner self their beauty, and avantika as a warrior has lost herself in rage and grudges, to bring her out of it and to convince her that shivudu actually feels love for her he had to make her happy and he realised that her happiness lies in accepting her beautiful inner self, so he did what he could ... Show her her inner self and gave her his proposal... Else a warrior of that kind would always have a doubt as to why shivudu was around her... Second it was in the medical ages when things had a further line to cross, and men had a better will power ... I mean no offence but even in real life... People with great will power are and no boundaries are the acheivers... Third thing romance is boundary less ... We saw many spy movies and many other movies in which the protagonist is a pervert ... And they were blockbusters but you couldn't accept this ... And the last thing if rapes happen to the influence of movies ... Then America should have the highest count ... I don't think I need to explain why ...

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  10. Although the title "Rape of Avantika" seems click-baity and inflammatory; it is debatable whether Avantika consented to Bahubali's advances in the film, your point of romanticizing sexual violence is a legitimate problem in Indian films.

    I also had issues with the character development of Avantika. She was amazing in her first fight scene and I was impressed! I was happy that finally here was a Telugu female character that was a true badass and can take care of herself. I was disappointed that it was "taken" away her. In essence, her character was emasculated and made into a damsel in distress; that once a character shows female traits she can no longer take care of herself. In the second fight scene, she does absolutely nothing and leaves it up to Bahubali. It was like her character turned 180 degrees! It didn't make sense. It's like now she has a boyfriend - she doesn't have to watch out for herself anymore! A more logical storyline would be that Avantika trains/gets to know Bahubali and they go together to save Devika, since it was her mission in the first place! I hope that in the second part of the film, she gets to exhibit some more of her badass-ery.

    Back to the point of romanticizing sexual violence. I 100% agree with you. That is the thing I dislike the most about Indian films. There is a fine line between love and stalking. And the majority of male heroes stalk and tease the female character until "she gives up". It is a very difficult trope to change in Indian films.

    Right now, I can only think of one strong female character in Indian films, Kamalini Mukherjee's character in Godavari. She goes on an adventure herself and meets someone who meets her halfway; they learn how to be together. I believe that movie was not a hit; Telugu audiences tend to enjoy a hero driven film.

    It's important to talk about these issue but one must be careful about the examples that are chosen to support your argument. There are far worse movies that romanticize sexual violence and rape. Bahubali is one of the better films. Rajmouli has introduced 3 strong female characters in the film, Avantika, Devika, and Sivagami. It is important not to discount them especially Sivagami - she was awesome! We need more female protagonists like these in Indian films!

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    1. Hi.

      I'm glad you support my point about sexual violence being romanticised in films. Thank you.

      Allow me to respond to your concern about the headline. To my mind the only way anyone could consider it "click-baitey and inflammatory" as you put it, is if you watch and interpret that particular 'love' scene in Bahubali completely literally. Ask yourself this: do you actually think the film maker is trying to portray a scenario in which the young woman and man are literally dancing in a pretty forest while music plays? If not, then what is all that dance, music and roughing-up a metaphor for in that scene, if not a metaphor for a man forcing himself on to a woman? And if a man forcing himself on to a woman is not rape, then what is it?

      The truth is that we have become so inured to the trivialisation of sexual violence on screen that unless we see actual blood and bruises, it does not disturb us most of the time.

      Do think about this.

      I must add that, interestingly, the rest of your note raises many of the points raised by fans of Bahubali in its defence. For instance, you say: "There are far worse movies that romanticize sexual violence and rape. Bahubali is one of the better films." Firstly, if there are far worse films, that cannot be a reason for a journalist to be silent on Bahubali. I have written about the trivialisation of sexual violence in films for years now, and all I have done now is raise the issue in the context of Bahubali. Do also consider what counts as "far worse" in your mind. A film that shows actual physical wounds instead of glamourising rape the way this one does?

      You also say: "Rajmouli has introduced 3 strong female characters in the film, Avantika, Devika, and Sivagami. It is important not to discount them especially Sivagami…" Firstly, this point has been cited repeatedly by others as an excuse for the horrendous treatment of Avanthika. I'm not entirely sure of your intent in making the same point, but I'd like to remind you that I have not "discounted" Sivagami, anywhere as you say I have. Please keep in mind that my write-up is not a review of Bahubali. It is a column on sexual violence being romanticised in Indian cinema, in which I've cited several examples from across language industries -- Bahubali is only one of them.

      I hope I have satisfactorily addressed your concerns.

      Incidentally, while I do agree with your thoughts on the dilution of Avanthika's strength, there are some statements you make in your post that are unrelated to my column and that to my mind are a matter of concern. For instance, you say: "There is a fine line between love and stalking." No there is not. There is a very very big difference. You use the word "tease". Please let's rid ourselves of this euphemism. Molestation and harassment are not "teasing". You say: "Right now, I can only think of one strong female character in Indian films…" I'm afraid I disagree here too. My column is not a blanket statement about ALL Indian films. I can think of several strong female characters in Indian films. My point is that sadly, they are vastly outnumbered by films in which women are weak and/or insignificant. (For the record, the rest of the world is not flawless in this regard.)

      That being said, thank you for writing in and for not making a single personal remark while flagging these issues -- that's rare on the social media, especially from anonymous readers :) :)

      Regards, Anna

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    2. Friends Elders said Dont argue with Idiots or else they will drag you to their level.

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    3. Yes, I totally agree with your view point. There should be consent of both the parties in love making.
      There by i suggest both girl and guy enter an MoU before making love.Even better if they get the agreement registered. And please note, this should be done every time while making love.

      lol, are u kidding me? How can BL even carry your article? What is Love making with out teasing, taming?

      i have seen historical movies where Nagini seduces men against there will, so what, does it amount to Rape?.

      I support women empowerment, and women rights in the broadest sense. But i am sorry, your interpretation is completely depressing.

      I request your views about Nagini in movies, please do reply.

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  11. I agree with you. Although the scene is visually captivating .. It is nothing more than a romanticised image of violence.
    Just because the guy happens to be inherently charming and handsome doesn't give him the right to start stripping the girl .. To.. Um.. Er.. Make her come to terms with her Feminine beauty. He could have just said "Hey.. These are stuff you can try out for size ".. And they could have done the entire "Pee loon" thing where Peach Desai changes into a more scintillating avatar ( behind cover of the doors ) with Emraan Hashmi waiting ..
    And the other most ridiculous dialogue is "I am a guy.. You are a girl" ( translated obviously ) and that makes her swoon..
    A girl.. ( in my knowledge) likes to treated like an equal.. Taken out for dinner.. And getting intimate gradually and through a proper route ..
    Not through stripping.. Especially the guy she was running after..
    And someone said here something about she being armed.. While he wasn't..
    If I am not incorrect he did hit back.. He had made a trap for her where she could have fallen into.. And he was the one stalking her.. She was trying to save the queen.. No doubt she was on the watch for suspicious characters. What did you exoect her to do..
    Go with a bunch of roses to her stalker and thank him for creeping her out ?
    Do you think feminism means being dressed like Barbie doll always ,chap ?
    The entire flirting sequence was ridiculous..
    And the film's shooting was ridiculous too..
    We seemed to jump from tropical to temperate regions like we were teleporting.. One city had both the Tundra regions and the tropical plains
    I mean.. HOW .. HOW ??
    Only the last hour of the film was captivating..
    Being a Game of Thrones fan.. I can say the war sequence was genuinely well shot..
    But otherwise..
    I honestly.. Don't care.. Why Kattapa killed Baahubali..

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