How does one depict brutality for reel?

Maatr is a reflection of our society. How can you show the reflection of the society by sugar coating it?

Raveena Tandon’s Maatr, which is deemed by many as her comeback film to Bollywood, released yesterday. However, the film had been in the news for quite some time ahead of its official release; mainly for the way it portrays the issue of rape with rumours doing the rounds that it has certain gruesome rape sequences.

However, while the producer of the film, Anjum Rizvi, insists that the said sequences in the film aren’t as graphically disturbing as rumours claim them to be, he thinks that there needs to be a sense of reality when it comes to showing such issues on the screen. “Maatr is a reflection of our society. How can you show the reflection of the society by sugar coating it?” he questions. Drawing parallels with movies from the ’60s and ’70s, Anjum points out that the rape scenes from back in the day were filmed in an almost titillating manner. “It was almost as if the audience was meant to be aroused by them,” he complains. However today, even the quintessential masala Bollywood films have a sense of reality in them. “At least one can relate to the character,” he points out.

Director and adman Rensil D’Silva concurs. “Our portrayal (of rape) today is much more realistic,” he says.

The protagonist of 13 Reasons Why, Hannah, who is a victim of rape, bullying and consequently committing suicide.The protagonist of 13 Reasons Why, Hannah, who is a victim of rape, bullying and consequently committing suicide.

Maatr isn’t the only one that has triggered this debate. International shows like the hugely popular 13 Reasons Why, which is a story about a young girl who is driven to the point of suicide because of bullying and rape, has also faced criticism for showing graphic rape and suicide scenes. But, Rensil argues that such a portrayal is important to allow conversations around these issues. “Firstly, I don’t understand why we always end up targeting issues around sex. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that deep down, we think that sex is dirty.”

The portrayal of urgent issues like these on the screen often divides the audience into two categories. One category believes that such issues on the screen create a space for discourse, gives people a chance to discuss the problems around them, and the other claiming that it romanticises the idea of suicide, bullying, and glamorises or normalises rape. But, further digging reveals that there are more aspects in picture when it comes to graphic rape scenes.

Filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava of Lipstick Under My Burkha fame strongly believes that films should be viewed in context — if the premise of the film demands a real, grotesque, raw portrayal of some social causes, then it might as well incorporate them. “It depends on the story, the requirement of the narrative and the treatment and tone of the film. Sometimes scenes need to be hard hitting, sometimes without showing too much one can say everything. I think it depends on the individual script, film and filmmaker,” she explains, further adding, “Audiences should be allowed to engage freely with content and decide for themselves.”

Rensil is also of the opinion that the creative process should be left to the writers and the directors of the team, and that the audience should be left free to decide what they think of the film.

When one tries contemplating if a hard-hitting scene is necessary for the audience to reflect on the ills faced by society, there is no grey area there. “If it takes a film to allow discussion on such grave issues, then it might as well be,” concludes Patralekha.

Then, if realistic depiction of rape, violence and other social ills is wrong, what’s the right way? Patralekha thinks there is no right or wrong. “The act in itself is so wrong! I don’t know what a realistic way to show this is.” On the other hand, Anjum thinks that the more realistically you showcase these issues, the more our society will move towards a change. “Showing social ills realistically is the only way to make them believable for the audiences — if you show it with drama, masala or by sugar-coating it, your audience will think of it as bull,” he concludes.

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