Violence against women is only one avatar of the misogynistic gaze of cinema - Firstpost

Violence against women is only one avatar of the misogynistic gaze of cinema

For the last week or so women in my neighbourhood have flinched each time we walked down the street where new movie posters are usually plastered at a magnificent scale.

Usually, these big walls are our preview to the films speeding to the local theatres. Standing in front of these walls we recently giggled over the pun in the movie title Uppi-2 (which kept up a fine punning tradition, from movie star Upendra who named his house Summane to the movie where the heroes fight over a woman called Kaveri H20. Please consult your nearest Kannada-speaking friend for an explanation). Passing these walls we’d also wondered whether the Kannada movie Bullet Rani had anything to do with the Hindi Revolver Rani. Occasionally, I’ve made some hazy plans to steal a particularly beautiful print, like a monochromatic blue poster of a Tamil-dubbed James Bond movie. It wasn’t quite the street-length full-career poster retrospective we get to enjoy when there’s a Rajnikanth or Kamal Hassan movie on, but deeply satisfying anyway.

Now that I’ve told you what we usually feel, it’s difficult to describe what we’ve been feeling this week when we passed the posters of the forthcoming Kannada movie Dandupalya 2.

The posters feature images of the female lead Pooja Gandhi being tortured by the police. A policeman’s shoe is in her mouth, another’s is on her head, her arms are twisted behind her. One poster is a profile shot from the sequence while another is a frontal shot, which also somehow engineers a display of Gandhi’s cleavage.

The images, like I said, make woman after woman flinch. Even when I decided I wanted to write about the posters I wondered how I was going to do it without sharing the images. For a while people used Do Not Link to link to an article that’s offensive or obviously trawling for hate-hits, without actually contributing to its page views (and in turn to the coffers of the publisher). Negative reviews of a business, we now know, can contribute significantly to its Google search rankings. That’s as far as the desire to be a certain kind of canny, skeptical customer goes. But how do you ‘unsee’ images once seen?

Images processed by the author.

Images processed by the author.

A friend suggested one solution – the blacking out of the woman in these images. Was it censoring, we wondered. No, it’s the crude visual equivalent of Do Not Link, we decided. And that is what we’ve done to the images you see on this page. It’s bad enough that I’ve described them to you. You don’t need to flinch like I did.

There has been a lot of discussion around the high frequency of rapes in the television show Game of Thrones (GoT). The show even has instances of sex that were consensual in the books changed mysteriously into rape in the television adaptation. Fans and defenders of the show have always piously cited ‘realism’. The world is misogynistic and violent towards women. The past, such folks believe, was even more misogynistic and violent. And it is the bounden duty of this art to share the burden of realism with our flinching eyes.

Images processed by the author.

Images processed by the author.

Plenty of folks have laughed at the fantasy series’ right to even say aloud the word realism, a position best captured in this tweet:

Miles of columns have concluded that the largely male creators and moneybags of television continue to believe that violence against women is necessary and catnip for male viewers. Because it’s not like the realism of these shows feel the pressure to have scene after scene of sewage, diarrhea, famine or pestilence. It’s not like Don Draper ever becomes fat from all that drinking and sitting around. Grit is always restricted to the production of rape, with the best practices borrowed from porn.

This is not to say that we must not have rape in the movies or on television. We definitely should. Just that we should not deepen misogyny with casual depictions of rape or graphic violence against women for shock and gratification.

The aftermath of violence on women, and what the women feel, barely ever features in cultural products at home or abroad. Anyone who has deployed even the truly basic criteria of the Bechdel test will discover that women often simply do not feature in movies any more than furniture. And for those who think Bechdel is too basic, you should look at Polygraph’s newly released data journalism on Hollywood scripts. It will convince you, if you needed it, that violence against women is only one avatar of the misogynistic gaze of cinema. Cinema is equal to a male gaze, said an annoyed young friend recently.

In the case of Dandupalya 2, there’s a further twist. Several promotional images, other than the ones I described, exist. One, for instance, features the male actors playing the Dandupalya criminal gang naked in a row in a police station, their crotches covered only by their chained hands. A moment of humiliation? No, they all (including actor Makarand Deshpande) retain their swagger. Yet another image features a miserable looking Pooja Gandhi scarfing down a meal in prison. As far as I can see, neither of these images seem to have made it to the walls of Bangalore, and it’s interesting to contemplate why.

The author is Editor of the online women’s magazine The Ladies Finger

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