Mysskin's 'rape' remark about Mammootty shows film industry's insensitivity towards crimes against women
Mysskin's audience burst into applause when he spoke about 'raping' Mammootty, thus acknowledging his remark as the ultimate compliment to the actor
On 16 July, award-winning filmmaker Mysskin casually made an offensive sexist remark which even more shockingly received applause from his audience. He was speaking at the audio release of a film starring Malayalam superstar Mammootty and got carried away while praising his acting skills.
“Mammootty sir’s acting was so great that if he had been younger and I was a girl, I would have fallen in love with him,” Mysskin ended up saying. He continued in English, “...In fact, if I were a girl, I would have raped him actually.”
At this moment, the audience burst into applause, acknowledging Mysskin’s remark as the ultimate compliment to the actor.
Ironically, Mammootty himself was part of a controversy a couple of months ago when he was pulled up by Malayalam actress Parvathy for mouthing a dialogue about rape in a film.
Mysskin’s politically incorrect outburst appeared even more crass and unthinking when Chennai woke up the next morning to the news of a very real and horrific case of sexual assault: the prolonged and continuous rape of a 11-year-old hearing impaired child over a period of seven months. This child lived in a gated community in Chennai. Her 17 rapists were aged between 20 and 60, and were all service providers employed by the apartment owners. What they did to her was not an act driven by hate or revenge. It was an unforgivable predatory act, targeting a helpless child.
In the make-believe world of cinema, the word rape has perhaps lost its meaning. Movie dialogues are full of rape threats. It is almost as if the script writers do not even realise how heinous the act is. Censor boards which are very quick in cutting out other four-letter words, which are used as expletives, somehow feel it is acceptable to leave in dialogues containing actual rape threats, as they are often considered 'essential' to the story.
Even a lead male character can issue a rape threat, though he may not act on it. The word rape has also be equated to love making: “I love you so much, I want to rape you right now." Or a man describing the girl he loves could say, “She is so beautiful, I want to rape her right away." A villain can order his minions to rape a woman with whom he has a beef. Depending on the context in which the word is used, it can assume a different overtone. And every once in a while, a horrendous real life crime takes place where the perpetrator claims to have been inspired by a role played by his favourite actor in a film.
Many years ago, I attended a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram called by the then Chief Minister of Kerala because an American tourist had been sexually assaulted on the Kovalam beach at midnight. In the middle of the press conference, he quite casually said, “Americans are used to being raped. An American is raped every four minutes in their own country. For them, it is just like drinking a cup of tea.” There was outrage even then, but today, almost a quarter of a century later, people in responsible positions continue to make similar outrageous remarks.
The tragedy is that even as more and more news reports of children being sexually assaulted pour in — even as the papers devote whole pages to reporting on news of sexual assault — and even as we try to fight off the perception that India is the 'Rape Capital of the world', we don't seem to change. We continue to debate about whether these crimes were always perpetrated and are just being better reported today, or whether the laws are ineffective, or whether social media or cinema is responsible for the “rape culture”.
Cinema does have an impact on the way young fans in particular behave. For instance, if an actor mouths misogynistic dialogues or stalks an unwilling woman until she succumbs to his charms, those acts become desirable. But real life is different from the make-believe word of cinema. Women often reject unwanted stalkers and become victims of acid attacks or even get killed. The kind of obsessive stalking depicted in cinema today is much more virulent than the comparatively less “harmful” “eve-teasing” which has always been a staple of all Indian films. Stalking, in fact, has always been depicted as a heroic act.
Added to this is a more toxic component: WhatsApp forwards of 'rape porn' videos. These are within the reach of anyone of any age with access to a cell phone. In a recent incident, some minors who raped an eight-year-old neighbor said they were inspired by the videos they saw on their phones. Videos made by real-life rapists forwarded on social media fuel this activity.
In the Chennai case, not only did the rapists sedate and use a child who they knew, but they also video-graphed their despicable acts and threatened her with blackmail. Who knows how many potential rapists were the recipients of these videos?
There have been so many protests, discussions and outrage in the past few years over sexual harassment and assault — subjects, which were never discussed up until a few years ago. Sexual assault, we know, has nothing to do with love or lust. It is an act of violence like any other.
Today, only a person living in a bubble would think that the casual use of the word which defines this crime is acceptable. Or that it can actually be used to express extreme love and admiration.
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