September 22, 2008

Deepa Mehta and ‘Bell Bajao’

DEEPA MEHTA’S new film on domestic violence premiered at the Toronto film festival. There were two reasons the trailers caught my eye. Firstly, because the abusive man is played by Vansh Bharadwaj who I’ve seen in Neelam Mansingh’s terrific play, The Suit, which played here in Bangalore twice in the last year. I loved his rendition of the cuckolded husband turned manic. The second reason is because it reminded me so much of Provoked, the last Indian film on domestic violence. The context seems very similar. Simple, sheltered Pujabi girl is married off to NRI abusive husband and then finds her escape. I don’t know what it says — that domestic violence thrives in certain contexts more than others? Or that film-makers tend to find that context interesting for some reason — perhaps, because there is escape of some sort possible, after all? Anyway, here is a look at the trailer…


In related news, Breakthrough is running a campaign against domestic violence called Bell Bajao. The campaign website says:

“Bell Bajao” (Ring the Bell) urges men to take a stand against domestic violence. One out of every three women faces violence behind closed doors, so whether it’s ringing a door bell to stop a crime, or speaking out, make sure you’re doing your part to ensure women and families in your communities are living free of violence. It’s about time we all stop being silent witnesses.

The campaign website has some interesting stuff — a blog you can contribute to, advertisements, ideas for community intervention and some videos. What is interesting is that it talks to men about taking action against domestic violence that they see around them. Here’s one of the videos:


The media campaign has been released in collaboration with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and created pro bono by Ogilvy & Mather. Breakthrough also has is in its ‘toolkit’ other videos like the one below which I thought was interesting for its use of an identifiable and sympathetic situation with a popular song to talk about the issue.

So here’s a question: do you think advertisements, music videos, films can play a role in changing or affecting popular perception? Do you you think they can really inspire people to do something? Or do they remain in the realm of ‘nice to watch’ but ate forgotten once the next tv commercial comes along? What role, if any, can they play?


4 comments to Deepa Mehta and ‘Bell Bajao’

  • Re. your question at the end.
    Oh, I think they can make a big difference — provided they’re released as part of a campaign with a specified goal, (a) clear message(s), identified audiences, and well-considered strategies. If you stay focused on what you want to convey to whom, the how generally follows and the whole forms an effective campaign.
    Just as an example, the two videos you’ve posted from the Breakthrough campaign would clearly speak to different audiences — largely because who or what the viewer might identify with: people, situations, semi-classical music or cricket in the street, etc. And the second video would probably be part of a bigger campaign which might tell you more clearly what YOU can do to fight domestic violence (other than “getting involved,” which is not a terribly specific message).
    Well, that’s my take on it anyway.

  • I enjoyed watching the ‘Bell Bajao’ ad but it sort of lost its appeal the moment I heard the voice over in English at the end. I was confused about who this ad was targeted to…..was it the mohalla ka folks who probably don’t understand English, or is it English-speaking folks who should be playing in stopping violence in such mohallas? I wish they had created the final message in Hindi, just like the rest of the ad.

  • SG

    I think they are very important in sending a message that domestic violence is not normal–a message sorely needed in my opinion.

    But as for real change, I’m not too sure. I have seen (am still seeing) domestic violence close up. And the thing that has me befuddled, that has stopped me in my tracks, is that in many collectivist social setups, it is seen as yet another thing women and families have to adjust to.

    Everyone knows it happens, yet it is no different from having, say, a moody child. The message is that you simply cope (like all of us).

    Also, what does one do when it is not simply black and white?

    In my situation, it is an emotionally violent yet aged person. What are we to do with him and how do we help his dependent wife? Neither the womens’ groups or police seem the right avenues to pursue. Instead, I imagine a world like the West, of restraining orders. A world where he is legally forced to live apart.


  • Pam: Yeah, I’m a little concerned that we need to move beyond the stage of simply creating awareness to telling people what they can do. But here is where the block seems to set in often. In that way, the Breakthrough campaign seems to be saying something though as Chakli very validly pointed out, the English voice-over is baffling and may be counter-productive.

    Chakli: Although, in the south, English would work better for a mohalla than Hindi. Am not sure whether they have another version of the voice-over, but they definitely should.

    SG: Sigh. The grey cases are always the most difficult. But is counseling a possibility for the emotionally violent, aged person? Or well, just plain blackmail if he is dependent on you in some way? And if they were forced to live apart, where would live considering you said she’s dependent? What stops her from living separately in any case?

    And the attitude of it being like a ‘moody child’, that’s what has to go first. I think that’s where general awareness campaigns may have some effect — at least people should recognise it as a crime.

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