November 10, 2013

That Film After Every Film?

In times not very different from our own, there were three girls. ‘Good’ girls, all of them. They came from middle-class families. They dressed up ‘decently’ and had ‘respectable’ jobs. Almost as a routine practice, however, they were sexually harassed- on the street, on their way to work and even at work. Not surprisingly, their families feared ill consequences and were of the opinion that the girls should learn to ignore it all. But then, our girls were different. They took charge. And guess what? They joined a self defence class! And then the miracle happened. Thanks to the physical and mental strength induced by their liberated, cigarette smoking instructor, they did not only beat up the bad men on the street but also caused a magical transformation of their conservative families, even the man at home who endorsed chowmein’s role in the perpetuation of sexual crimes against women. Well, that in short, is Anurag Kashyap’s ‘That Day after Everyday’, the film which is being touted as a powerful narrative on sexual harassment in recent times.

By the time, I watched ‘That Day After Everyday’, it had already been tagged as a ‘must-watch’ film on an issue as sensitive and complex as sexual harassment. And my news feed on facebook seemed to have religiously dedicated itself to the task of selling the film to me, with laudatory posts from a lot of my friends, many of whom I hold in high regard. With great expectations then, I prepared myself for Kashyap’s masterpiece on an issue that I feel strongly about.

After watching the film, however, I am not just mildly disappointed but exceptionally angry. Angry, because, with one stroke, Kashyap and his film seem to have rendered illegitimate and almost silly, the fear I and so many other women have experienced each time we have been sexually harassed- all the times I have frozen at the touch of a man who threw himself on me in a bus, or looked around awkwardly when I saw a man staring at my chest, or have been paralyzed at the recollection of the man who masturbated at an arm’s distance from me when I was nine years old and too young to even register what was happening. Much less to render a sharp blow, like the young women in Kashyap’s film. ‘That Day after Everyday’ seems to be telling me that I could have avoided all of that if only I had been proactive, perhaps taken self-defence classes myself. In other words, that the onus of protecting myself lies squarely on my shoulders. Most significantly, it tells me that I should accept the complicity of the state and our social order at large and move on.

I wish to clarify here that I have nothing against self defence classes or women who choose to attend them. One must understand, however, that advocating a ‘solution’ like this is fundamentally based on the age-old premise that asks women to ‘protect’ themselves against rape and can very conveniently lead to or blend with victim-blaming. In a sense then, it is not very different from asking women to wear the ‘right’ clothes. But then, the women in Kashyap’s film wear the ‘right’ clothes. And this is another area where Kashyap takes the easy route. He creates for us a vision of ‘good’ middle-class women, who therefore do nothing to ‘invite’ harassment, and the audience can safely sympathize with them without being compelled to question their own ideas about women’s proper place. Though the film does tell us that women in salwar-kameez can also be abused and thus, to some extent, challenges the oft-made connect between dressing and harassment, it would have been interesting to see a ‘provocatively-dressed’ woman being posited as the one who is just as ‘worthy’ as the ‘respectable, middle class woman’ of not getting sexually violated. By not doing that, however, the film has reinforced the ‘good girl and the slut’ binary.

My biggest apprehension at this point stems from the way in which the film is masquerading as being ‘progressive’ which tends to obfuscate the fact that women continue to be seen as responsible for their own well being. This obfuscation makes the film particularly dangerous. On the surface, it appears to be lending women some agency by telling them that they are not docile or submissive creatures and can stand up to the gross injustices against them. Some women also feel that the film has been able to make them feel more confident about themselves. While I do not intend to strip the film off any merit at all, I wish for the surface to be scratched a little so that the limited nature of the so-called agency can be exposed. ‘That Day after Everyday’ is founded on the same old logic of transfer of responsibility from the perpetrator or the state to the victim. It is just as leery of asking difficult, important questions. And the danger lies in the fact that it makes these questions seem almost irrelevant. I wonder if it occurred to many to dwell upon the sheer absence of the police from the film’s narrative except the tokenistic symbolic appearance towards the end, in 1970s Bollywood style.

The film invites complacency with the fact that the state machinery has little business with questions of women’s abuse. It invites a complacency with the fact that we live in a society where self-defence for women seems to be a better idea than gender-sensitization for men. And inspite of being incredibly conformist in so many ways, the film is able to present itself as a ‘progressive’ take on the issue. The manner in which the film is being perceived perhaps has a lot to do with the fact that it is directed by someone like Anurag Kashyap, the man who holds the claim to “do” realism like nobody else in the industry. He is believed to be the one who pushes boundaries, experiments with new ideas and challenges the established ones. And with a reputation like that in place, it becomes all the more difficult to question the not-so-visible biases in his film. His work enjoys a certain legitimacy which also makes it appear like something radically new or progressive. While this is by no means a comment on Kashyap’s larger body of work, I will certainly take the liberty of saying that ‘That Day after Everyday’ is the same old wine in a bottle that manages to look new. It is at best redundant, at worst counter-productive. It is a subtle mockery of fear that women continue to face at the hands of men not just on the street but those residing in posh bungalows too. It is one of the many attempts to absolve the perpetrator and the state of any responsibility. And it is certainly not THAT film after every film.

3 comments to That Film After Every Film?

  • Rohan G

    As happy as I am to be reading something you have written, I cannot be more in disagreement with your interpretation of the movie.

    For one the movie is not telling you to accept and move on but has a very clear message that you should not be afraid to fight.

    Secondly the movie very clearly questions the idea of woman’s “proper place” …. in every scene in the movie (except perhaps the opening one) the women are not in their place … they are on the street, in office, in self defense classes, on the ground fighting with men. Infact in this, I think, the movie is groundbreaking for it completely discards all notions of feminine modesty and delicacy even in the ‘good girls’.

    I don’t think the film transfers responsibility to the victims … in fact it vehemently argues that women should not be afraid of society, of husbands and of parochial notions that encourage them to buckle under. That is the fear, the fear of these ideas, the fear of violating your ‘femininity’ your ‘modesty’ that the movie suggests is in the mind. (not anything else and certainly not the fear of sexual harassment)

    I also have other objections with your article – for e.g. gender SENSITIZATION of men is a lot more problematic than you make it sound and I think that self defense classes were meant to be a metaphor and necessarily read literally (bear in mind that this is a movie and not PSA by Delhi police and also that the women weren’t as yet “ready” in terms of their physical training )

  • Rohan G

    *I think that self defense classes were meant to be a metaphor and NOT necessarily read literally

    UGH excuse the typos and the generally confused language

  • Ajinkya Shenava

    Most of Kashyap’s films would fail the Bechdel test,so while he’s probably good at doing some stuff, gender sensitivity is really not his thing. Great piece, Ridhima! Good analysis. It’s true, Kashyap is more about packaging than product.

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