by Sandra Courtland
Part of the BBC’s Storyville series, Leslee Udwin’s India’s Daughter has more than one similarity with Honor Diaries (2013). First, both films look at specific cases of violence against women and from there use the incident to broaden the scope of their films to the society that created the culture in which this would happen. Secondly, because both films choose to broaden their scope in this way, and are not afraid to call out culture rather than just brush an incident off as the work of a few inhumane anomalies, the potential reach these films could have has suffered for it. College screenings of Honor Diaries have been cancelled due to pressure from groups such as CAIR and Udwin’s film has been banned in India from being broadcast on TV or Indian IP addresses being allowed to view the film on YouTube.
Because it’s part of the Storyville program the film is only an hour, but constantly infuriating. The focus of the film is on a gang rape/murder that happened in December of 2012 in South Delhi. The victim was Jyoti Singh who was walking home with a male friend after watching a film. The two of them were picked up by a private bus and then beaten and raped by six men, one of whom we find out later was a minor at 17 years old. The interviews in relation to the incident consist of Jyoti’s mother and father, her tutor (she had asked her parents to use money saved for her wedding to instead send her to medical school), the defense attorneys, and one of the rapists who claims all he did was drive the bus.
Udwin uses this incident as the basis for a more general critique on Indian culture where the victim is blamed for being outside late at night. In one particularly powerful moment, that of which there are many, Jyoti’s wounds were being listed in an interview with one of the doctors who treated her. While the audio continues we cut to Mukesh, the imprisoned driver, sitting there blankly. Text on the screen indicates we are watching him as he hears the same list of injuries inflicted on Jyoti. There’s no sign of remorse which should be no surprise from the guy who earlier said it is the girl’s fault for being raped and if she hadn’t fought back they wouldn’t have hurt her so bad. In any other setting you would think these men were creations, heightened versions of a movie villain but Udwin shows that this is normal way of thinking.
From Jyoti’s story we continue to the public protests that erupted the day after her attack. People involved say Jyoti wasn’t the sole inciting incident but the one that broke the camel’s back. From there we move onto the larger issues the film wants to deal with. These six men weren’t just monstrous outliers but were Indian men, brought up in a certain culture. India’s Daughter doesn’t just show a problem, it shows people trying to solve it, people trying to figure out how to change it. But when you have defense attorneys publicly stating they would set their daughters aflame if they were ever shamed like that, the film is honest at the long way there is to go. Hopefully a follow up is in the works in regards to the censorship of the film in the place its most relevant to and December of this year is supposedly when the minor who took part in Jyoti’s rape is going to be released in prison. Hopefully through the use of file sharing sites, normally vilified for illegal downloads, can be the way Indian viewers can access the film.
Sunday, November 8, 11:30 am @ Sie FilmCenter; Monday, November 9, 4:30 pm; Tuesday, November 10, 7:00 pm; UA Pavilions.
Sandra Courtland is a contributor to Cinema Adrift.