By now, you must be familiar with the trajectory of Leslee Udwin’s documentary on the rape and death of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi in 2012. You might even be exhausted by the shrill polemics that have surrounded the film — from the Indian government’s myopic decision to ban it (Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu described it as an ‘international conspiracy’) to incessant demands that the ban be lifted.
My advice: disconnect the surround sound and seek out India’s Daughter. This is a uniquely Indian horror film.
Be warned: India’s Daughter isn’t stellar filmmaking. Neither does it offer you any new insights into the appalling crime. Udwin follows the case from the night of the rape (clumsy and unnecessary reconstructions) to the victim’s death 13 days later. Udwin interviews almost everyone involved, including the weeping parents of the rapists.
Intriguingly, only one of the accused Mukesh Singh, speaks on camera. We see some of the others but don’t hear them. If you’ve followed the case, you already know what Udwin is showing here. And yet, nothing prepares you for the shock of watching seemingly ordinary men like Mukesh speak casually of unspeakable brutality.
Towards the end, he even suggests that this case will only encourage future rapists to kill their victims and not let them go, as these men had. There are also the repugnant defense lawyers who first describe women as things — flowers and diamonds — and then conclude that ‘we have the best culture'. In our culture, there is no place for a woman. Equally unforgettable are the faces of the December 16 gangrape victim's parents — dignified and quietly wise in the face of unimaginable grief. At one point in the film, lawyer Gopal Subramanium, who served on the JS Verma judicial committee quotes feminists who testified before the committee as saying, ‘these are our people'.
Exactly. Which is why India’s Daughter needs to be seen. It might be simplistic and reductive but it will bring you face to face with the rot within. The first step perhaps, towards treating it.