India’s Daughter, the documentary that was the eye of a political storm earlier this year showed up on my Netflix selections. I had dithered when it originally was released on YouTube. Crimes against women, rape especially disturbs me deeply. Perhaps, it is the extremely personal nature of the crime or the fact that it is primarily about power, I feel it with an intensity and it upsets me no end. This time around, I decided to watch it. I had followed the news about the ban but did not really dig deeply into it.
As Laddu napped upstairs, I played the movie on my laptop, my fingers hovering over the pause button. Seven minutes into the feature, I found myself getting distracted. The rapist was speaking in a monotone, looking directly at the camera. The script seemed rehearsed. I kept going back to the one question:
“What was he asked that he replied this way?”
The documentary plays out like a movie, the rapist and the victim versions juxtaposed. The voice overs are simple, eerie and play to a certain agenda. By the time the defense lawyers and the psychiatrist were done talking, I had lost interest. I forced myself to sit through to the end. Far from being disturbing for its content, what disturbed me was it felt the documentary had an agenda and it was not clear what that agenda was.
When I set out to watch it, I had expected a glimpse into who Jyoti Singh was. I wanted to see the courageous girl, not the faceless victim. I wanted to hear about her dreams, about how she beat odds to reach a place where she would have climbed the aspirational ladder and pulled her family up along with her. I wanted to hear from her friends, from her family, the people like her: men and women.
What I got instead was the twisted, warped sound-bytes from the rapist and the men like him. It felt like the whole narrative was being set up for the “barrel is rotten” comment that Udwin made later defending her work.
I keep going back to the men in my life. If the reported 50% of men the documentary talks of, the sexually frustrated, depraved men that India is rife with, where are the voices of the other 50%? The men I grew up with. The ones who despite the conditioning turned out to be gentlemen? The masses who rose along with the women protesting the slow speed of justice. Where are the sound-bytes from the balanced men and women on the street?
Each time I have a conversation with right leaning friends of mine about poverty porn, I have been defensive, saying glossing over the poverty and areas for improvement helps none. For the first time it hit me what it really meant.
I closed the Netflix tab wondering who benefited from this documentary. This certainly was not about India’s Daughter, rather it was about the men who raped her, amplifying their voices over the ones that needed to be heard.