It has been 25 years, but Damini is still considered as one of the finest movies of its time, that depicted the struggle of a woman to stand for what was right. It holds relevance even today.
The movie Damini was released in the year 1993, the same year I had been to Delhi to participate in the mock parliament session arranged by our school. We had our school captain whom we fondly addressed our Didi (elder sister), who insisted that we watch this movie the day before we act out our show. While the teachers were apprehensive that we should be actually rehearsing our roles, our school captain, whom we saw as a role model advised us to go for the movie.
I believe women will unanimously agree that when need arises we need to stand undeterred and be like the character Damini, as sketched in the movie. The movie though far ahead of its time, needs to be and watched time and again. It is bound to be an eye- opener for men who unabashedly slut shame a woman, take the liberty to rape or molest her and also for some women who indulge in victim blaming. I hope to change the mindset by talking about Damini and how it stands relevant even 25 years after its release.
The movie directed by Rajkumar Santoshi revolves around a humble, fun loving woman, Damini, played by Meenakshi Seshadri. She hails from a lower middle class family and her life takes a 360 degree turn when Shekhar Gupta, played by Rishi Kapoor a rich businessman falls in love with her at first sight. Shekhar marries Damini against his family’s wishes as Shekhar’s family who is into politics had planned his wedding to a daughter of another rich politician. Damini enters her in- laws’ household, but is subjected to constant taunts and torments though she has the unflinching support of her husband.
Her only friend here is the househelp Urmi, played by Prajakta with whom she shares her joy and sorrows. On the occasion of holi, Urmi is brutally raped by Shekhar’s younger brother Rakesh (played by Ashwin Kaushal) and his drunken friends. Shekhar and Damini try to stop the gruesome sexual assault, but it is too late. Urmi bruised body is thrown away, only to be dragged into a government hospital with minimum medical facilities. Shekhar’s family tries to hush up the case but Damini stands by her.
With no help, she approaches the police and informs them about the incident. Little did she realize, that the police will be hand in glove with her powerful politician in- laws who also hire a lecherous barrister Indrajit Chaddha (played by Amrish Puri).
The courtroom trial begins and Damini is atrociously cross examined by lawyer Chaddha. Without a strong support, Damini is branded mentally unstable and is sent to a mental asylum where she is lodged with other inmates. In the meantime, Urmi dies and her death is recorded as a suicide.
Damini sees a procession of Goddess Durga, when in the the asylum. Unable to bear the mental torture in the asylum, where the actual intention of Damini’s family is to make her completely insane, Damini, inspired by the Goddess Durga escapes and runs into an alcoholic lawyer. He is none other than Govind (played by Sunny Deol). Govind had developed a hatred for the judicial system after the death of his wife, and initially refuses to accept the case but later, when Damini asks him to fight for the underprivileged Urmi, he reopens the case. The case is fought between the lawyers Chaddha and Govind where both Govind and Shekhar provides dogged support to Damini and ultimately Damini wins the case and justice is provided to the victimized girl.
Let us hear the truth. We all play holi and it goes beyond saying we are subjected to groping during this particular festival, where we have also faced the horror of semen filled balloons being thrown at us. Rajkumar Santoshi hit the nail where it hurts.
According to the Financial Express crimes in India are on a rise in 2018 as compared to last year with murder and rape witnessing a spike. The government has been unable to check crimes even in the national capital. The report cites many abduction cases, and dowry death cases to support the data. It is worth mentioning here that, in 2016, according to the NCRB data, the total crimes were recorded to be 2.97 million while the crime rate was found to be 379 crimes per lakh population. A 2017 report by Global Peace Index had claimed India to be the fifth most dangerous country for women travelers. Gender Vulnerability Index 2017, compiled by Ministry of Women and Child Development, found Bihar, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand to be the bottom four in terms of safety. The data highlight the urgent need to ensure proper law and order situation in the country.
So, in a country where the Government is unable to protect us, it is the need of the hour that every woman has to fight it out like Damini. It has been seen that, the moment a girl steps in to her puberty, her life comes under the scanner. From her breast growth to her period problems, the girl child needs to be kept under extreme scrutiny.
I ask a question to the society. I am well established and am a single woman and a mother to a ten year old. Since I have no extended family to run to my aid, each time a man passes a lewd comment at me or my daughter, shall I seek police protection? I am a dancer as well and have been subjected to repeated instances of groping during my recitals, in the name of dance. Each time I have been manhandled, I made sure I hit back. But why?
There are a lot of Urmis out there in the slums who work at ten different houses a day; do we ever ask them how they manage the jostles of the several men whom they confront? As in Damini’s case, Urmi addressed her Bibiji while my help addresses me as Didi (elder sister). She had complained to me several times about the groping and about the nasty comments she has faced from men at different houses. Yet, all these crimes went unnoticed. The statistics of the NCRB are apalling, but if we women join hands and go on a morcha against the repeated atrocities on women, I am sure this data will be proved wrong. We need a strong support system to hear our cries.
Like Urmi we had Nirbhaya and we had the little child from Kathua. But, these are the cases known to us. What about me? What about the abuses which I faced right from the time I was a teen or each of those women who have been facing similar abuses? We cannot be mere silent spectators anymore.
This was was the reason our school captain, who later joined the army, had asked us to watch this movie. Unless we are shaken to our inner core, we refuse to act. Damini had been such a gripping movie, which had truly moved each of us when we watched it.
Coming back to the movie, Bobby talks cinema.com says, that, “Rajkumar Santoshi directed Damini (Lightning) is indisputably one of the finest movies from Indian cinema representing the suppressed voice of a woman and the power of truth. Remembered for its bold subject the film exposes the ugly and decayed face of Indian traditional values which have now lost their real sacred meaning in the current times. Revolving around the gang rape of a poor and helpless maid, it depicts the wide class system still prevailing in the Indian society even today. It impressively showcases how the poor continue to be exploited by the richer section in the cities and how it’s still difficult to raise a voice against this exploitation in absence of a clean and pure judiciary system.”
No woman is safe, irrespective of her age, community or location. All women are subjected to a lot of torments and as mentioned earlier, the cases of rape and molestation top the list. Let us not wait for people to act on our behalf, let us fight against these atrocities ourselves. We certainly do not need a man to fight our battles. In fact, when we unite we won’t be less than THE SHAKTI – Goddess Durga from whom Damini took inspiration and had fled from the mental asylum.
Writing on Damini was just a nudge by me to stir the emotions inside all of us. If need be, we can choose to discard our good self and fight out abuses with an iron clad fist. Let us see, if we can turn around the NCRB data and make our nation free from predators. The misogynistic and patriarchal society better be careful of strong women like us as we can also be Damini- The Lightning!
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Rimli Bhattacharya is a First class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of
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