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Perhaps you want to ask me why I have any expectations of a commercial Hindi film by Rohit Shetty. Perhaps you think I’m nitpicking about a mindless watch. Perhaps, I’m taking this ‘feminism shmeminism’ too far.
Regardless of what a film offers, if it is content open for consumption, its dissection and discussion is anyone’s right. That aside, Simmba, personally for me, deserves much dissection because it addresses a difficult issue: rape.
There are spoilers ahead, but at this point I’m willing to guess that if you’re this far into my article, you’re probably not worried about a plot line being thrown at you. In a nutshell, a corrupt cop mends his ways when his muh-boli-behen is brutally gang-raped and murdered, and takes on the very thugs who he condoned before by selling his soul for several pieces of silver. Since this is a Rohit Shetty film, the ingredients also involve generous dollops of flying humans, vehicles, glass pieces, and water. The Golmaal Alumni Club meets for a brief many seconds as well.
Admittedly, it is a good thing that Rohit Shetty recognized the need for conversation on rape and violence against women, and acknowledges for a brief nanosecond (this happens in the end) that men are also vulnerable, it is impact that matters, and not intent.
Here are my reasons why the impact of this film remains counterproductive to the intent he (probably) set out with.
Women in this film largely serve the purpose of cooking and feeding men. From the female lead to the random assortment of women assembled in the film, they cook, and appear exclusively one dimensional beings that aim to merely cook. When the cop decides to “encounter” the rapists on his own terms, the female lead calls on all the other women around her and tells them to get ready for battle, by… Cooking. The idea of women as entrepreneurs in cinema seems riveted to the notion that women can cook, at the most, or be fashion designers. Why this is a negative impact, is that the entire narrative reasserts the notion that it’s a woman’s job to keep house, or to like-keep house, while it’s the man’s job to protect her.
Which brings me to the second reason: Male saviour garbage. Yes, rape is a heinous crime. Yes, it makes people angry. Yes, trauma can make one feel scared, hurt, and upset. But the notion of male saviourhood needs major correction. Women don’t need saving. They just deserve to be respected. What took the cake was the over the top mansplaining where the cop explains rape and the impact of rape, and the need for empathy in deciding the case, to the judge, who is a woman. This leads me to my next point – and I’ll come back to the judge there.
My third problem with the film is that it believes that a woman has no identity without a nexus. From the word go, the film shows us the young woman who was raped and murdered through the lens of the cop. He builds a bond with her and calls her his sister. When the incident happens, his anger knows no bounds because she was his sister. In drawing on others and enjoining them in the fight for justice, the first lines that are uttered are on the lines of “what if she were your daughter / sister.” This nexus-based rhetoric reaches its pitch when the Mansplaining rhetoric from the cop to the judge culminates in him asking her what she’d do if it were her daughter. The judge turns into the-wearer-of-the-ring in the angry barrage that follows. And then, realization dawns. Gee! Thanks cop, we had no idea why rape is wrong.
And now, the cherry on top: #NotAllMen and Cookie cutter masculinity. The film is unabashed about its demonization of rapists. And here’s where the hypocrisy does its song and dance. The cop has a clear idea of what a man is, and lives by it: he is physically strong and does not rape. But of course, he can stalk a woman while condemning another man for it in the same breath. But of course, he can police a girl for hugging her best friend while thinking nothing of saying “tumhare baare mein kya kya soch raha hoon.” But if course he can tell a man “nazar nazar hota hai, nazar kya certificate leke ghumti hai, ki aaj achcha hai, kal bura hai” while using the same nazar to ogle at a woman. But of course, the cop can rile the rapists and say that they couldn’t have possibly raped the woman because they’re not masculine enough. The threshold for the hero is low: he doesn’t rape, and beats up those who do. It doesn’t matter that he is guilty of keeping the factors that contribute to it. By dissociating rape from patriarchy, there is a great disservice being done. Patriarchy is the cultural backdrop that allows a crime like rape to take place: not addressing it but attempting to address rape by killing rapists is as good as using tape to seal the leaky faucet instead of mending the plumbing from the site of the problem.
Which leads me to the last point: the film creates the impression that vigilante justice is the only way forward to deal with rape. The hero’s victory is the center-piece here, for it is his orchestrated encounter that kills rapists. The goal, as we are told, is to create a deterrent effect and scare men with dire consequences if they rape. Tell me again, oh saviour cop, how many rapes have there been since they handed out death sentences to rapists last?
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