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Mardaani 2 Trailer Makes Me Wonder – Is Bollywood Profiting Off Violence Against Women?

Posted: November 22, 2019

The trailer for Mardaani 2, with its repeated shots of women’s dead bodies and women being tortured comes across as voyeuristic and triggering. Just money-making violence porn?

When cinema reduces trauma to a spectacle, is it really feminist, or just a money-making venture that feeds on our pain?

A good movie trailer is like a great article headline – it piques curiosity to read the whole article, but at the same time it is also informative. The headline makes the intent and the content of the article clear. For example, the headline above this very article clarifies that I have issues with the Mardaani 2 trailer, and invites the reader to delve into the article itself for details. If you’re reading this, my editor and I have been successful.

A bad headline, or clickbait, as it is more popularly known, makes the reader curious, but offers no actual information, especially because the article itself has nothing important to say. So, the writer has to rely on the headline to titillate the reader into clicking on the link.

Mardaani 2 trailer caters to voyeuristic tendencies

The trailer for Mardaani 2, unfortunately, feels more like clickbait.

I have heard various descriptions for this trailer, from ‘chilling’ to ‘spine jittering’, which seem to miss the point that it is also voyeuristic and triggering. I wondered what the intent of the makers is, in putting out a trailer that has multiple shots of women’s dead bodies, or of women being tortured. What is the trailer supposed to make us feel?

Whenever a brutal rape or murder occurs, for some reason, people have a desire to know the gory details. It feels like the trailer is catering to these base instincts, to draw crowds into the theatres, and most likely, this strategy will work. The movie will make money, at the cost of women’s pain.

Anxiety inducing, not ‘creating awareness’

Actor Rani Mukherjee has said that the movie is an “expression of rage.”  According to the writer-director, Gopi Puthran, “Mardaani 2 addresses a huge societal issue of rape and the rise of horrific crimes committed by juveniles in India. One is deeply moved when such shocking incidents happen and as a writer, I wanted to voice this issue and bring to light a terrible reality that today’s India and its youth faces.”

The thing is however, that there is no lack of awareness. All of us, especially women, are painfully and perpetually aware of this reality. We read it every day in the papers. We live overcautious lives – not going out late; not travelling alone; making sure to share cab/rickshaw license plate numbers with loved ones; calling to let them know that we have reached safely; learning self-defense etc. The anxiety and fear is something we live with every day, and seeing violence against women on screen as well is further anxiety inducing. For those who have survived assault, such scenes can even be triggering.

Is explicitly shown graphic violence necessary?

It is important to make movies about sexual assault and rape – but is it necessary to show the violence so explicitly? Showing violence and rape on screen is tone-deaf and insensitive.

What writer Zeba Blay asks, in the context of the show 13 Reasons Why (which has also been criticized for its voyeuristic depictions of rape and suicide), can be asked on the context of Mardaani 2 as well, “What does it mean if we can only connect with the pain of rape victims by watching that pain played out so? What do these scenes achieve that couldn’t be achieved with their absence? And why are men so often the gatekeepers of these stories?”

Peabody award winning writer, Laura Zak, referred to 13 Reasons Why as “trauma porn parading as woke media” in a tweet encouraging girls to stay away from it.

The hugely popular series Game of Thrones too, has been criticized for its use of rape and violence against women as a selling point of sorts, justifying it as ‘realism’. (Yes, apparently in a show which had dragons, the White Walkers and magic, the realistic portrayal of women’s pain just could not be compromised on!).

Normalising violence against women, not ‘feminist’

The House that Jack Built directed by Lars von Trier is also a serial killer film like Mardaani 2, and also features copious amounts of violence on screen. Writing about it for The Independent, columnist Lucy Jones says, “For in the context of the #MeToo era, when the log has been rolled over to reveal a cesspit of widespread and accepted sexual violence and harassment, graphic violence against women on the screen feels passé, even conventional.” She adds, “Our nonchalance about excessive misogynistic violence on screen says something about how we feel about women, and of course how Hollywood and the film industry think about women, which, as we now know post-Weinstein, is not a great deal, unless they’re fulfilling sexual or violent desires.”

A movie does not automatically become ‘feminist’, just because it deals with issues like rape. Empathy and sensitivity towards the portrayal of survivors and victims is what makes the difference.

One of the reasons I appreciate the Netflix series Delhi Crime, based on the Nirbhaya case, is for its decision NOT to show the rape itself. Even in the scene where the cops find the survivor lying on the street, or when we see her in the hospital, the focus stays on her face and does not stray towards her mutilated body. The viewer is encouraged to see her as a person, and not as an object of their curiosity.

The success of Delhi Crime is proof that an engaging, thrilling viewing experience can be created even without the use of explicitly violent or traumatic scenes. One wonders why the makers of Mardaani 2 didn’t take that lesson.

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