Malayalam Film ‘Neru’ Is A Riveting Courtroom Drama On Victim Shaming

There are many reasons why survivors of sexual assault keep silent. This further emboldens perpetrators. Film Neru addresses these reasons.

Trigger warning: This deals with rape and victim shaming and may be triggering to survivors.

The Malayalam film Neru, is a stark reminder of the shaming an assault victim experiences while seeking justice. This film is a courtroom drama that raises many pertinent points through its nuanced portrayal of a trial, and the toll it takes on the survivor and their family.

*Major spoilers alert!*

Sara, a visually-impaired sculptress, is assaulted inside her house when everyone else has gone out. There is no suspense as to who the perpetrator of the crime is. It is revealed early on that this heinous act was pre-planned and committed by the spoilt son of an affluent industrialist. The Herculean task is to bring the culprit to book, given that the victim cannot see, and there are no other witnesses.

Mohanlal, a disgraced lawyer, takes up this case to argue on Sara’s behalf. Blunt and scandalous questions are asked to the victim by a ruthless and relentless defense counsel. They stoop to the lowest levels possible to discredit Sara and her family, even going as far as fabricating evidence.

While the premise is not new, and the plot predictable, the film creates a conversation on a survivor’s right to dignity. Kudos to Siddique and the supporting cast; the defense comes across as truly despicable!

Sara is a force to be reckoned with. She refuses to wallow in self-pity, accept a settlement, or back off. She insists that she will not stop until she gets justice, irrespective of how emotionally draining or exhausting it may be.

Some of the issues highlighted are:

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Victim shaming and aspersions cast on the victim’s character

The line of cross-questioning accuses Sara and makes it sound like it was her fault. The defense provokes her and wonders if she was trying to honey-trap a wealthy man.

Victims often face societal judgment and humiliation.

What was she wearing? Did she ask for it? Was she in a relationship prior to this? If she has been intimate with him before, what is the big deal now?

Victims also face questions about their past relationships, or even face accusations of being promiscuous.

Implying that the act was consensual and the victim ‘enjoyed it’

Sara cannot see, but she is determined to identify her perpetrator. During the crime, she touches his face so that she can later recreate it as a sculpture. This point is raised repeatedly by the defense.

Why did she caress her perpetrator’s face? Was she enjoying herself?

Mohanlal argues that it was extremely courageous of Sara to do what she did because the sculpture was what helped the police make the initial arrest.

Stereotyping a victim’s behaviour.

If she were raped, shouldn’t she show more distress? How can she be so confident? How could she have sculpted so calmly? The defense demands.

Sara holds her stand. The perpetrator should be ashamed. I have done no wrong. Then why should I show any remorse? I turned my pain into art!

People demonstrate emotions or react in different ways. The lack of distress or remorse cannot be cited as evidence or used to challenge the victim.

Mudslinging and slut-shaming of family members

The family members too are not spared. Sara’s mother is her father’s second wife. He married her after divorcing his first wife. The defense labels her a homewrecker and asks her if such a woman possesses a good character or not.

Did you destroy his first marriage for his money? They taunt. Perhaps it runs in the family they argue. Like mother, like daughter.

They also use this argument to try to break Sara later on.

Proposing alternate theories to deflect attention from the perpetrator

Could it have been your father instead?  

The defense suggests much to Sara’s shock. He did have the house-keys and the access, they argue.

The very fact that everyone knows who the perpetrator is, yet he is protected, while her innocent father is being made the scapegoat horrifies not only Sara, but the viewer as well.

While the above five points are showcased in the film, they are not far from reality, and answer the question, ‘Why did she remain quiet for so long?’ Is there enough sensitivity in the system to provide mental support and safety for a survivor to fight?

Victims of assault hesitate to come forward because of shoddy investigations, lengthy waits, concerns surrounding family honour, the impact on siblings, and the omnipotent ‘what will people say? Keeping silent means avoiding further hassle, harassment, and heartbreak. It means not having to walk in and out of courtrooms. Sadly, this also means the perpetrators walk scot-free, targeting new innocent victims, when the only place they should be, is behind bars.

If there is one scene that stands out, it is Sara walking out of the courtroom, her head held high, her shawl not concealing her face anymore, and not one photographer clicking her photo, respecting her privacy.

As a film, Neru is a riveting watch, though there are segments (especially the last twenty minutes) that are overly dramatized and not very believable. However, the purpose of art is to make the viewer feel uncomfortable and question the status quo, which this film succeeds in doing. Neru raises concerns in the viewers’ minds that stay long after the movie is over.

You can catch this film on Hotstar.

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Lalitha Ramanathan

Lalitha is a blogger and a dreamer. Her career is in finance, but writing is her way to unwind! Her little one is the center of her Universe. read more...

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