Bhakshak Is A Voyeuristic Film That Poses As ‘Woke’ Women Centric Cinema

Bhakshak is yet another film that will have filmmakers feeling good about themselves for making a ‘woman centric film’, while normalising sexual abuse.

Major Trigger Warning: This speaks of graphic child sexual abuse and violence against women and will be triggering to survivors. Please skip the first para of the review that describes a graphic scene.

Bhakshak begins with an underaged girl (child) being shown writhing in pain and two grown men discussing her situation. One of the men gleefully explains that he had tried to rape her but she had resisted and so he stuffed chilli powder into her vagina. This man laughs and describes the act gleefully, over and over again, while the other man who is the pimp looks mildly annoyed. Eventually, the child dies and they proceed to have her cremated in the dead of the night.​​​​

Clever filmmaking in the guise of woke cinema

This is supposed to make you feel the horror of all that children had to endure. Except instead of sensitising us to the suffering and the trauma, the abusive acts are exploited and turned into exploitative entertainment. There is not a single thought given to just how triggering such cinema must be those who have actually endured the trauma of sexual abuse- women and children.

Over and over, throughout the film, they showcase young girls being tortured and violated. It’s extremely clever filmmaking. On the one hand, you get the woke certificate of making a film on a ‘sensitive’, ‘woman-centric’ topic. On the other hand, long, loving moments can be spent on more and more experimental and innovative ways to portray sexual abuse, because these will always guarantee eyeballs from a certain kind of audience who will find it titillating and of course there will be critical appreciation for the makers of ‘gRitTy’ cinema.

Movies can be made without pandering to predators and voyeurs

One of the best series in recent times on sexual abuse was Unbelievable on Netflix. It never once lets you escape the trauma that the victim undergoes both during and after the actual event of rape. And yet there is no exploitation. The victim/survivor gets to tell her tale, she gets the dignity and closure she deserves.

In the 1978 film Ghar, the protagonist is gang-raped one night. Throughout the act they focus on the faces of the criminals. And then the rest of the film focuses on the journey of the protagonist, from victim to survivor. It is perhaps the only sensitive depiction of sexual abuse, that I can think of in the history of Indian cinema.

In Bhakshak however, none of the victims are given any humanity. They either serve as tropes, to be exploited on screen by the ‘villains’ or they are exploited in the act of making the journalist protagonist look brave. The story is not their story at all. Grievous disservice was done to them both in real life and in reel life.

Films like Bhakshak only normalise atrocities

The trouble with depicting sexual abuse on film is that each time, the filmakers have to up the ante to make it more gratuitous and more horrifying to capture our attention. But all they serve is to normalise these atrocities. And as they get more creative, the victims have to be shown suffering stomach-churning horrors. I can imagine several men getting turned on by the sheer voyeurism of men pulling at the kurtas of young girls and forcing booze down their throats.

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Such films begin with bad men doing bad things and then good men (in this case a woman) defeating the bad men and then all is well. As a survivor of CSA, I can assure you that even at the age of 50, I haven’t still recovered from what was done to me at age 5 and nothing ever happened to the perpetrator.

We will never know what happened to the children of the orphanage at Munawwarpur (Muzaffarpur, Bihar, in real life). We’ll never know if they ever recovered, if they ever went on to healing, or if they never could. But these uncomfortable truths never serve convenient storytelling, do they? We don’t get to see anything important or real. Neither about the criminals nor the victims. Everyone in the film, particularly the children, is just a cardboard cut out to be moved around till the film reaches its predictable end.

The film achieves nothing good, really, just drama!

The protagonist in Bhakshak, journalist Vaishali Singh, who has done nothing other than make a few videos, to whom nothing really happens, whose doesn’t pay the price for her intrepid ‘journalism’, who literally stumbles on a story that she pays black money for, gives a long lecture on ethics and integrity and heroism to a young victim who barely escaped with her life. In fact, the victim had made the protagonist promise that her name wouldn’t be brought up. And yet the privileged protagonist forces the child to go public.

And the worst of it all, the evil villain who gets arrested, is given a heroic exit. He says, “I’m not a coward. I’ll not run away. Those who want to go can leave. I’m staying.” So basically he’s a ‘good man’, an ethical (?!) paedophile.

Yet another film about filmmakers feeling good about themselves for making a woman centric film. They’ll get the awards and they will be interviewed on their opinions on CSA and laugh all the way to the bank. We have had hundreds of films of women and children getting raped and not one man film on why men rape. Instead they will keep perpetuating the myth of a tiny percentage of bad men and most everyone else, good Samaritans. Now because it is 2024, instead of a male saviour they will have a female saviour who too will do nothing to examine the violent psyche of the predator, but instead will go on oppressing those who are already oppressed, the victims.

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About the Author

Hema Gopinathan

Hema Gopinathan left a blight of a corporate career to homeschool her two children. A teacher trained in the Waldorf/ Rudolf Steiner pedagogy, a writer, an artist, a crocheter, Hema spends half her time in read more...

38 Posts | 243,636 Views

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