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In this day and age, is it still true that a woman or girl who doesn't have a male protector is just a prey for predators (Bhakshak)? What's the role of a government, then? What is it doing to protect our little girls?
Trigger warning: This deals with child sexual abuse and may be triggering to survivors. The movie has some graphic details, so please do not watch Bhakshak if you are triggered by sexual and physical violence.
Last week, I wrote an article about women in Bengal jail who were becoming pregnant while in custody because of sexual exploitation by male staff. It was a grim topic and horrified me constantly while researching. Then, on the weekend, I saw the movie ‘Bhakshak’ on Netflix, which reminded me of these women’s plight, but what the movie shows is much worse.
Imagine a girl who was left at an orphanage by her relatives or her parents, a girl who has never known any love or care, a girl who looks up to those supposed to care for her but is in reality a predator (Bhakshak), for all the basic needs of her life.
The girl doesn’t know another way of life. She doesn’t know there are girls and women out of her shelter home who are loved and empowered to fight for themselves. They don’t see a way of life away from daily physical, sexual and emotional abuse. They’re told they should be grateful because they have shelter, food and clothes.
In a country like India, where being born a girl is a crime itself, and orphanages are filled with girls, this could be the reality for many of them.
The most heartbreaking thing is that the movie is based on a true case from Muzaffarpur Shelter Home for Girls.
In 2018, TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) surveyed many shelter homes, and red-flagged some of the shelter homes where kids were exploited. They sent the report to the Bihar government for further investigation, but the government never took any action. Instead, the case was smothered by the influential leaders and people who owned the shelter home.
Be warned, this movie is not for the faint of heart.
The director, Pulkit, needs to be lauded for making a sensitive movie on such a complex subject, and Red Chillies Entertainment for backing it.
From the devastating opening scene, be prepared to be horrified by the numerous scenes in which men act worse than animals. They exploit young girls for their enjoyment in unimaginable ways. And their laughter crawls on the skin like many spiders, making you shudder with disgust.
In the movie’s closing scene, the protagonist Vaishali Singh asks the audience through her humble news channel, ‘Have we all forgotten to grieve at the sorrow of others?’ And ‘Do we still count ourselves among the humans?’
What separates humans from animals is our ability to empathize. If we let it go, there’ll be no humanity left.
The plot is simple. Reporter Vaishali (Bhumi Pednekar ) along with her cameraman Bhasker Sinha (Sanjay Mishra), stumble upon a story about this shelter home run by a powerful man, Bansi Sahu (Aditya Srivastava).
She wants to investigate it further but is threatened numerous times by Bansi Sahu and his people. Even her family is attacked. She asks for help from women SSP, but she can’t do anything without evidence. Vaishali doesn’t give up and brings out all the names involved.
Bhumi Pednekar, as Vaishali, gives her career-best performance. She portrays Vaishali’s hopeless situation and her undeniable passion for honest journalism with sincerity. Her monologue at the end is a thing of beauty. Everyone should see it, even if you feel the movie is too heavy for you. Bhumi and Sanjay Mishra’s chemistry is better than any of hers with her costars in past. Much loved Aditya Srivastava from CID transforms entirely into a lecher you would hate from the first scene.
What also needs mentioning is the small ways the movie addresses patriarchy. In a scene where Vaishali is late to reach home from work, her husband waits for her to get home to complain to her that he’s hungry. As conditioned by society, she doesn’t back talk immediately, but when goaded further, she says, ‘ek mutthi chawal aur ek mutthi daal cooker mein daal kar khichdi to tum hi bana skate the na’. (You could have made khichadi with some rice and daal at least in the cooker!) Bravo!
Aren’t our women and girls more independent than boys and men in today’s society? After all, they can earn their living, cook food and manage the house simultaneously. Shouldn’t the tag of dependency moved on to boys now from girls?
How do they treat little kids like cockroaches whom they torture and kill just for fun? How can they keep living with themselves after committing such heinous crimes? And how do they become Bhakshak in the first place?
The answer lies in the way they are made to feel their privilege since their childhood and how girls, in the form of their sisters and mothers, exist just to serve them.
It happens every time the mother doesn’t stop her son from hitting his sister for burning the roti or just for fun. It happens every time the mother asks the daughter to give up the sweets for her brother. It happens whenever a mother makes her son feel important for going to school and studying and forcing her daughter to make life as comfortable for him as possible.
I appeal to all mothers: the remedy lies in their hands. Teach your sons empathy, equality and humility. The world can not survive only with men in power. Women need to take their power, or else this world will collapse.
Bhakshak is available on Netflix.
I'm a reader and a teacher. My love for books and kids has kept me occupied till now. Now I want to venture into writing to pen down my thoughts. Thanks for reading. read more...
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