Malayalam Film Aattam Deftly Unmasks The Rape Culture Inherent In The Average Modern Man

Aattam has 12 men judging and deciding if a woman assaulted by one of them was 'asking for it' - almost like a jury of 12. Who gave you the right?

Was fortunate enough to catch this masterpiece over the weekend. The movie is titled Aattam, it’s in Malayalam and streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

There’s no spoiler alert here because I won’t reveal too much, especially the twist halfway or the finale. All I’m trying to convey with my post is, why it’s important that we all give the movie a try.

Rarely do such gems appear in Indian cinema, mature and thought-provoking. The movie is about a theatre group comprising 12 men and 1 woman. The woman is also romantically involved with one of the actors.

*NO Spoilers*

So this one time, they halt for the night at a resort, and one of the men gropes the woman in the dead of the night. Being dark outside, she fails to see the face, but she kind of knows who he is. Not sure how to go about it, she confides to her beau, who then calls for a meeting with other actors, trying to push his agenda of kicking the alleged perpetrator out of the group. This meeting, their discussions, their disagreements, and the revelation of their mentalities, are what form the crux of Aattam.

All modern men, yet…

What works for Aattam, is how subtly it unmasks various layers of patriarchy, in a so-called modern and urban society. The men in the theatre group are educated, liberal, fathers to daughters, and when they meet initially, they all seem to agree upon one thing, respect the lady’s dignity and punish the offender.

But then, they are large in number, and each has his own opinion. Plus, the man in question, the alleged molester, is popular and successful, which helps to keep him in the group. And gradually, the thought of punishment begins to vanish, and the decree of punishment dilutes to furnishing an apology. Counter questions are posed, and as the story progresses, the woman finds herself amidst a barrage of accusations, sugar-coated, but bang on target.

Wasn’t she drunk that night? Weren’t her clothes too revealing? Why does she mingle freely with men? So she hadn’t seen him? Had she been hallucinating?

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The woman is seemingly confused, she is not very comfortable talking about it to a large group. But her beau forces her to, and she finds herself interrogated by men whom she once trusted and considered friends.

What about her very real experience of assault?

In the entire process, not one of them seems to be bothered about the fact that, “If not him, then who?” Yes, she didn’t see him clearly, but the perpetrator was one of them. But all that seems important is, why is the woman lying, accusing someone when she isn’t sure.

Aattam is a simple depiction of how, in a supposedly emancipated society in the 21st century, most men still consider women as the custodians of Maryada, torchbearers of discipline and character. They can seek pleasure outside marriage, but when questioned, they wouldn’t stand with the other woman either. And of course, no guesses about who is to blame when a man leaves his family.

Which brings me back to my question. How do we shatter this patriarchy, the deeply etched thought in many minds that, He Rapes Because She Leads Him On? Maybe, by talking to our sons, about equality and respect. By meting out the same treatment to our sons, that we give to our daughters. By telling them, they too are torch bearers of Maan Maryada. By watching movies like Aattam with your sons, showing them, what it is, to Be A Man first, and Not an Alpha Male.

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