She says that it is hard not to spot a report in newspapers pertaining to violence against women. Every day.
She also says that it is hard to fathom the source of their anger and wonders how men can be devoid of any sympathy for the women who are the victims of their violent acts — this is what led her to explore the subject in her latest film, Anatomy of Violence.
Filmmaker Deepa Mehta thinks aloud, “I then began a process of exploration as to what in our culture, what in our society, what in our circumstances brings about this level and frequency of violence. Rape exists in every society but not at the level that we see here. This would suggest that there is a degree of complicity in the entire society as we are creating the environment and culture in which these men are permitted to express their savagery. What makes us different from Japan, for example, where this kind of violence does, of course, exist but not anywhere close to the level of India?”
Talk to her about the larger discourse from some quarters that points out the society’s responsibility for the rapists’ behaviour, and Mehta feels it is important to understand that cultural norms do play an important role in shaping us as individuals, and that patriarchy, misogyny, gender inequality all contribute to the way the female gender is perceived by males.
“Though I feel society is complicit in contributing to the making of a monster, in no way do I feel that the molesters/rapists are not accountable for their act.”
Her film, which reimagines the life of the rapists with a desire to grasp and infer the making of a monster, does not depict the actual rape.
“I had absolutely no intention to re-victimise the victim,” Mehta closes the topic.
Talking about her collaboration for the film with Chandigarh-based theatre director Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry, the filmmaker insists that the movie would not have been possible without the latter.
Mehta held an elaborate workshop with actors from Chowdhry’s repertory – The Company.
“We recorded the imagined lives of the actors on film as part of creating the screenplay. I ended up on day two, for some reason directing the camera, perhaps subconsciously realising that what was unfolding before us was so organic in its honesty and brutality that to re-film it in the future with stars and the whole machinery of a large crew, huge locations would be a travesty.
So we shot a major portion of the film in and around Chandigarh. Frankly, the actors are the real "stars" of the film,” she says.
The Indo-Canadian director, who has worked on several literary texts and adapted them into films, including Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India (the film was called Earth 1947), says collaborating with the authors and adapting them into a screenplay is always about close collaboration and conversation with the writer.
“A screenplay based on a novel and writing an original script are a whole different kettle of fish. The process is entirely different. The challenge is to condense say 400 or 600 pages of a book into a screenplay of a 100 pages without losing the narrative arc, the essential plot, the in-depth look at the characters that inhabit the novel but can't be contained in a script; it's a constant tug of war. What and who to leave out, to even enhance, to make more cinematic, is a huge dilemma,” she smiles.
When asked about patriarchy being the recurring theme in her works, Mehta feels that being a woman who was brought up in India, it is hard not to be affected by the society we live in.
“Remember, patriarchy and its fallout permeates the female existence in India. I saw a film that blew me away years ago – Manish Jha’s Matrabhoomi. It affected me as deeply as Satyajit Ray's Charulata. Both stayed with me and have had a great influence on my work.”
And Bollywood/Hollywood, a comedy, must have been quite a surprise for those who have been following her work?
“Believe me, I really loved doing Bollywood/Hollywood. It came as a reaction to a particularly dark time after Water was shut down in Varanasi.
I guess I felt the need regain my sense of absurdity, an ability to laugh again. Bollywood/Hollywood is, in hindsight, quite a subversive film. I just didn't know it then!” she laughs.