S Durga reveals why India is so dangerous for women

Throughout the movie, you wait for physical or sexual violence to take place. It doesn't. But what happens is more dreadful.

 |  5-minute read |   02-07-2018
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Last year, Sanal Sasidharan's S Durga — originally "Sexy Durga" was at the centre of a storm after it was denied screening at the International Film Festival of India in Goa. It wasn't screened despite the Kerala High Court's direction to the festival organisers to screen it. No official reason was given for the blackout.

Last Friday, I got a chance to see the movie at a show organised by the Indian Express Film Club, curated by The Indian Express film critic Shubhra Gupta, in the capital. It was primarily due to all the controversies surrounding the movie that I was tempted to go for the screening. Also, the movie hadn't released commercially. So, this was the best chance I had.

It's probably the darkest and most disturbing film I have seen in a long, long time. The story of a young couple in love, running away from their homes in the dead of night, the film hits you like a blizzard and stays with you like a knife pierced and twisted in your gut.

s-durga_070218021338.jpgThe film stays with you like a knife pierced and twisted in your gut. [Image: Screengrab/YouTube]

The movie is as disturbing as it is real. It brings out the dark reality of our times at many levels. In the vulnerabilities of its protagonists, we see our own failings and how cruel and demeaning the society can be to two individuals who are out late on the road. They are fair game for every person they come across.

From the guys who offer to drop them at the railway station, to cops who stop the car during routine night-checks, to random men prowling the streets, who ask Kabeer if he's taking Durga to Pakistan – the film is telling of its portrayal of gender.

The rituals of a traditional Kali Puja, where men put themselves through unimaginable suffering (piercing, hanging by hooks, walking on fire) to please the goddess are fantastically juxtaposed with goddess Durga, who has to face real life demons. The same men who bow to the goddess and keep her on a pedestal, will not think twice before violating a woman in the most brutal manner just because she made a choice of being with the man she loves.

The violence in Sanal's S Durga is all but physical. Through the 90 minutes, you wait for the physical or sexual violence to happen. It doesn't. But what happens is more dreadful. The guys in the car violate Durga verbally and mentally while asking her all along "did we hurt you, sister? Did we do anything wrong to you, sister?" That's the point Sanal is hammering home.

It doesn't need just physical or sexual assault to violate a woman. Durga is violated in every frame of the film by the stereotypes, by all the leering and jeering, by the thinking of the society. A bunch of men having "fun" at the cost of a vulnerable woman, while reminding her that they haven't done anything wrong to her.

"Imagine what could've happened to you on this dark road, if we weren't good guys," they tell Durga and Kabeer.

sexydurga5690_092517_070218021424.jpgHolding a mirror to us as a society.

Durga and Kabeer just want to reach the railway station; they run, they hide, they plead. The audience is drawn into their scramble for safety. It's interval now, and the audience starts losing breath as the protagonists get more and more drawn into the darkness around. You become as restless as the boy and the girl on screen. You anticipate worse as Durga and Kabeer descend into the abyss of fear that surrounds them.

By the time the credits roll, the audience is left gasping for air. The movies ends, but the trauma remains. It sinks deep into your heart and stays there, leaving you disturbed.

Violence is not just physical or sexual. A woman can be violated by words, by the indifference to her existence, by moral policing, by the stated notions of beng "good" or "loose". Durga goes through all that and more. But the men around her pat themselves on their backs because they "at least didn't physically rape her, or did horrible things to her body, which can happen in such darkness". They violate her soul, her existence. And the worst part was that they believe they did no wrong. They just had some fun.

S Durga holds a mirror to us, as a society, especially after a recent survey naming India as the "world's most dangerous country for women" has left the entire country disputing the survey methodology and sample size.

The darkness in Sanal's film is not just a metaphor, it's all around us. The darkness of patriarchy, the darkness of public spaces, the darkness that sustains itself by pushing women into corners, by owning them.

The movie ends leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions. What happens to them? What more can happen to them and for how long before they catch that elusive train to safety.

It's a movie that needs to be seen by all. It shows us things for what they are. It is not preachy. It offers no easy answers.

As Sanal himself puts forth in the discussion after the screening, "An artist can only show the problem. It's not his job to come up with solutions. It's for people to see the piece of art, grasp the message and then collectively come up with solutions".

S Durga shames us, shakes us.

The fact that this film is being banned and blacked out is a reality darker than the film itself.

Also read: Naming the film 'Sexy Durga' was wrong. It was asking for trouble

 

Writer

Mohd Asim Mohd Asim @mohdasim1

Mohd Asim is a Delhi-based journalist.

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