Incongruent to their motive

Deepa and Dilip Mehta’s latest films are well-intentioned but ineffective attempts to look at sexual crimes and the adult film industry respectively to analyse the increase in rape in the country

At the recent edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the Mehta siblings — Deepa and Dilip — both showcased their latest efforts. Deepa had Anatomy of Violence and her brother screened Mostly Sunny. “[Anatomy of Violence] is a portrayal of the minds of the rapists, and I’ve done a feature documentary on someone who’s objectified as a potential cause for rape,” Dilip said at the TIFF conference a few months back. “Here’s a sister-brother duo, we’re doing the flip sides of the same coin.” He went on to state that he was looking forward to seeing the effect the films would have on people since it would help deal with the issue of rape in India far more effectively.

This writer had the chance to evaluate Dilip’s statement when both films were showcased at the recently held Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star. Unfortunately, as noble as their efforts might have been, the Mehtas’ thoughts haven’t translated very well onto the screen.

Mostly Sunny is an ineffectual look at Karenjit Kaur Vohra’s journey into becoming India’s most-searched star on Google in the last decade: Sunny Leone. Maybe it’s to do with Dilip’s inability to probe deep into his subject or perhaps there really isn’t much more to Leone than what we already know. In the end, the audience is offered a superficial look into the actor’s past: how she, of her own volition, was lured by the riches of the adult entertainment industry and her eventual foray into Bollywood.

Amidst Mostly Sunny’s disconnected interviews and sequences, we’re made acutely aware of the protagonist’s two lives: Karen, as she’s called by her family, and Sunny, as the rest of the world knows her. Through it all, Leone is endearingly affable, emotional during a dull visit to her hometown, and crestfallen at the bombing of her film Jackpot (2013).

Dilip’s supposed impetus to make the film — to analyse whether porn is directly correlated to the rise in sexual assault in the country — barely comes into focus. Except for one segment, Mostly Sunny focuses merely on the actor’s widespread acceptance in India, despite her (gasp) vulgar past, and her incredible business acumen. When she’s asked the million-dollar question, Leone disagrees, predictably and resolutely, with the claim that porn correlates to an increase in rape.

Then there’s Deepa’s effort, Anatomy of Violence, which has used workshops to arrive at fictionalised back stories of the six perpetrators of the heinous 2012 Delhi gang rape . There are a variety of reasons why this crime occurs, none of which can be condoned, and Deepa makes it clear with her film. This disclaimer notwithstanding, the fictionalisation of the rapists’ lives hardly gives us any in-depth insight into the heinous crime. On the contrary, it feels too gimmicky and insensitive.

The film starts off introducing each of the six perpetrators, with the adult actors portraying their child counterparts. Jarring as it is to see grown men act juvenile, it’s even harder to watch them transform into the criminals they eventually become. This is not because of how brutal or raw the film’s depiction is, but because in the end, the fiction fails to evoke a real emotion from the viewer. All the criminals are portrayed as victims of violence — either sexual, physical or emotional — in their own right. But what good does it do to tell us this without offering any psychological and social context, and profundity? Then there’s the question of why the film would go so far as to include scenes such as those showing the piety of one of the accused, who washes and prays over the bus in which the incident occurred. After all, it may not have ever happened, and it seems like a stretch to humanise a criminal and emotionally manipulate an audience (an international one most likely).

Furthermore, it’s uncomfortable to watch an accomplished filmmaker like Deepa make an amateur film like Anatomy of a Violence, which forgets its form and suddenly breaks the fourth wall in one scene. In another, additional camera people are easily observed filming different angles of a shot.

Their efforts may have been sincere enough, but in the end both the Mehtas fail: while one goes far too tangential, another doesn’t go far enough. The films bring us nowhere close to understanding why human beings do the heinous things they do.

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 9:53:26 PM |

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