Film Review Reviews

‘Section 375’ review: Myopic, ignorant and a train wreck

A still from ‘Section 375’  

As conflicted as one maybe about confining the critique of a film to the cinema hall, Section 375 reveals its precarious impact almost immediately as you step out of the auditorium. After press screening, as a few cameras hound attendees for their first reactions, a middle-aged lady praises the film and proceeds to say, “Aisa bohut hota hain film industry main (this happens frequently in the film industry)”. Her reference is towards working-class women framing influential men to extort monetary and career benefits. Section 375 — which references several times to the Nirbhaya case, takes sheepish digs at the #MeToo movement (“the court of Twitter”) and captures the media pressure (both mainstream and social) surrounding a high-profile rape case —cannot absolve itself of its impact in the society. It validates and legitimizes the views of many, like this lady outside the auditorium, who perhaps would use this film as a reference point to proclaim, “Not all men”.

A filmmaker is at liberty to pick his subject, characters, have his worldview project on the screen or indulge in moral posturing. One cannot invalidate the possible real-life existence of a case like the one filmmaker Ajay Bahl presents in the film. But when a narrative — in its tone and decisions to reveal or hide certain “facts” — picks a side and ultimately projects a few (very) disturbingly graphic claims of self-harm to be true, there’s enough reason to hold the film liable. It’s hard to dissociate this film from the time in which it releases: a year after the #MeToo movement was at its peak in India. Today, we stand at a point where the ones accused are re-emerging into their respective professional lives, disregarding the movement through their films (hint: Super 30), or even downright ridiculing the collective resistance to sexual misconduct and patriarchal power dynamics. In this, you have Section 375, which doesn’t simply raise questions and explore the grey zones (which is undoubtedly imperative), but picks a side and ventures onto demonstrating how “law was served but justice was denied”.

Section 375: Marzi Ya Zabardasti
  • Director: Ajay Bahl
  • Cast: Akshaye Khanna, Richa Chadda, Rahul Bhat, Meera Chopra
  • Storyline: A High Court trial after a costume designer accuses a filmmaker of rape

What is utterly disturbing is to think of Section 375 in hindsight. The tightly-written first half doesn’t waste screen time and jumps right into the case of Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra) accusing celebrated filmmaker Rohan Khurana (Rahul Bhat) of rape and assault. The film is largely confined to the trial in the High Court and through the proceedings, the audience is acquainted with various characters with different value systems and morals about sexual abuse. For instance, Rohan’s wife (played by Shriswara) is discussing the poster for a seemingly feminist project when she is informed of her husband’s rape allegations. Through the film she is conflicted and torn between the various narratives and revelations. The first half also establishes the worldviews of the young passionate lawyer Hiral Mehta (Richa Chadda); the older, more pragmatic lawyer Tarun Saluja (Akshaye Khanna); and even the two High Court judges hearing the case (one is “no nonsense” and the other “progressive and liberal”).

Using the classic Roshomon effect, where different characters and the two lawyers dissect the case with various narratives, for the most part, the film creates ambiguity, refrains from being didactic, compels you to think with facts and statistics, and resists the temptation of taking sides. Had the film remained in this space, while hinting at provocative possibilities, it could have been a riveting, and perhaps even a significant film. But the counter argument that the film provides and supports (through Khanna’s character) is not just provocative but also based solely on the account of the accused. Once the film takes a stand and you walk out of the cinema hall, and playback the narratives in your head, assuming Khanna's arguments to be true, it’s nothing short of chilling.

The film not only provides validation to all those dismissing sexual harassment cases as having ulterior motives but also does great disservice to women, who have only recently had the courage to risk social stigma and share their stories with the world. With every clap and hoot generated in the auditorium when Khanna speaks or as the credits roll, one can ascertain the impact of Section 375 and the recklessness and shortsightedness with which Bahl has approached the subject.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 12:37:59 AM |

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