revisiting a classic
the thin man (w.s. van dyke, 1934)

film fatales #43: india's daughter (leslee udwin, 2015)

A documentary about the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, an Indian med student, India's Daughter fills its 63 minutes with just the right amount of information, never losing the feel of outrage and anger while connecting the act to the larger Indian society. We also see the enormous reaction of the people who weren't going to accept what had happened (along with the repressive actions of the state against those people).

The people who support the traditional Indian ways come off the worst, none more than defense lawyer A.P. Singh, who states, "If my daughter or sister engaged in premarital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight." Even so, some have complained that just by allowing such people to air their thoughts, Udwin is giving them a platform they don't deserve.

The film's title also exposes some of the problems with the movie. While it is specific to India, enough so that the Indian government banned the film, there isn't an effort to connect the problem to the worldwide presence of rape. You can only do so much in 63 minutes, and again, Udwin is being specific to the case in question and its ramifications for India, so I'm not sure this criticism is useful. More important, though, is the insistence, reflected in the title, that this is a movie about a daughter. As Tanvi Misra wrote:

The film shows Jyoti as an abstract symbol. She is “India’s daughter”—mourned by parents, and appropriated by both a cause and its opposition for their respective agendas. She is split in the imagination of her country. For the rapists and their lawyers, she failed her daughterly duties and bore the consequences. “India’s daughter” is supposed to have guarded her own modesty, which is linked to the prestige of the family. She was supposed to have been virtuous and virginal, protected and defined largely by male relatives....

The other narrative strain in the film ... talked about how “good” Jyoti was. She was a good daughter (she had asked for her parents’ permission to go out that night), a good student (she worked very hard), and a good friend. In this telling, she was ultimately a martyr—sacrificed to rally a country behind a cause....

I’m not saying that all these things about Jyoti—that she was a good student and devoted daughter—are untrue. I’m saying that they don’t have to be true for the crime committed against her to be just as heinous. The film shows this “good girl” and “bad girl” rhetoric—“India’s daughter” is either, depending on who’s talking about her—but not much else. In the movie, she’s a 2-dimensional figure. But Jyoti, the person, was probably much, much more when she was alive.

India's Daughter is compelling, and you can't help but be angry over what happens to Jyoti, and how Indian tradition reinforces misogynistic patterns. It's perhaps unnecessary to ask for more.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)

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