CSA in Bollywood – Supriya Maulick Mahajan

Bollywood & Child Sexual Abuse

We see the glamorous Switzerland locations, the chiffon saris, the OTT Punjabi MIL, the saccharine sweet Alok Nath and of course all the item numbers. We enjoy them all. From the SoBo resident on the 21st floor to the mango man on the street, we all enjoy “Lungi dance” and “Chikni Chameli”. It is an undisputed fact that Bollywood movies are a unifying factor across economic & cultural barriers. It is also an undisputed fact that cinema is a powerful medium of communication today. It can & does shape the mindset of people. After Rang De Basanti was released, we have all been witness to the social awakening for many. Unlike other Indian films with jingoistic overtones, many of us could & did relate well to the characters of this film. Public youth activism & candlelight vigils were the order of the day. The courts were forced to reopen the Jessica Lall & Priyadarshini Mattoo cases.

Many a movie has been made on female issues. However, there are very few mainstream Bollywood movies which have dealt with child sexual abuse (‘CSA’). I am not talking about the documentaries which do the rounds in festival circles or a play which few would pay three hundred bucks to go watch. Theatre does seem to have dealt with CSA more than Bollywood in India. A cursory google search throws up three names – 30 Days in September, Black Bird & Bitter Chocolate, the last being based on Pinky Virani’s book the same name. I am sure these plays did reach out to a certain segment of society to talk about CSA, many of whom prefer to live in denial, i.e., “It happens to them, not us” syndrome.

Now coming to the Bollywood movies, there was a brief mention in Monsoon Wedding (2001) where an adult opened up about being abused by her uncle as a child during a family wedding, when she saw her uncle making some initial attempts toward her younger cousin. Page 3 (2005) showed a reporter whose story about a megabucks industrialist being a paedophile who abused children from an orphanage patronised by his late wife. His wife had committed suicide when she got to know of this. However, the story ends with the owner of the paper “killing” the story (being a friend of the megabucks industrialist) and the reporter being fired. Another movie which briefly touched the topic of CSA was Manorama Six Feet Under (2007), which was a thriller, where it was revealed that one of the characters, a local politician was a paedophile who got his victims from a children’s home. Abhimanyu, one of the stories in I Am (2010), a film anthology made by Onir, dealt with child abuse. Abhimanyu, a successful director, is haunted by memories of sexual abuse as a child.He must deal with his dark memories even as he struggles with his sexual identity.

Two very recent movies – Gunday & Highway have also touched the issues, one very briefly and one in a little more detail. Gunday shows an army officer who is about to sodomise a young Ranveer Singh, when he is shot dead by a young Arjun Kapoor. This cements the bond between the two orphans. In Highway, Veera (Alia Bhatt) reveals to her kidnapper how a family friend abused her as a child, how she was made to sit on his lap, plied with chocolates & gifts and then he would cover her mouth with his hand so no one would hear her scream. She confronts her parents in the end of the movie as to why they did nothing to protect her, despite her telling them about it, her frustration, her desperation all comes rushing out like a volcano. Nagesh Kukunoor ‘s latest movie, Lakshmi deals with the harsh realities of child prostitution & human trafficking. The protagonist is a 13 year old Lakshmi, who is kidnapped and sold into prostitution.

I reiterate that cinema is a powerful medium. A Korean movie, The Crucible is based on actual incidents where young deaf students were the victims of repeated assaults by the faculty at a hearing impaired school in the early 2000s. This movie showed both the crime, as well as the court proceedings where the teachers were given lenient punishment. This film sparked public outrage upon its release in 2011, which eventually resulted in a reopening of the investigations into the incidents. With over 4 million people in Korea having watched the film, the demand for legislative reform reached all the way to the National Assembly, where a revised bill, dubbed the Dogani Bill, was passed in late October 2011 to abolish the statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors and the disabled.

People in India tend to push CSA under the carpet, to not talk about it. Movies help people talk about it and to spread awareness. An episode of Satameva Jayate where Aamir Khan spoke about CSA had a far-reaching effect. Films are supposed to be a reflection of society. I hope that one day Bollywood does stand up and make a powerful movie about CSA, which will spur society into shunning the abusers, rather than the victim. I hope Highway is remade where when Alia tells her parents as a child about being abused by a family friend, the parents immediately report the offender, no matter how powerful he is.