In anticipation of the upcoming 2015 Toronto Hot Docs International Festival of Documentary Cinema, here's my review of INDIA'S DAUGHTER by Leslee Udwin. The BBC Doc, which focuses upon Jyoti Singh's gang rape and murder on a bus, was originally meant to air worldwide on International Women's Day. India, the country in which this heinous act took place, a country with a deep-seeded history of hatred towards women, banned the airing of the film by an official court injunction. The sick, cowardly acts of the rapists were matched by that of the Indian government. Though the film has been aired and uploaded via social media, it is such an important film that I urge everyone to secure an official DVD copy from the important non-profit media arts organization Women Make Movies.
Jyoti Singh (left), final words to her mother before dying:"Sorry Mummy. I gave you so much trouble. I am sorry."
Mukesh Singh, convicted rapist (right):
"A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy."
Dir. Leslee Udwin
Review By Greg Klymkiw
In India, the official government statistics reveal that a woman is raped every twenty minutes. These are the rapes that are actually reported. Most of them aren't. The stories of suffering are silenced by culture.
There is, however, one story we all know. It can never be forgotten.
On December 16, 2012, in the city of Delhi, Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student and a male friend boarded a private bus after seeing a movie. The male friend was beaten and the young woman was dragged to the back of the bus where she was gang-raped by six men and physically assaulted with a combination of punches, kicks, bites and a metal rod jammed up her vagina until it pierced through to her intestines, pulling pieces of her insides out when it was ripped from within. The couple was tossed out of the bus and left for dead. Jyoti survived for two weeks before succumbing to her deadly injuries in hospital.
India's Daughter details the events of that night, the subsequent country-wide protests demanding that violence against women stop, the investigation, trial and sentencing, plus interviews with the irredeemably ignorant defence attorneys and the straight-faced evil of one of the rapists.
Most importantly, I think, is that the film presents a face to its victim through the loving words of her parents and leaves us with her indomitable spirit which has become emblematic of much-needed reforms on every level.
It won't be easy, though, if the interviews with supposedly educated men are any indication of what must be fought.
One of the defence lawyers, A.P. Singh steadfastly stands by the idiotic statement:
“If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital 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 entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”
Another defence lawyer, M. L. Sharma, offers this "poetic stance":
"A female is just like a flower. It gives a good looking [sic], very softness performance [sic], pleasant. But on the other hand, a man is like a thorn. Strong, tough enough. That flower always needs protection. If you put that flower in the gutter, it is spoilt. If you put that flower in a temple, it will be worshipped."
Of course, what the moron is really saying is that women must stay at home and only enter out of doors when accompanied by a parent or husband. If the woman just leaves freely, then she is a slut who must be punished by men who are naturally there to rip them open with their thorny appendages.
|M. L. Sharma - Defence Lawyer and irredeemable moron.|
The centrepiece of the film are the utterly grotesque interviews with one of the convicted rapists, Mukesh Singh, who spits out bilious nonsense blaming women for rape. In all earnestness he tells us how Jyoti should have quietly submitted to her "punishment" in that bus, but that her screams, cries and attempts to fight back are the reason she is dead. Even more sickening is when he suggests that a metal rod was not used upon her, but the more humanitarian alternative of a screwdriver wrapped in a hand towel. He blames her for struggling as one of the rapists shoved his arm deep in her vagina to remove the offending implement and with all seriousness, he refers to the screwdriver pulling out her intestines as an "accident".
In spite of these and other horrific statements, Udwin's film is full of so many instances of simple beauty (albeit always tinged with deep sadness). Many of these moments are courtesy of interviews with Jyoti's mother and father - describing Jyoti from birth to early adulthood. They share so many lovely stories about their child's sense of love, her generosity and most of all, her intelligence and desire to work in the medical profession. Though the family is poor, they sacrifice everything to send her to medical college and Jyoti makes it clear that when she completes her internship, she will take care of her parents forever.
It's moments when the father and mother describe tiny details of Jyoti's childhood that we're moved so profoundly: the smallness of her hands, gripping her father's finger, her gorgeous smile, always bringing joy and happiness to those around her. When we get a description of how Jyoti as a young adult pursues and overpowers a young thief only to shower him with gifts, food and money, making him promise to never steal again and to make something of himself is juxtaposed by Udwin with descriptions of India's poverty and how so many children - through sheer hunger - are forced into lives of crime by circumstance.
One seldom experiences a film which instills feelings of anger, frustration and helplessness that just as quickly transform into softness, understanding and, yes, love. This is one hour of cinema that will have you in its clutches as it exposes humanity in all its facets.
Finally, India's Daughter works as a document of a life, a horrific event and as a plea to end the madness of sexual assault and misogyny - not just in India, but throughout the world. And yes, Jyoti is as much a daughter of India as she is a human being who just tried to make a difference. We need more of her kind.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4-Stars
India's Daughter is available on DVD via Women Make Movies.