Section 375 (Hindi) — Redefine Consent
It is a shame sensitive films like 𝘔𝘶𝘭𝘬 and 𝘚𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 375 don’t get enough viewership they deserve, but let’s hope that films like these live on in the eternal(?) cloud of the streaming platforms:) The year 2019 seems to be a year of reckoning for Bollywood with indie, non-masala films like 𝘈𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘭𝘦 15 and 𝘚𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 375. At this rate, by year end, we will have covered the entire Indian constitution and the penal code. Jokes aside, we do need more films like these even if they are misguided or even use a social issue merely as a plot point. 𝘚𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 375 deals with issues that are ripped straight out of headlines, that includes #MeToo movement, rape accusations against powerful men, and the public outrage on the streets and in social media about women rights. A rape case filed by a person against someone he/she knows is not just a matter of law, it’s a matter of justice and it’s a matter of morality and societal framework that it exist in. If it’s a case of an aggression against a woman in a dark alley by an opportunistic criminal, the case is pretty straightforward, of course given there’s enough evidence to bring it to a trial, but if its a case against a co-worker or someone who has power over you, and your career, additional questions creep up in everyone’s mind and the case turns into a morality contest. How do we deal with moral questions? Is law good enough to handle cases like this or how does jurisprudence work? The premise (without even knowing the conclusion of the story or hearing the evidence) is enough for everyone to hunker down in their battle stations. In the film, a young costume assistant (probably pretty close to bottom of the totem pole in the movie industry) accuses the film’s director (close to the top of the management) of raping her. How do we deal with a case like this? Before going into how the film deals with it, let’s take a leaf out of Jesuit’s book and dive into ‘casuistry’. Jesuits are members of a religious order who follow the philosophical tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Casuistry is a process of reasoning that helps to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances. Though casuistry has its origins in the Greek philosophical lineage, it was made famous by the Jesuits. Casuistry takes a practical approach to morality because once we set aside our moral standings and predisposed notions of what the case is about, we can avoid the inevitable confirmation bias. Casuistry is a process where we take a clear-cut pure rape case like the Nirbhaya case and apply the circumstances of this new case in question, if the case is less like the pure case, the justification becomes weaker to treat it like a pure rape case and arrive at a judgement. Wait a minute… you must be asking yourself, isn’t this the job of the legal system? Shouldn’t they be the ones to apply their jurisprudence to arrive at the judgement? Yes, but in the realm of social media whiteouts and 24 hour news channels, tensions are so high and the so-called people’s court is issuing judgments and protests are erupting all over the place to fight for women’s rights, who has the time to wait for a judgement from the courts?
The film gives us a rare glimpse into how rape victim interviews are conducted and though the rules appear draconian, we come to understand what it really takes to bring a case like this to trial. The film wastes no time in establishing the case and bringing the action to culminate in a courtroom where a public prosecutor (played by Richa Chadha) and the expensive high-powered defense attorney retained by the accused’s wife (played by Akshay Khanna) come face to face. When the film opens, the alleged incident is shot and shown from the accuser’s angle so the case is treated as such and we get to travel with the victim and the prosecutor’s case. Just when you think you know what the case is about, the balance starts shifting as the defense presents the mishandling of the evidence, and exposes a flagrant case of police extortion and other technical mishaps that dangerously threaten the prosecution’s case. Akshay Khanna adds the required gravitas and gives us a masterclass in underplaying the role, barely even raising his voice. If you are expecting any big reveals in the courtroom to tilt the scales, we are in for a sore surprise, as this is not a movie like 𝘈 𝘍𝘦𝘸 𝘎𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘔𝘦𝘯, rather as Akshay Khanna’s character states repeatedly, “justice is abstract, all we have is the law”. Given his misgivings about justice, you’d be surprised the way Akshay Khanna layers his defense and alludes to turning the case into a moral question rather than finding a legal loophole keeping to the letter of the law.
Once the trial hits its apex, the film adroitly switches the perspective to show what occurred from the defense perspective that again threatens to appeal to our moral biases about false rape accusations, but leaves it our judgement, therein lies the hamartia of the film in my opinion. Lest you think the film is going for a Rashomon Effect, it merely visualizes the defense and the prosecutor’s arguments. The film tries to appeal to all factions yet hints with subtle messaging and dialog where it’s loyalties lie, as if to say, however it might look, law is the law, so beware:) I wanted to appreciate the film’s “unbiased” handling, but by not taking a stand it does a disservice to the material, yet, creating an awareness of this less known (maybe not) law that is part of our Indian penal code is very important.
The film is very crisp at 124 minutes where the majority of the time is spent in the trial, though we get snippets of the kerfuffle that’s on display outside the courtroom by the protestors who are all ready to hang the accused. The pandemonium does break loose in the climax, but it serves as background without affecting anything, though it provides some fodder to the defense’s arguments that purportedly ruined it’s client reputation forever.
Akshay Khanna, is back on the silver screen after a long time, and it’s a pleasure watching him bring defense attorney Tarun Saluja to life with his subtle performance. He is someone who believes everyone has the right to representation and is a consummate professional who works the case diligently even in the face of opposition from his wife and even against the prosecutor who is his protege of sorts. Richa Chadda, who plays Hiral Gandhi the public prosecutor (who is a protege of Saluja as we learn) gives an equally adept performance. The civil meetings between the defense and the prosecution where the apparent camaraderie at display is a refreshing sight in Indian movies, where the real life interactions between the attorneys are always portrayed badly. Meera Chopra plays the alleged rape victim and the Rahul Bhat completes the main cast as the accused rapist. If you watch Meera Chopra’s Anjali Dangle in the courtroom, she is devoid of any emotion or theatrics, it’s hard to get any idea what’s going on in her mind, this also portrayed cleverly to invoke some ambiguity. As Malcolm Gladwell says in his excellent new book 𝘛𝘢𝘭𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦𝘳𝘴, her character has a behavior mismatch, she doesn’t behave as we want a victim to behave and cool exterior makes us doubt her story.
When the film starts you’ll feel that the prosecutor is an ambitious fighter whose reputation as a women’s rights advocate will drive her bias and case, but it turns out her case is based purely on the legality of the case instead of the morality and the opposite turns out to be true for the defense. The writing by Manish Gupta and direction by Ajay Bahl are top notch, though the production values of the film leaves us wanting, given the budget and the subject matter, these can be overlooked. The comparisons to other courtroom dramas are inevitable but unlike the movie 𝘗𝘪𝘯𝘬, where some grandstanding from Amitabh rules the roost, the application of laws and procedures takes the spotlight here. Unlike 𝘗𝘪𝘯𝘬, which takes a clear stand from the start, 𝘚𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 375 is a mixture of grays and the texture of the film tries to weave in multiple angles to tell the other side of the story.
A film like 𝘚𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 375 is a must-see because people are unaware of the actual law and tend to pass judgments with their quick hand waving even without understanding the specifics of a case. In most of the cases where there’s accusations of sexual abuse of someone in with power, the abusers seem to think they are modern Casanovas where as the abused tend to submit in fear, disbelief, fear of retribution, the best example is the well documented case of Israel Horovitz (you can google him, or listen to the excellent podcast episode of Hidden Brain here: 𝗵𝘁𝘁𝗽𝘀://𝘁𝗶𝗻𝘆𝘂𝗿𝗹.𝗰𝗼𝗺/𝘆𝗯𝗯𝘆𝗾𝟯𝘀𝟳), nine women accused him of sexual abuse and misconduct, he viewed these incidents as his conquests and for all we know he still does… he had no clue about the power dynamic at play, or may be he did and thought it added to his allure, the bottom line is, each case is different, but there’s the law to contend with, so go watch the film and raise your awareness.
Written On Oct 8, 2019