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While watching the talented Mysskin’s Yudham Sei, I was struck by many features in his crime drama but what really made an impact was the fact that more than one rape victim in the film committed suicide. It felt like déjà vu, as though I had seen similar stuff more often than I care to remember. That got me thinking about the fate of rape victims in Tamil cinema and it was even more disturbing than the film itself.

In most movies that tentatively touch on the loaded subject that is rape, one of three things happen with startling regularity – the victim is raped and killed, she is so ashamed on losing her ‘purity’ she kills herself, or the unwilling and weepy unfortunate is married off to the monster who forced himself on her. In these cases it is clear that the reel world is merely reflecting the antediluvian attitude society has towards that most heinous of crimes against women called rape.

For some reason, while most are willing to acknowledge that rape is a serious crime there is still a tendency to blame the victim for what happened. Fingers are pointed at the character of the victim or the clothes she was wearing at the time she was molested. Apparently a salwar kameez worn without a dupatta or heaven forbid a sleeveless top is the equivalent of a neon sign that says ‘Rape Me’. So in our movies, we are shown tawdry images of a woman’s sari flying in the breeze or she is doing something innocuous like chewing her food, or getting a little exercise, thereby inviting unwarranted male invention and sexual violation. Otherwise the victim unwisely does not stay home after the sun sets in the approved fashion for a ‘latchanamana ponnu’ and so she had it coming. Isn’t that kind of thinking regressive in this day and age? Hopefully, our films won’t start endorsing chastity belts next! 

Getting back to filmi fundas on rape, usually the heroine is not raped probably because that would make her ‘damaged goods’ and the hero deserves the best (right?) So it is the hero’s sister or friend who winds up raped. The next step in the formula is to have the rapist strike the killing blow or if he is too lazy to oblige, the rape victim takes her own life by jumping off a cliff/ balcony, hanging, drowning or poisoning herself. Case in point, there was an old Vikram film called Pudhiya Mannargal, where a rape victim stabs herself with a symbolic Kuthuvizhakku! 

Priya Mani played the rape victim in Paruthiveeran and Raavanan and in both films her character was killed off in keeping with the prescribed formula to deal with rape victims in cinema. In Paruthiveeran her character despite being fearless and outspoken ends up dead because she is brutally assaulted first whereas in Raavanan she simply loses the will to live after being gang raped for the second film in a row and jumps into a well.

Finally, some of the more compassionate directors decide not to kill the rape victim but get her married instead to the rapist. There is a famous scene in Naatamai where such a verdict is given and we are to believe that this is in favor of the rape victim because no other man will be willing to marry her and that will make her a social pariah susceptible to the attacks of other sexual predators. This of course makes one wonder exactly who is being punished here. It is bad enough the woman ran into a monster straight out of her worst nightmare but as if that were not enough she is condemned to life with the same creature. But thankfully films nowadays steer clear of this scenario especially after Vivek spoofed it in a comedy routine where he suggests a far better alternative (Hint: it involves the forcible removal of the offending male genitals that were involved in the crime). So modern filmmakers have taken increasingly to killing off the rape victims either by making the rapists, serial killers (Vettaiyadu Villaiyadu, Nadunisi Naigal) or the victims, suicidal (Yudham Sei, Raavanan).

The tacit suggestion in our films is that women who are raped are no longer fit to live. And it is an insult to all the raped women out there who have been through hell but have chosen to bravely go on with their lives dealing with the trauma as best as they can and soldiering on like war heroes. Why should a woman feel shame or feel unworthy of life just because there are some miserable excuses for human beings out there who cannot respect the rights of others? And it is really sad that Tamil cinema which is path breaking, bold and progressive in so many ways should propagate a line of thinking that even self – respecting cavemen would have eschewed. 

However, it must be admitted that there have been a few films that chose to deal sensitively with the rape issue. Rajinikanth’s Netrikan was one of the earliest films to take a bold stand on rape. Saritha played the rape victim in this film and she was no wilting Lily. Her character chooses to strike back at her rapist and since it is Rajinikanth (in a superlative performance) she goes ahead and reforms him instead of killing him. It was refreshing to see a rape victim fight back. Priyanka with Revathi, Prabhu, and Jayaram was another film that stressed the necessity to win justice for rape victims. 

Mysskin’s Anjathey shows a rape victim opting to go to the cops so that others may not suffer the same fate. Vaanam Vasapadum, PC Sriram’s film with Karthik Kumar in the lead also sent a positive message. Aside from this pitiably small number of films that have dealt with the issue in a less offensive way, other films have stayed true to formula or worse used the concept to squeeze in some soft porn into the film.

Tamil cinema can proudly claim that it has opened the eyes of its adoring and worshipful populace to the many evils prevalent in our society like the caste system, honor killings, dowry, ragging, poverty, crime, and the like. But unfortunately, where rape is concerned filmmakers seem to be stuck in a time warp where it is simpler to blame the victim than the criminal and the societal circumstances that engendered the crime in the first place. By taking a strong stand against rape, Tamil cinema might just take the first step in the right direction towards preventing crimes against women.

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