Is ‘Section 375’ Intended to Undermine the #MeToo Movement?
Here’s why India’s Weinsteins will be celebrating the release of the courtroom drama.
Chapter 1: The Struggles of the Desi Weinsteins
[A shady hotel room, where a shadowy figure sits, checking his watch, sipping nervously on a drink. A second figure walks in, mixes a drink and sits down opposite.]
Well, Desi Weinstein 2...? Did you go for it finally?
Yes, Desi Weinstein 1, I did.
How bad is it for us? I mean, it’s a movie about a Bollywood film director accused of rape. The MeToo movement wasn’t that long ago, people haven’t forgotten all the skeletons that tumbled out of the closet. This kind of film could be terrible for us, no?
Hahahahahahahahaha *wipes tears from eyes* hahahahahahahahahaha *doubles over laughing* hahahahahahahahahahaha *exhales slowly*.
Are you quite done?
Ye- *giggles uncontrollably for 10 seconds straight* -s, yes, I’m done. Oof, you nearly killed me there.
This isn’t a laughing matter, Desi Weinstein 2!
A lot of us have our comebacks lined up. Movies about inspiring teachers. Movies with star actors who dropped out of our projects because of these sexual assault allegations, and have only just agreed to film them again. Movies where we are playing judges hearing cases about sexual harassment. Our quaint folk art performances.
If this ‘Section 375’ turns out to become a big hit, it’ll make us all look bad, will turn public opinion against us, maybe even make our studios pull the plug on our projects. This is serious stuff.
I know, I know, it’s a really hard time for us these days. After all, how many of us who’ve been accused have been able to get any work, right?
It’s just, you know, that you seem to think that ‘Section 375’ is going to be a negative thing for us, which just couldn’t be further from the truth.
Wait, what? How can a movie, the full title of which – ‘Section 375: Marzi ya Zabardasti’ – makes it clear it’s all about consent, possibly be good for us?
Haan Desi Weinstein 1, that’s what I also thought. Sure, the trailer itself kind of hints that it’s about a false case, so maybe it’s not that much of a surprise. But when I saw the whole thing... it’s not just the ending, the whole movie is just what we needed to make people look at all these rape and sexual assault allegations and doubt them.
Chapter 2: How to Get Away With Faff
What do you mean?
The very first scene predicts this. It begins with the ‘prosecution’ lawyer, played by Richa Chadha, staring at the the woman accuser with a horrified expression on her face. The survivor turns around to look at her, then walks away, leaving Chadha’s character looking devastated.
That’s not much for us to get happy about. How does the viewer know why she’s looking horrified? For all the viewer knows, the lawyer is unhappy because she lost the case, not because the woman was lying.
Chadha’s character doesn’t just look sad, she looks betrayed in that opening scene. And there’s more, so much more, that works in our favour as the movie goes on.
For instance, when you see the scene which is supposed to portray her being assaulted, they pointedly show that she doesn’t say anything to stop the man or scream, even though she is ‘resisting’.
This is important because later she claims she did scream, but still every time they show the incident, whether at the start or during her statement, even when it’s supposed to be from her point of view, she doesn’t scream.
So it’s clear to the viewer that she’s not telling the truth.
Ooh, that’s clever, yaar. The viewer doesn’t even have to be told the girl is lying, that’s what they will infer from the outset.
Exactly. And this is a pattern that continues throughout the movie.
Akshaye Khanna’s character Tarun Saluja, the lawyer for the accused man, keeps making arguments about how the victim is lying, how her version of events doesn’t check out, and then keeps presenting his own alternative versions of what happened.
Often, there’s no evidence to even show the girl is lying, but he still presents his own version as the truth, without anything to back it up. For instance, he pretends he has video evidence to show the girl and the man had consensual sex earlier, even though he doesn’t actually have any video. When the girl objects to him playing the ‘video’ in court, he presents her reaction as conclusive proof that she lied about the event.
Or there’s this moment when he claims that the injuries on her inner thighs were not caused by the accused. He claims the girl hurt herself deliberately in a stairwell where there is no CCTV camera, and this is graphically shown in the film. There is no footage or witness statement or confession to suggest this did actually happen, but it’s definitively presented as what actually happened. The judge and the audience is just expected to believe that Akshaye’s claim about self-inflicted injuries, is true.
Hmmmm. But all this wouldn’t make any difference to the court, right? The judges wouldn’t believe that just because the girl objected to the video being played she’s accepting it was consensual. The judges won’t believe Saluja’s version of how the girl got those injuries just because he speculates about it.
That’s the beauty of it all: it doesn’t matter to the audience what the judges say, or the court decides. From the start, we’re told by Khanna’s character over and over again that the law doesn’t necessarily do justice. Now that’s something you will often hear from lawyers, so it’s not some earth-shattering revelation.
But because they keep showing you scenes which are meant to show what “really” happened, the viewer isn’t going to care about what the judges think, because they start believing that they are ‘seeing’ the ‘true/real’ picture themselves.
Combine this with the idea that the law isn’t fair, and the viewer sympathises even more with the accused.
So you’re telling me that the film leaves the viewer rooting for the accused rapist? Kya yaar Desi Weinstein 2, how can that be?
Sort of. There’s lots of little things that make you turn against the prosecution.
Chadha’s character, Hiral Gandhi, is introduced as someone ambitious who’s trying get herself made Advocate General. She begins her opening arguments with an irrelevant lecture about India being the rape capital of the world which is protested jingoistically by Saluja.
During the trial, she gets her client to withhold information from the court, continually gets blindsided, and basically keeps getting emotional and shouting “objection, objection” when Saluja makes cool new arguments.
On the other hand, Saluja is calm, dignified, composed, cites legal precedent, and exudes professionalism. When he says wrong things, nobody calls him out. For example, he says that because the conviction rate for rape cases is 25 percent, that means 75 percent of accused are found innocent.
My lawyer friend who watched the movie said that if the court finds you not guilty, that doesn’t mean they are making a finding that you are innocent. But nobody corrects Saluja, nobody points out that the NCRB’s 2016 report on crime shows that only 2.25 percent of rape cases investigated in that year were found to be false.
Chapter 3: The Law is an Ass
You watched the movie with a lawyer? That must have been painful.
Oh god yes, he kept complaining that this was wrong and that was wrong. What can I tell you bhai, I wanted to strangle him at one point, or myself.
At first I thought this was just typical chindi lawyer nitpicking, but at some point I realised that all these things actually worked in the accused’s favour.
- First off, the courtroom proceedings we see are supposed to be the accused man’s appeal in the Bombay High Court, after he’s already been convicted by the trial court. Which means he has to show the trial court decision was wrong, show evidence wasn’t correctly looked at, etc. Instead, what they have going on is almost a retrial, with the prosecution having to prove it’s case all over again.
- Then, in the middle of the
trial/ appeal Saluja suddenly changes the whole legal defence strategy. Instead of arguing the incident never happened, he now starts arguing the sexual intercourse was consensual. You’re normally not even allowed to change your defence like this from trial to appeal, but even if that’s possible, like in the Mahmood Farooqui case, you won’t be allowed to suddenly change tack in the middle of the case.
- The judges also allow completely random demonstrations to be allowed in court. There’s an OJ Simpson-style ‘if-the-glove-doesn’t-fit-you-must-acquit’ moment showing how difficult it is to get out of a pair of jeans, and the whole fake hard disk thing. None of these things is actually possible, but because they happen, the viewer gets even more convinced the guy is actually innocent, regardless of what the court may say.
All this is fine, but the movie seems to have ignored what made this whole MeToo thing take off in the first place: all these social justice warriors on social media and TV and whatnot who were all baying for our blood. These people declare us guilty anyway, and create an environment where it’s difficult for anyone to take our side.
Arrey Desi Weinstein 1, even that’s taken care of. They show mobs of violent, senseless protestors outside the court, they show people going berserk on social media about the case with random hashtags.
Because you, the viewer, know what really happened, you also automatically start to view these people with contempt. Which will now colour how you see people who outrage over this kind of stuff in the outside world as well, because how do those people really know what’s happened, right?
Seen through that lens, the whole MeToo movement just looks like an uninformed lynch mob.
Which is exactly what we need! This is incredible! Desi Weinstein 2, this toh merits another peg, I’ve been getting damn tired of these labels these Twitter types keep using on us, ruining our good Desi Weinstein names.
I know, right? And it doesn’t just end there. The movie doesn’t just make you question the whole legal process, you’ll leave the hall feeling that the very law on rape is unfair.
[Desi Weinstein 2 gets up and mixes two double Patiala Pegs.]
So they do two things. *hands over drink and clinks glass*
Number one: They tell you that if a man has sex with a woman who he has power/control over, and the woman claims this is without consent, then the burden of proof shifts to the accused to prove they’re innocent. This obviously sounds unfair, but it’s not exactly true. The law only says that this creates a presumption of consent, but the presumption is rebuttable.
Number two: They say that an accused rapist can be convicted based only on the victim’s testimony that she did not consent. Again, this is true to the extent that the Supreme Court has said that if there is no reason to disbelieve the prosecutrix, then her statement doesn’t need to be backed up by corroborating evidence. But you can cast doubt on what she says using all sorts of things, and the standard for this is quite low.
Remember how, in Mahmood Farooqui bhai’s case, even though the court agreed that the woman said no, they held this was a “feeble” no and so they said she had given consent?
But the viewer isn’t told any of this, right?
Exactly. All they are shown is how unfair the law seems to be to poor men accused of rape. There’s even a whole speech by Saluja that the man’s privilege from his wealth and fame doesn’t matter because his life is ruined by the accusations. *snorts with laughter*
[Both Desi Weinsteins down their drinks and exchange a lascivious grin.]
Epilogue: Nothing to See Here, Folks
This is amazing. It’s almost like the movie has been made to defend people like us Desi Weinsteins, to make us look like the victims, to reinforce the idea that most rape cases are false, to say that even those of us convicted by the courts have probably been given a raw deal.
‘Almost’ being the key word there.
[Desi Weinstein 1 pours fresh drinks for both of them, turns on all the lights, makes a lewd call to his female assistant.]
I mean, it wasn’t, of course it wasn’t. It’s not like the industry wouldn’t actually make a movie like this that would benefit all these rich, powerful men accused of harassment, assault and rape. We don’t do propaganda movies that are meant to sway public opinion at crucial moments of time.
Who on earth would be silly enough to say that, eh?
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