The questions that should be asked and the truth that should be told are the driving force behind “The Rapist”, an Indian social drama about a middle-class educator who wants his rapist – who has been sentenced to death and to whom she is pregnant – to tell him exactly why To report the crime. Veteran filmmaker-actor Aparna Sen (“36 Chowrangi Lane,” “Mr. and Mrs. Iyer”), one of the best works directed by “The Rapist”, a deeply impacted portrait of a personal injury and an intelligent examination of social and cultural causes of the horrific spread of sexual violence in India.
Combined with a remarkable central performance by Conkona Sen Sharma, “The Rapist” will have a strong impact domestically and is widely viewed elsewhere after its world premiere at the Busan Film Festival. While Indian cinema halls have some time left to fully reopen, “The Rapist” is likely to go live streaming. That said, its dramatic qualities and fearless commentary on an issue of urgent national importance could also lead to limited drama performances before online release. Special distributors in foreign regions who usually earn more lightweight commercial Indian fares should also look into this.
The rapist has been cleverly crafted to become a bit player until he quickly comes to focus in the final stages of the film, leading to a horrific incident in “The Rapist” and an indefinite eye on the class, gender and religious issues at play next time. Sen says the idea for the film started 15 years ago. The wide range and rigor of his narrative is evidence of a work that has been deeply thought out and carefully executed.
Sen Sharma, who is the daughter of Aparna Sen and a highly respected actress and filmmaker, is great in the role of Naina Mishra’s claimant, a professor of criminal psychology at the University of New Delhi. In the opening sequences of the film, we can say that there is a lot of love and lust with Hindu Nayana, Muslim husband Aftab (Arjun Rampal), who is a university professor. The couple has been trying to conceive for many years and is a prominent supporter of India’s anti-death penalty movement.
We don’t see much of the rapist Prasad Singh (Tanmoy Dhannia) before the crime. Slum gang leader Latif (Chetan Sharma) needs snapshots to show him as a cowardly sidekick. In a cool scene, this disgusting pair scares a young woman who has committed the “crime” of being out and about at night. In their eyes, she is a prostitute who is ashamed and deserves punishment. This is the opinion of many in their poorer neighborhood, where hatred towards the middle and upper classes also runs deep.
After going to the slums to help a woman who was shamefully murdered for giving birth to four daughters, Naina and her colleague Malini (Anindita Bose) were brutally sexually abused at the bus stop. Malini was killed and Nayana was left with stunned physical and mental injuries. Stacked upstairs is the look of humiliation that sufferers the moment they are interviewed in the hospital’s waiting room while the audience looks and listens. The police ask him the first question, “Are you a hooker?”
Naina’s trauma is illustrated with the brutally realistic scene of being distracted by Aftab’s touch and the development of emotion-obsessed behavior. Surviving crime engulfs Naina in a nightmare of Malini’s resurrected corpse. At other times, Naina makes emotional notes to Malini and they fall into the voice-over. The justice system may be prejudiced against women, but there is conclusive evidence that condemns the death penalty by hanging Prasad. At the same time, Nayana discovers that she is pregnant.
The great strength of Sen’s screenplay is the pragmatic approach in which it challenges Nayana and Aftab’s response to incidents that challenge their firm beliefs and threaten their marriage. Clearly against the death penalty, Aftab now wants to see his wife’s rapist hanged. Frightened at first by the thought of taking Prasad’s child, Nayana changes her mind after talking to her housemaid Savitri (Sema Azmi), who is frightened to reveal herself as a Muslim in her poor neighborhood.
Savitri’s story of being raped before marriage and finding happiness in motherhood is one of many scenes that highlight the difference between Naina’s well-educated and financially comfortable life and the reality that affects lower class women. Savitri said, “It’s okay if you are a rich Muslim, but in a slum.” A similar reality exists in the case of justice. Aftab’s lawyer friend Subhash (Sukesh Aurora) noted that the death penalty is almost exclusively imposed on the poor and poorly educated.
Importantly, Sen does not seek to suggest that one approach or solution is more valid or noble than the other. The mission is to raise all the uncomfortable issues in this scene and talk to them, argue and fight with a character who is sometimes calm and outspoken, and at other times furious and swollen with emotion that changes opinions abruptly and dramatically. As a rich level discussion starter, “The Rapist” succeeds very well.
Naina wants the answer to the biggest question “why.” When the clock ticks during her pregnancy, Naina decides to interview Prasad as part of a professional study of the mentality and motivation of rapist men. Recording everything on her camera, Naina discovers the tragic life story of Prasad, which is defined by violence and superstition. In this long sequence the coriander comes into its own. He delivers a beautifully perceived performance as a person whose apparent desire to express at least some remorse and achieve a measure of measurement brings a huge bite into the tail.
The ending of “The Rapist” may satisfy some viewers more than others but in no way diminishes what has happened before. The only real imperfection of the film is visual, some scenes are immediately drained of most of the color for no apparent reason.