Finally, it’s happening.
This is the year that India is finally owning up to its debilitating trend of child and minor sexual abuse, its escalating crimes against women and children and dealing with predators, both in and out of doors, in mainstream Hindi cinema. And yet, there are enough differences in the treatment of these issue in the two films to merit a comparison.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Shweta Tripathi starrer Haraamkhor, directed by Shlok Sharma, is a rare film that makes your hair stand on end for an entire hour and half, and not entirely due to a certain kind of pervasive violence in its atmosphere. Not for a second could I tear my eyes off the screen, and proceeded to forthwith berate the extremely talkative couple sitting next to me for obscuring half the dialogues with their persistent puppy love and pummelling. Ah, how quick are we to forget our tender selves and leave behind the innocent joy of groping hands and loud whispers in the darkened halls! The subconscious truth, perhaps, was the fact that the person happily munching away snacks and snaking fingers with their partner a decade back and the thirty two year old mother-of-a-girl-child that I am now, are half lives apart from each other. As a mother of a female child, who is a mere year and half of age, I was cringing with fear the entire time, since I could feel, with the first few minutes of the film, that the story being told was all too real.
And all too frightening.
Having staved off more than my fair share of predators since puberty (or, perhaps, even from before), I could immediately recognise the central character as an archetypal, non-threatening, father figure, played rather brilliantly by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has an unusual bonding with the child through a strange economy of concealed, codified signals. It’s a secret world inhabited only by the abuser and the abused–a sacred relationship inviolable by societal law, authority figures, family members or friends. Shyam tells Sandhya, “Jo kuchh bhi huwa hain, main bhi kuchh nahi bolunga aur tum bhi mat bolna.” The first stage of abuse–the cooption and inclusion of the abused into the adult’s secret universe, where she shall suddenly be allowed to grow up, suddenly allowed a woman’s body, a women’s licenses. Where she shall be loved and handled in strange ways alien to a child’s thoughts.
Nawaz creeped the living daylights out of me, seriously, with his more-than-superlative portrayal of the abusive village school master, who frequently indulges in violent outbursts against his pupils, both male and female. Violence is built in the fabric of this film. The arid, acacia-laden landscape, the large spaces around the village, rough and untended, unkempt households– everything points to a certain sense of foreboding, perhaps like Macbeth‘s heath.
The children are the stars of the film, matching, and often overshadowing the star actor. Shaktimaan, the little upstart, Kamal, the lover, and Mintu, the ever-faithful friend, steal the show completely, and take us into an internal monologue as to why they have to suffer the loss of their innocence through ruthless adults in an unforgiving world.