By Nupur Dogra
On a scale of one to ten, where would you place the capability of a man’s world to control the perception around a women’s issue? I would place it on eleven and here’s why.
Deepika Padukone’s movie Chappak based on the life of an acid attack survivor Lakshmi Aggarwal is mired in controversy following her visit to Jawahar Lal Nehru University to express solidarity with students. Since then “boycott Chappak” as a sign of protest has been trending on social media urging Indians to not watch Chappak as a sign of protest and an expression of nationalism. Fake news is being spread about the name of the attacker in the movie being changed from a muslim name to a hindu one. And the reach of this fake news is so strong that even Union Minister Babul Supriyo fell victim and went on to quote it in a live news channel debate.
In the past week, the question of whether to watch Chappak or not, dominated prime time discussions on news channels while the issue of acid attacks was relegated to the background. Despite the Supreme Court judgment regulating sale of acid in 2013, according to an India Today report, there were 1500 acid attacks in past 5 years. The role of movie Chappak is very essential here and can serve as a dialogue starter on acid attacks on women in India. Not many commercial films have been made on serious issues like caste, gender discrimination and atrocities women face in India. As a viewer who goes to a movie hall to escape my daily struggles I have been guilty of either avoiding or procrastinate watching them. This is one of those rare instances where a leading Bollywood actress and a successful director have come together to make a movie on an issue as sensitive as this one. Never have I ever cried like this in a movie hall from start to end and Chappak is one of the most disturbing movies I have watched in my life. In a time, when the entertainment industry is largely being driven by content that appeals to the audience, it is a brave and extraordinary move on the maker’s part to invest in an issue which we don’t even want to look at straight in the face.
In a society that is largely impressed by one’s looks and personality, how many of us are ready to employ an acid attack victim in our companies? How many of us are ready to rent an apartment to an acid attack victim in our houses? There could be a lot of sympathy in us for the victims but when it comes to empathy we fail these women as a country. We fail them because we refuse to look at them every day or make them a part of our lives and companies. Sympathy can get them donations but only empathy will make them a part of our regular lives. When someone does not turn away or close eyes on seeing their faces only then justice will truly be delivered to these women.
Meghna Gulzar’s Chappak does exactly this. It makes you empathize with an acid attack survivor’s struggle in life. These women suffer to get jobs and rent apartments just because of their disfigured faces. The movie did show that a woman’s life goes on and acid couldn’t burn her spirit for life but is careful enough to not romanticize her struggle which is a perpetual one. It makes you rightly think that before coming to hand acid originates in mind of the criminal. Personally, as a writer who is quite vocal on women’s issues I have been guilty in the past of not talking about acid attacks in the past. The reason for my ignorance has been thrown right at my face while watching Chappak, that is, it is traumatizing and too scary too even talk about it as a girl for me. Lakshmi Aggarwal despite winning several recognition awards nationally and internationally went live on Facebook in 2018, talking about how she couldn’t find a house to rent after separation from her partner.
Today, we see her all glamorous in a designer saree, promoting movie alongside bollywood stars, but who knows what will happen to her and many more victims like her tomorrow? Acid attacks are still happening in India. Acid is still being sold in shops across the country. Victims are still facing discrimination in their daily lives. But, here we are, not only making a movie like Chappak a centre point of a political battle between left and right but also making it a question of nationalism and religion. Women across religion and ideologies have been victims of this heinous crime. It is rather ironic how convenient it is for politics which is largely dominated by men, be it from any political party to control viewership of a movie made on victims of acid attack.
This movie has the potential to become a dialogue starter on a topic we all want to escape. Within two days of its release Uttarakhand government has announced a pension scheme for acid attacks survivors. This is the kind of impact a chappak can make if given a chance. Watch it not for politics but to be able to empathize with victims of acid attack.