Aparna Sen’s ‘The Rapist’ goes beyond the culprit-survivor binary

While Kerala is in court proceedings of a sexual assault case involving celebrities, a multi-layered film, the rapistDirected by author Aparna Sen, goes beyond the binary offender-survivor to explore why someone becomes a rapist.

the rapist, who took home the Kim Jiseok Award at the 2021 Busan International Film Festival struck a chord with viewers at the 26th edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala. Starring Aparna’s daughter Konkona Sen Sharma, Arjun Rampal and Tanmay Dhanania, the film explores how a heinous crime like rape affects those involved and society at large. Is it nature or nurture or a combination of both? What circumstances make someone a rapist?

The 76-year-old well-known actor-director, winner of multiple national and state awards, explains over the phone from Kolkata why she made a film that tries to understand a society that creates rapists. She says: “A newborn doesn’t become a rapist overnight. He becomes a toddler, a boy, a youngster… What makes him a rapist? Rape, activists and academics say, is all about power. I agree. But why does someone use rape as a weapon, as a way to subjugate a woman?”

She says the theme has been in her head since the Nirbhaya case and crystallized into a story and screenplay two years ago. When a production house from Mumbai approached her and she told this story, they were thrilled.

But it took a while for the film to get the green signal. “I went to Mumbai, met Sameer Nair (CEO of Applause Entertainment) and told the story. That’s how the producers, Applause Entertainment, got on board,” she recalls.

The film was shot in 27 days in Delhi and was completed in 2021. Aparna says the film could only have been set in Delhi, since she had interpreted that as a location. Konkana plays Naina, a professor of criminology who is married to Aftab Malik, in an attempt by Arjun.

Director-actor Aparna Sen

Director-actor Aparna Sen | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

Each character goes through a prism of change after the rape as they grapple with their own long-held beliefs. “For example, Aftab is against the death penalty, but when his wife is raped, he must examine his stance against the death penalty. The lives of Naina, Aftab and Prasad (Tanmay) change overnight as a result of that one act of sexual assault.

“When Naina finds out she’s pregnant, she’s not sure if the baby is her husband’s and that’s when she decides to find out more about the rapist. She wants to know if his crime is in his genes! She wants to find out why he raped her.”

She chooses her words carefully and says that Naina is ‘pro-choice’. “That doesn’t mean she’s in favor of abortion or going ahead with the pregnancy. It means the woman has a choice to decide what to do with it.”

When Naina and Prasad talk to each other the layers are peeled off and at some point Prasad finds himself calling Naina didic (sister).

For the screenplay, Aparna spoke to two friends who work with survivors and abused women, doctors and lawyers.

Konkona Sen in a still from Aparna Sen's movie 'The Rapist'

Konkona Sen in a still from Aparna Sen’s movie ‘The Rapist’ | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

What was it like working with her daughter on their sixth film? The mother’s pride in her daughter is evident in her words.

“She has gotten better and better in every way. We speak every day. But we talk about everyday things, what she ate, where she went and in between she might slip in about an award she won.

“When she started working with me, she listened to me more. Now she brings in her own interpretation of her character. I was convinced she would be the best for Naina.”

She points out that she made sure not to take sides in the film and that each character has to navigate his/her own complexity and understanding.

SOURCE : www.thehindu.com

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