Posted at 11.28.2018
According to Laura Mulvey "women stand in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by the symbolic order where man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still linked with her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning". This argument is seen in many movies across generations and cultures. Mainstream Hindi film industry churned out many movies where women represented as bearer rather than maker of meaning. However, the film NO-ONE Killed Jessica seems to be a departure out of this trend.
The film is dependant on the true murder story of Jessica Lal. Within a crowded nightclub, Jessica Lal, a model working as a celebrity bartender, refused to serve Manu Sharma and two of his friends. Incensed, Manu Sharma pulls out a gun intending just to give Jessica a scare shoots her dead. A lot more than 300 people were witnessed the event at the exclusive nightclub when Jessica was killed, but nobody came forward to tell the truth in court. The category of Jessica Lal fought legal battle from the rich and powerful for more than a decade and finally got justice.
The film, "NOBODY Killed Jessica" was purposively chosen keeping because of its commercial success and audience acceptability. Its successful run at the box office implies most of the audience identifies with the film's representation of society and people. As per general perception through various news media, it had a solid effect on the society regarding the changing image of women. The film can be plainly established on a syntagmatic level; the director (Raj Kumar Gupta), the script (amalgamations of fiction and reality), the director's relationship with his earlier film Aamir (2008). In addition to that, there have been snapshots of 'today' in the film in the form of models, fashion, glamour, journalism, sting operations, even stereotypes. All in all the film was a complete explosive concoction. The best integral aspect was successful completion of procedure for making a film as a paradigm alone.
No One Killed Jessica perhaps one of the rare films where the male gaze is absent, largely because there are no male protagonists, no song and dance sequences, no overt sexualisation. The feminine lead is represented in an exceedingly masculine form. The film paved just how for newer films to represent women and their everyday issues in a positive light by breaking the prevailing stereotypes.
'Bollywood', regarded as among the top three film industries around the world, has over and over successfully adapted to new dimensions to comprehend and reflect the relatively quick changes in the evolving culture of Indian society. In addition, it reaches Middle East, South Asia, Africa and among South Asian diasporas, world over. This further marks the analysis of mainstream commercial Hindi film as essential. The study can be studied as a critical base and can be re-examined for upcoming films.
In mass media, representation is often perceived as the 'construction' of reality in a virtual medium. Such a concept of representation is analogous to the mistaken assumption of any one-to-one correspondence of each word with its referent - a language-world isomorphism (Saussure, 1983). Representation in cinema starts with building up of concepts of reality that include human beings, objects, places, cultural identities, and events and reaches the establishment of abstract concepts. In classical aesthetics, Plato discovered representation as mimesis i. e. imitation without narration, somewhere close to theatre and differentiated it with the idea of diegesis i. e narration without imitation. Aristotle went further in his seminal work Poetics and suggested that mimesis can't ever reach the truth because on one hand the audiences must feel distant from it in order to experience catharsis and on the other hand it must strive hard to imitate reality as close as you can. Actually, Aristotle exclaimed that,
"Mimesis involves a framing of reality that announces that what is contained within the frame is merely not real. Thus the more 'real' the imitation the more fraudulent it becomes. (Gebauer and Wulf, 1992)"
The modern aestheticist M. C. Beardsley (1958) proposed a classification of Representation as Depiction (i. e. representation of a kind of object), Portrayal (i. e. representation of a person), and Symbolizing (i. e. representation through a suggested or non-literal meaning). Incorporating all these typifications, representation can be approached from two standpoints. Towing the type of Aristotle's interpretation of mimesis, Constructivists tend to assume that cinema is a construction of reality, where reality as an object can be perceived, consumed and witnessed in still as well as moving images and texts but with a catch - this perception will always be suffering from cinematic alteration and manipulation and for that reason, will always be distinct from reality itself. In other words, our perception of an film will be dependent on the body of knowledge i. e. epistemology, especially our knowledge that is a film and for that reason cannot be real. Thus, Myra Karn can portray Jessica Lal because the spectators have decided to a suspension of disbelief relating to this fact. However, once this agreement is reached, it immediately brings about a subconscious apprehension that finally this is not the complete truth.
On the other hand, Realists take an almost opposite viewpoint, best described by Bazin's notion that film as a medium is subject to reality by the incorporation of the capacity of capturing reality in the film-making process itself (Bazin, 1967; pp 21). Bazin continued to establish that there is a style of filmmaking which may be termed as realist which he ascribed to famous brands Jean Renoir, Orson Welles and Italian neorealist Roberto Rossellini - all following techniques which render the projected image as near to reality as is feasible.
With time constructivism went on to include structuralism, Barthesian textual analysis, Marxist ideological analysis, Lacanian psychoanalysis, etc. resulting in the foundation of cine-semiotics. This resulted in the birth of feminist film theory which incorporated feminist ideological criticism, cultural studies, psychoanalysis etc. According to Feminist Film Theories, cinema has been an important path on which debates, culture and identity is discussed and even challenged. There have been major theoretical developments and frequent discussions on 'woman' as an object of desire, female spectatorship and cinematic pleasure. Many theorists have contributed to the school of thought. Mulvey in her essay, 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' (1973, printed in 1975), highlights the concept of women as passive role players in films. According to her it baselines the idea of film as visual pleasure. She further stressed that such roles make women as tools of erotic visual effect for male voyeurism. Mulvey points that in Cinema a woman's representation is being a carrier of this is rather than making the meaning. Molly Haskell in 'From Reverence to Rape: The treating ladies in Movies' (1974), analyzes how women are portrayed in films, the stereotypes depicted, the extent to which women are projected as passive or active. She also comments upon the quantity of screen time given to women. Doane (1987), looks for the type of women representation in the women-oriented films. She insists that ladies make reference to signifier of modernity, rebellious sexuality. According to her, woman as object is single terminology in systems of positioning. Linda Williams (1988) tells us that understanding of spectatorship is a result of representation through three-sided meeting - historical and physical subjectivity; contradictory meanings; positions and pleasures. Julia Kristeva (1982) uses the term 'abject' in direct contrast to Lacan's 'object petit a' (object of desire) to refer to the spectator's result of horror towards a possibly endangered deconstruction in this is caused due to the loss of power. Post-structuralist feminist philosopher Judith Butler theorized that gender is different from sex and while the later is biological, gender is really 'performative' - which performance is driven by rules put in place by strong patriarchal hegemonic structures (Butler, 1999).
However, Feminist film theory in addition has met with strong criticism from various detractors, prominent being Christine Gledhill, who argues for a realist epistemology to underline modern-day feminist film theory (Gledhill, 1984). This follows from the premise that in case a feminist film theorist asks the question whether a specific representation in a film holds true to women's condition and nature, she has automatically assumed that there is possible of women's condition and nature (Casebier, 1991; pp 121). In such a paper, we try to give a subtextual realism to applied feminist film theory principles using relevant phenomenological theories - for example, Benjamin's 'Angel of History' and Heidegger's 'Poiesis'.
Inspired by French Revolutions in 1789, 1830, 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1870, Walter Benjamin interpreted Paul Klee's painting, 'Angelus Novus' (1920) in his seminal work, On the Concept of History (1940). 'The Angel of History', as Benjamin dubbed it, has its face turned towards its past and sees a single catastrophe of revolutionary events, a pile of rubble on its feet even while it is caught up in a storm that drives him towards the near future. Benjamin labeled this storm as progress. Further [1973 (1935)], he argued and only death of ritual with the birth of camera and mechanical images.
Heidegger, M. [(1977) 1954], inside the Question Concerning Technology, insisted that the "essence of technology is not technological" He used the word 'poiesis' to determine varieties of 'authentic production', one where every aspect of production process - from the creator to created would depend and entangled with one another. As a result, there is a lack of being, individuality and freedom. It brings humanity to a position of servitude. Because of this a person speaks something but thinks absolutely differently. Heidegger takes the exemplory case of a fast and free-flowing river 'The Rhine' - when the river is manipulated by a dam, which is made by humans, leads to curtailment of the river's freedom. However, it also ends in servitude of humanity because now they have to manage the dam as yet another work bound to their lives.
As discussed earlier, construction of reality presupposes the establishment of reality. The essential premise of cinematic suspension of disbelief is the realization that all that appears real on screen is actually a construction of reality. Similarly, to take up the main topic of representation of ladies in Hindi cinema, first we should make an effort to comprehend the existing reality of women, their status in India. Numerous Indian mythologies have given great respect to women, to the extent of calling them 'Mother Goddess'. The contextual reality though is quite different. Unlike many nations, India has a larger male population when compared with females. Among the major reasons is women die even before they can reach adulthood. A lot of them are murdered in their mother's womb. The other important fatal imbalance is the mistreatment of the women. They do not have sufficient decision-making power and economical independence, face violence in and out of their families, face atrocities like murder, molestation, rape and every possible kind of sexual molestation to the extent that India stands at a miserable 56 rank out of 86 nations in the Social Institutions and Gender Index (OECD SIGI, 2012).
This reality of Indian women has found its way directly into the silver screen. Since beginning, women in popular Hindi Cinema have their set roles - somebody's daughter, wife, sister or mother. Today's woman has been portrayed to have a loose character. She can be bar dancer or a school student, who's never thinking about her career. Rare are the cases when lead female characters are depicted as strong individuals. We hardly witness them to be lawyers, journalists, business magnets, doctors etc. Even if they're portraying these, they are really said to be holy, cultured, catering to males need and wishes. Even the song and dance sequences demand those to be voluptuous and good dancers. Their maximum achievement in life looks to be always a shift from song and dance in discs and pubs to flee in Hindi cinema and do the same around trees.
An important precursor to the analysis of 'No One Killed Jessica' is the actual Jessica Lal murder case. Jessica was a professional model who happened to volunteer as a bartender at a socialite gathering and was shot dead by a politician's son for refusing to serve him liquor at 2 am in the night. The truth shocked Indian youth and made a public outcry when the perpetrators were acquitted in less court. Subsequently, the media used the truth rigorously and were able to pressurize the bigger courts to reopen the truth and finally the guilty were put behind bars.
'No One Killed Jessica' starts in a format of your hard-hitting documentary. Later the glamour quotient seeps in reminding us of watching a mainstream commercial Hindi cinema. Still throughout, the film showed touches of serious cinema as well. This movie boasts of two main characters - Sabrina Lal (Vidya Balan) and Meera Gaity (Rani Mukherjee).
Sabrina is been shown to be simple, calm, nerdy, and docile and is apparently contended in her own space. She takes a back-seat in all the aspects of life as compared to her sister (Jessica Lal) and a great many other female counterparts. She actually is media shy and far from the glamorous personality of Jessica and Meera. Her usual attire is dull colored loose shirts and straight fit jeans and doesn't use make-up, establishing her as a person who tones down her sexuality.
Meera is a fictional character, loosely symbolizing sensational but powerful Indian electronic media of the new millennium. The character is built throughout the famous journalist from NDTV - Barkha Dutt, who had handled the situation and it is also the inspiration for the coverage of Kargil war and Kandahar hijack episode. Unfortunately, the film completely ignores print media journalists, who were one of the primary ones to discover the reality and in fact, the sting procedure was done by Harinder Baweja from Tehelka. Inside the movie's credits, there's a caption congratulating Tehelka because of their efforts but going by the general Indian film viewing standard, people do not sit back and watch credits. Ramani (2011) implored that the movie goes so far to accommodate the truth for electronic media which it excludes and almost totally ignores contribution of main 'heroes' of the storyline, i. e. the print media.
Meera is established right from the start of her film, first through her voice which provides a monologue on Delhi's inherent complexity and its own desire for power and then her credentials are established through her coverage of important but difficult news assignments like Kargil war and Kandahar hijack incident. From the very beginning, Meera's character is celebrated as a female of substance, but subliminally, it is set up as a transgendered male performance, as though the lines and the role was written for a male character but the sex was changed at the last moment. Thus Meera goes to great lengths to determine her gender performativity as male using tropes like frequent verbal abuse; dominant and emotionally detached frequent physical relationships; lack of family issues etc. Her stance of sitting and drinking tea at work, her behavior with her colleagues and her maid furthers this establishment. The contrast is based on, the real women journalists who actually visited great lengths to resolve this case and is comfortable in their gender, e. g. Harinder Baweja frequently wears Saris and flaunts her femininity without any reservations, and is also quite humble in her interviews.
Professionally, Meera comes out as a hard-hitting reporter. Her character makes sense, dynamic, selfish, bitchy, successful, and manipulative. Actually, it seems as though the director of the film has a deliberate intention of fabricating such contrasting characters on a single platform. The downside of such a contrast is the fact that, when used the mise-en-scЁne and sequence of events, the film impresses upon the audience that, an effective woman tends to have man-like attributes; at least her perfomative gender should be male. Otherwise she will absolutely fade away in the harsh realities of life. In an establishing scene, while returning from the Kargil war zone, she hurls expletives at a fellow male passenger - something that is employed to make her representation abide by the stereotypes of 'cool' and 'bitch', as there appears no obvious reason for this outburst.
However, we must give due respect to the makers of the film they have not aimed at creating 'perfect heroines', although all these characters are seen to reflect certain exciting stereotypes. Jessica Lal, the omnipresent character throughout the film, even after her death, is the actual anchor of the story. Her character evolves as a model - free-spirited and modern - a person who is not scared to choose a fight while protecting her sister (Sabrina) against harassment. However, the stereotyping will not leave her ever. In the scene where she fights the street harassers, you can observe a variety of gender and class representations. The harassers are on a cheap bicycle and apparently symbolize members of the lower economic class. Whether or not this scene is fictional, it reeks of class irony - she was shot dead by an increased financial class male while these fellows were projected to be weak before her rage and verbal abuses. Another irony is usually that the verbal abuses that she used are themselves misogynist. Further on in the film, her 'modernity' is objectified in pure Kristevan (1982) sense by establishing her vulnerability as a vilified girl who loves to have a good time, parties hard, drinks heavily and stays out till late. So in the film there are a variety of scenes where Jessica's character develops against Sabrina in a contrast of bad vs. good. In one frame, Jessica invites Sabrina to a celebration which symbolically implies the main one where she was shot dead and she actually is wearing a mini-skirt while Sabrina is at desexualized jeans and an oversized shirt. In the sequence resulting in Jessica's murder, there exists frequent jump cut between Sabrina sleeping in her bed while Jessica is serving drinks in the party. The dance sequence reeks of voyeuristic male pleasure with head to toe camera movements amplifying a mini-skirt clad female figure montage with extreme close-up shots of drunken men looking to get too close to her - the sub-text is plainly pointing out that image of a girl dancing in a brief dress is 'easily approachable'. The paradigm in the series of shots and the delicate imagery tend to set up a dangerous line of thought - those who make an effort to move away from the patriarchal hegemonies in place must face the brunt one day - the audience is ready to see Jessica find the bullet! This moment is the very mimetic driver that will lead the audience to witness the fight for justice and the road to catharsis, the final judgment and only justice. However the montage and the mise-en-scene establishing this mimesis subliminally also feed the stereotype of the vulnerability of the feminine gender. The conflict scene between Jessica and Manu is a far more serious effort and targets her mid, close-up and extreme close-up shots as well as a good performance by Myra to highlight Jessica's strong personality. The audience senses the risk even more closely as the first gunshot goes off and yet another - Jessica is hit in the top. Her fall in slow motion takes its a chance to ensure that as soon as is mimetically established and mourned in the subconscious of the viewers. Phenomenologically, this moment is akin to Benjamin's 'Angel of History' where the angel is looking at the past and does not have any hope for the future. The storm from paradise has ensured that all progress lies in the rubble of history. Much like Benjamin's catastrophe of the Holocaust, the audience is forced to truly have a full gaze at the tragedy that unfolds on-screen.
Although Meera Gaity operates on similar thoughts of rebellion and modernity, she is proven to have another type of end - a victorious one! Her male performative attributes have been discussed earlier as well. She uses the 'f' word like her second skin which is abusive in speech exactly like some of her male colleague journalists. She does not pay any heed to the so-called moral police of the society - sleeps out of wedlock, smokes frequently and reaches top of her career by climbing certain manipulative ladders. To be able to turn out in the most notable league, she actually is not afraid to pull the right strings and take help of the crooks themselves. Her frequent use of abusive language and behaving very manly recreates the stereotype of women can achieve success only when and if she behaves like a man. Her dialogues like when she says "screw ethics" confirms her revolting personality. She actually is been shown to be rude both to her colleagues (she often call her colleagues 'bitch'), and even to her maid at home. Further Meera confirms her male performance by saying sentences like, "this is the time to give back again to those sons of bitches"; "let's nail the bastard"; "that bastard should maintain jail and not at the next happening party"; " I think I deserve a much bigger and better story" and so many more. Despite all of this, throughout the film Meera is a minimum of a "hero".
In contrast, Sabrina's character is deliberately underplayed. She could have easily been made the 'hero' of the story. However she was been shown to be easily dominated first by her sister, then by witnesses, culprit, media and Meera. Perhaps this was done to signify, that the nice has to lean on the bad to fight and make an impression on the ugly. That is, after she has literally broken down in her fight for justice for Jessica, Sabrina grabs the hand of Meera to fine the justice against the evil doers. As stated in the review of literature, psychologists Yassour Borochowitz, Dalit & Buchbinder, Eli (2010) learned a couple of aspects that explains a female weakness to violence. They said that language is not the base to make a meaning; in fact, it's the crux to build idea of whole world. For example, the language of Sabrina is measured, slow, and subtle; revealing her desexualized personality. Her not going to her sister's parties, her avoidance of drinks, her even stopping Jessica from fighting against goons who tease her, shying from media and trusting the witness in vein. All these hint at her contrasting personality and the span of events in the film.
Despite these stereotypes, the characters of Meera and Sabrina are extremely important, specifically for Hindi Cinema. In addition to the male mannerisms and extremities of the characters; both of them been shown to be strong in their own right (Sabrina to start the battle of justice and Meera to complete it). Actually, Meera is projected to in the end own a conscience and in following that she leaves no stone unturned to get justice for Jessica's murder case. There were hardly any movies that show ladies in such revolutionary light. And yes it is noteworthy that this movie again shows two female leads and males as supporting cast. It is a breather that people could see Vidya Balan in what she does best (no-glamorously glamorous avatar) after a long time. What was similar to a water-drop in the desert is Rani Mukherjee's fire-crackling role. Moreover women in this movie are been shown to be centered on their respective goals and not merely playing around the bush to chase for their prince charming and night in the shining armor.
'No One Killed Jessica' is ideal exemplory case of globalization, digitization and repercussions. The mixed language used, slang, abusive words, are in ways helper for general audience to relate with the movie and the reality of the story. Moreover, it was Jessica that helped find her wings of freedom. Nonetheless it was the same globalization and development that made her life so cheap so as to make her loose it just over one drink. That's where her 'rubble of progress' carries her from her past of desire to the future of loss in the effects and counter ramifications of 'Justice for Jessica', just like Benjamin's idea of 'Angel of History'.
Similarly, Heidegger's 'digitization has its own weight in studying the film. The complete movie screams of inter-mixing of technology and perceptions. Including the March for Justice at India Gate could be possible because of mass interconnectivity owing to the SMS/MMS revolution. It caused the adoption of hacktivism in the movie. The positive side of the technological paradigm sometimes appears as a march of change after people watch and get inspired by the movie 'Rang De Basanti' in a theatre. In a genuine Heideggerian irony, the movie subtly carries the negativity of Gestell or enframing as well. Over glamorization of digitization led to ignoring the fundamental facts. Print media was ignored and deprived of its due credit. (Ramani, 2011) The movie was biased in its promotion of sting operations and did not care to highlight the negative areas of such acts. The overt projection of globalization made the urban city image as digital hurdle.
Above all, the woman in the film has been given an out of the box characteristics, making them look league apart from the rest. However, the reality is there stereotypes of images have been created and recreated consciously or unconsciously by the makers. The audience perception of the film is of applause, yet they in ways identify their stereotypical perceptions with the created reality in 'No One Killed Jessica'.
To conclude, there can be an obvious difference between the reality and representation. However, occurrence of stereotypes weakens the boundary of the differences and the line thins further with an extent of creating almost a total identification with one another. The film commendably made an effort to break the gender stereotypes by projecting the image of women as a maker rather than a bearer of meaning in the mainstream commercial Hindi Cinema. However, many major instances prove that this change is not frequent enough. These efforts may be genuine, yet aren't enough to overcome stereotypes. Hence the change is not strong enough to effect a result of a big change in thoughts, outlook, perception, projection as well as representation. What we need is more frequency and refinement to be able to break the prevailing stereotypes that even 'No One Killed Jessica' could not break in totality. Representation will there be for certain. A bright future lies ahead for Bollywood - an chance to resist the natural instinct of fabricating and adhering to negative gender stereotypes with conviction and courage.