“If they [women] are ever in a situation like that, then they should make sure that the man suffers right there and then…kick him between his legs or give him a jhappar.”
Rani Mukerji advised when asked about her opinion on the #MeToo movement and how women could tackle sexual assault. Part of an Actress’ Roundtable, flanked by Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Tabu, Taapsee Pannu and Anushka Sharma, she, however, was not asked how women should behave.
Film journalist Rajeev Masand, the host, sat down with the actors, each of whom had delivered compelling performances this year, and asked whether they will settle for a role that has nothing much to offer and if there are characters, essayed by them, they would like to befriend. What followed was some banter, laughter and light-hearted chatter. Later, much like he had done in the Actors’ Roundtable a few days back, he asked them of their opinion on the #MeToo movement.
“I would like to take this platform to say something which I have lived with in this industry for so many years. I think, as a woman, you have to be powerful within yourself. You have to believe that you are so powerful that if you ever come into a situation like that, you have the courage to say ‘back off,'” Mukerji said, using her hands to express her vehemence. “I think everything relates to what you want out of your lives,” the actor added, by then a little short of thumping her chest, visibly impressed by her own words.
“I think it is important for women to believe in themselves and say that if they don’t want it to happen, it will not happen,” Mukerji went on with her sermon as if, by chance, she had transformed into the cop she had played in the 2014 film Mardaani. At this point Padukone interjected and tried reasoning. “I don’t think everyone is constructed that way.” Mardaani, however, had a quick solution. “Those are the women we need to talk to and tell them, you guys need to change.”
As if playing out a scene from her own film, Mukerji refused to tolerate any delay. When a woman is assaulted, Mukerji clearly believes, she should be “powerful” enough to process what is happening to her right at that moment, not falter, take charge of things, scream out a “back off” and, if possible, kick the man on his shins.
Sweet. Does she stop? No.
“In life, we cannot depend on how the other person will behave with us. We have to take responsibility for our own selves,” she retorted when Sharma opined that the conversation was again becoming on how a woman is expected to change and not the other way around. Mukerji was not done yet. How do women take responsibility for themselves? “Learn martial arts,” she said, throwing her own hands in the air as if exhibiting a latent talent we did not know she had.
Mukerji was the Messiah we all needed at the roundtable this year. Much has happened in 2018. People in positions of power were indiscriminately called out for misusing their privilege, rusted lids over forgotten stories were taken off, familiar faces defamiliarised owing to the deeds done by them. The Hichki actor’s homogeneous solution, when placed within such a context, ceases to make sense. Her advice on how women should be powerful enough to say ‘back off’ can be aspirational but not the norm. The conversation that women should be responsible for themselves has been taking place for a long time now, and does not really need a reminder. Not anymore.
Mukerji, evidently, spoke from a privileged point of view, but what remains baffling is her refusal to see another aspect of the narrative where the powerless and the powerful are not determined by what they say (or they don’t). What is confounding is her conviction that saying “back off” would end an act of assault. What remains troubling is her tendency to view different, varied instances of assault from one prism. By saying what she did, she not only refused to recognise the power structure inherent in every relationship, but, at the same time, assumed that women behave and should behave in a similar way when sexually assaulted.
Needless to say, the actor’s optimism was both enviable and absurd.
Diverse narratives have borne testimony to how blurred lines can be and how pervasive sexual assault is. It can happen anywhere and can be done by anybody. It can startle, stupefy, break, mortify. It can spur one into action, it can shock one into immobility.
Does the act become more excusable in the absence of a resounding refusal? No. Does it make the survivor any less powerful? No.
Rani, it makes them more human.