There have been a flurry of ‘viral videos’ and short films that seek to exploit the rise of feminism in India. Despite the few good ones, vast majority of them seldom put any thought into their production that it ends up being problematic, despite being (hopefully) well intentioned. So here we have it, another addition to the ever growing list of “empowerment” videos gone wrong.

Directed by Vikas Bahl, (who had directed Queen, which was a damn good ‘feminist film’ when you consider it’s mainstream Bollywood), this short film, to quote Bahl, “visualise a utopia for women, where, unlike today, mistrust and fear don’t dictate actions and decisions”. In the video, a bunch of men show up when Aliya Bhatt’s car breaks down and there’s a whole series of shots of her skirt and eerie background music to “mount the tension” (so to speak) and finally the revelation that they were “nice guys” all along.  And how we ought to give women such a setting where women can go around without their freedom being chained by the fear of facing sexual assault or harassment.

To begin with – the initial eerie background music and general atmosphere of the video in itself feels inappropriate. However, the video falls way short even if you were to ignore the background music and general atmosphere, if you were to accuse the creepy stares, the guy near the end of it trying to kiss her hand while she awkwardly and forcefully withdraws her hand, and skirt shots in the video are just poorly thought to say the least. So in the end you have a video with a shoddily conveyed  “be the ‘nice guys’ ” message.

Getting creepy stares and having their hand pulled by some random guy whom they’d just met for a kiss would not be a part of the world women would want to exist. These are things women are sick of and often have to shut up and put up with – the undesired physical contact and constant objectifying stares – and the video excuses those and implies that they’re within the realm of “acceptable behaviors”. It’s not merely rape that women have to put up with, they’re also subject to constant harassment, which is alarmingly normalized and considered to be something they ought to endure by virtue of being women. So I don’t know how this is supposed to be empowering by any stretch.

Feminist Utopia
The Real Feminist Utopia: Illustration by Tasuya Ishida, Sinfest Comic

A utopia would be if the men didn’t creepily drive around her before helping her and actually offered to help rather wait for her to ask. Acting like they’ve never set their eyes on girl on her own before is not very helpful. Acting like they might not be able to control themselves is actually scary. Why were the men giving each other creepy looks as if they were unsure if they should help her or rape her. There is one thing to find someone attractive and two to view her while sexually objectifying her body parts. It’s too contradictory to represent a utopia. It looked more like the boys wanted to rape, but could not rape, because the girl trusted them (or she didn’t have a choice). In a Utopian world, there would be girls hanging out in the middle of a night, some of them having boozes or smoking pots, and helping a deserted lonely boy at that time.

This might seem like going a bit overboard -but when you launch a dedicated campaign for “women’s empowerment”, the least you can do is to make sure that it is not problematic. The faux progressive “campaigns” hardly help the cause, but also subtly reinforces the problematic views that’s ingrained in people. So in a way one could argue it hurts the cause in some other ways. And here’s me being delusionally optimistic that people do get the point here and put in a little more effort into these things – hopefully also making it more inclusive.

(PS: Due credits to Sunil D’Monte for bringing this to my attention and reminding me of this comic)

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