A new Indian film looks at the sensitive topic of sexual harassment in the workplace at a time when Bollywood has come under fire for its portrayal of women, after a fatal gang-rape shocked the nation.
Inkaar (Denial), a Hindi movie combining crime and romance, explores how a relationship turns sour between Rahul, the alpha male CEO of an advertising agency, and his ambitious protégée Maya, who rises up the company’s ranks.
She claims sexual harassment, a charge he denies, and the film develops through flashbacks as the pair tell their story to a social worker looking at the case.
The theme is an unusual one in an industry that has faced fresh criticism for objectifying women as merely skimpily dressed arm candy for a macho hero.
The gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus on December 16 sent shockwaves across the nation, leading to much soul-searching about its treatment and portrayal of women.
Director Sudhir Mishra said the timing of Inkaar’s release, on Friday, was a coincidence but he hoped the film would spark debate on under-discussed issues facing modern and rapidly urbanising India.
“The film explains the environment of a workplace from both men’s and women’s points of view,” he said.
“Everyone has a point of view on a subject, especially something as strong as sexual harassment. I have come across a cluster of people who work in different offices and they have similar stories to narrate.”
Inkaar’s initial reviews say it has failed to live up to its promise, and should have pushed further its exploration of gender politics in the office.
While Bollywood avoids on-screen sexual contact and even kissing scenes, questions over its alleged commodification of women have intensified since last month’s horrific gang-rape.
The “item number” has come under particular fire – a musical performance often unrelated to the plot, featuring scantily clad women in sexually suggestive dance routines.
When the film returns to the storyline, the main female character is often tirelessly wooed by the male protagonist until she gives in to him.
“Bollywood loathes women. Bollywood is a monster that has gone horribly wrong,” said award-winning playwright Mahesh Dattani in a scathing column.
Others in the industry defended its movies, saying Bollywood had become a soft target that could not be blamed for inciting violence.