There is no way I can think of to write this post without spoiling the ending of the Bollywood movie “Highway”, so if you ever plan on watching the film, stop reading this now so I don’t ruin it for you.
Disclaimer aside, our school (meaning all twelve of us) went to see a movie for Hindi class on Friday. I have seen a handful of movies in theatres here now, and it is generally a pleasant experience, what with the reclining seats and intermission/bathroom break (so necessary, since most movies are about three hours long.) The crowds are also usually quite amiable, even though people tend to answer their phones during the show and bustle out of the theatre about five minutes before the credits roll.
Today’s show was a little different. It was opening day of the film, one none of us knew anything about, and for a 10AM showing there were a fair number of people in the audience. Unlike most movies that pass through theatres, which are action flicks or “masala” romance/dance movies, “Highway” dealt with some heavy subject matter. It told the story of a well-to-do girl who gets kidnapped for ransom but ends up forming a sort of connection with her captor due to their troubled pasts. The audience finds out that as a child she was molested by an uncle and told to keep quiet about the incidents, and for this reason she doesn’t actually want to be rescued and taken back to her family. The plot of the film itself was a little unsettling on its own, but the real distressing part of the movie was the audience’s reaction: laughter.
At first I was confused and thought perhaps there was something in the bits of dialogue I couldn’t catch that somehow made the film comedic. How could men be laughing as a woman was gagged and thrown in to the back of a truck? But as the film played on and I understood more, my confusion turned to a mixture of anger and sadness. The woman gets told to shut up. Laughter. Then there were the comments referring back to the molestation. It’s not unusual to hear catcalling and comments during a film here, but the comments from the men in the audience that I could understand on this occasion were sickening. From the newspapers and from talking to friends here who have done some research on the subject, it is my understanding that molestation of women, especially by family members, is a real problem in India. [I don’t doubt that it is elsewhere, as well.] I applaud the movie for shedding some light on the topic, and I want to slap all the men who were laughing in the theater.
This post is not to suggest that all Indian men are ignorant or insensitive. As our program staff pointed out, only those with nothing better to do go see a film at 10AM on a Friday, and they probably are not educated enough to realize this wasn’t some kind of romantic comedy. I still don’t really think that justifies the response, and I try really hard to refrain from making judgments on things that could just be cultural misunderstandings, but it is difficult for me to believe that anyone could find this behavior acceptable. It is certainly these types of people who give Indian men a bad name.
I’ve been thinking about the movie all weekend, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around how anyone could find humor in the heroine’s situation. I know it was just a movie, but the idea that the events could be real and there are people who wouldn’t care is upsetting.