The latest Siddharth Hindi film, Striker, struck a chord with YouTube audiences with its worldwide online release, generating a good deal of revenue even with only U.S. audiences paying for viewing. One unexpected side-effect of Studio 18’s cutting-edge release strategy was the newfound ability of Western audiences to respond to the movie in real-time. (If you haven’t seen the film yet, here’s where you should stop, because the rest of the article contains major spoilers.)
One plot point in particular was a major issue with most of that segment of the viewing public. In the final fifteen minutes of the film, Siddharth’s character Surya rapes a woman who up to that point has done nothing but help him out, and with whom he has no previous romantic involvement. The members of the global watchalong were stunned by this story development, and then stunned by others’ response to their shock and disapproval. So much so, in fact, that four BollySpice staff members who also participated in the watchalong decided to get together and discuss the movie, its failings, and its fallout.
Katherine Matthews: I think that Striker has a fundamental script problem, that is being dismissed as “slice of life” film-making. The fact that they have some typical masala story elements suggests to me a traditional story line, with a character arc. We have a filmi hero as protagonist, and we grow to like him and care about him because we identify with his plight – caught in Jaleel’s sights… But they’re justifying flaws in the script as “true life” “grey areas.”
Jocelyn Holler Smith: Yeah, you know what? Just because the poor woman to whom this happened characterized her rape as “semi-consensual” does not mean it was.
Beth Watkins: Well wait, we cannot tell a character it was not consensual if she herself says it was. Personally I do not get any sense that it was consensual.
JHS: [I meant] the real woman who told that story. At least, according to Siddharth in a private message to Laura [another viewer and participant in the watchalong].
KM: But we as viewers don’t have access to the research, all we have is what’s on the screen. How can we infer that? Research does not equal storytelling. As a screenwriter, you take those accounts, and you turn them into a STORY. Erin Brockovich is based on a true life story, but I’m betting they crafted the script into proper story arc.
Stacey Yount: Exactly. Then to marry her?
BW: And once they got married she was mute! She had no more lines! “I rape her, and now she is my little piece of nothing.”
SY: Why did he marry her? Someone said, “Oh, the love was there.” HA!
BW: The love was there in that he said he wanted to marry her. Male opinion determines love. That’s the biggest problem here, the marriage. We never learn about her decision. We just learn he wants her, so he gets her.
KM: You’ll notice we haven’t even dealt with how bad the two “romantic” storylines are, and how absent the women.
BW: Let’s talk about vanishing Muslim girl. What was that?
SY: He was sweet and cute during it. It was for the fan girls.
JHS: Just making sure we knew he didn’t hate Muslims for being Muslim before he went off and killed some.
BW: Eep. True. I think it was supposed to show his growing bravery too, that he was willing to risk disapproval and punishment.
KM: But she was the one risking. I don’t object to that –but he was planning their marriage, he was worried her family would HIT HER. He was adorable when playing the sweet side of the character.
BW: The sister was a really fantastic character; so was the mother.
JHS: Vidya Malvade is good at making a character that could have been shrewish very loving.
KM: But that’s also how we know how fundamentally good he is, by the relationship with his sister [and Noorie]. See, how could a guy who worries about [Noorie] go on to rape a woman he hardly knows?
SY: And to have so much respect for his sister, too? He would never, ever.
KM: There’s no room for that kind of ambiguity in storytelling, I think… At least, not here.
BW: I just love how EVERYONE in our chat went, whoa. Whoa. WHOA.
SY: Yes! Me too. And, “Eww.”
BW: The Australians had warned me something awful would happen. I never would have guessed that!
BW: Have we found any men who were outraged by this? Who saw the film and were outraged?
JHS: My husband. Laura’s husband.
SY: Steven [Baker] was.
JHS: I think my main problem isn’t even the story-arc FAIL as it is the lack of validation for the points made from some of the [people who responded to our objections].
KM: Yes — I was so much more forgiving over what I see as story problems before that reaction.
SY: Give us some examples of reactions.
JHS: Well, Stacey, the main thing I saw was in reviews that referred to it as “practically raping” her.
BW: Oh, that was bizarre. I do not get the “practically” at all.
SY: One I saw said it was just part of the story.
JHS: One guy said, “But why is it that the only ones whom I see having problems with such scenes/things belong to the fairer sex?”
KM: Why, if it’s a fairer sex thing, do our husbands object, too?
SY: Many thought it was okay because she was just a bar owner and would have anyway.
JHS: Someone asked me, “Oh, well, but weren’t they having sex before?” as if that would have made what he did okay.
SY: He did not even notice her [before that]. He was short [spoken] and using her.
KM: There was a moment where I felt a bit patted on the head.
JHS: Yes, as if, “Oh, you’re just girls, so you’re blinded by fellow-feeling.”
BW: WHO SAID THAT? Other than Sid, sort of.
JHS: Here’s Siddharth’s tweets: “its a track based on interviews with real people. Its not a story. Sorry. Heroes are not allowed mistakes. If a hero makes a mistake, it must be ok…I prefer characters that are grey, not obvious. There is no right and wrong, good and bad; only what a man will and won’t do. Its more challenging to play a real person than a hero…”
BW: Well, those are fine and dandy points but do not address what we’re talking about: this character would not have done that. I resent him not answering better. And he’s written a film! He should have something interesting to say about this in terms of character development!
KM: And duh, I do understand you’re an actor and not actually Surya. I think some people felt we objected to showing a rape on principle. As if we were delicate flowers who felt that should never be shown on screen.
SY: But that was not it at all!
JHS: As if our sex prevented us from making cogent and story-based remarks with intelligent points. What seems to have escaped Sid and the rest is that, hello, most of Sid’s fanbase outside of India is in fact female.
BW: Probably in India too, I would guess.
JHS: So, even if that insulting and deprecating assessment of our capacity for rational thought and objection were true, it would still be a valid concern. I mean, we girls have money too and we want to spend it on him. With a small film, every dollar counts.
BW: We also promote his work.
JHS: So why so quick to dismiss valid concerns and objections if, by making a new cut without 30 seconds of this film, you could make your movie SO MUCH MORE marketable? Unless, of course, you just don’t think that a bunch of womenfolk with their feathers ruffled is something to address.
SY: Exactly, Jocelyn.
KM: The sad thing is Striker has so much going for it.
JHS: It does. It’s exactly up my alley. I would have been more than willing to forgive its lazy pace if not for the rape. And not because [the rape] was there, because of the way it was mishandled.
SY: It is not my type of movie at all, but I was liking it to that point. Then I hated it. And then they got married and that was it.
BW: It was just so irrelevant and unnecessary.
KM: I was really engrossed in it up to that point, and then, I wasn’t sure if I cared what happened to him after that.
SY: It ruined the entire thing for me.