A frustrated and angry man decides to take his problems and deviances out on the women he meets during his daily life. We take a look at Rahul Nath and Kshitij Salve’s 20-minute drama about sexual assault; Stronger.
According to a recent Thomson Reuters Foundation survey taken earlier this year, India is the most dangerous country for sexual violence against women in the world. That in itself is bad enough but unfortunately, India doesn’t fare any better in other studies that rank the treatment of women either. The country was placed 131st out of 152 countries in the Georgetown Institute’s global ranking of women’s inclusion and well-being.
In 2016 which is the most recent government data available, there were 338,954 crimes against women including 38,947 rapes reported to India’s National Crime Records Bureau. That number had gone up from 309,546 incidents of violence against women in 2013. These incidents helped spur an amendment to India’s criminal law, which broadened the definition of sexual crimes against women to include stalking, acid attacks and voyeurism. Of course these days we are also in the midst of the Hollywood ‘Me Too’ movement shining a light on these unsavory incidents so Nath and Salve’s 20-minute film about sexual assault couldn’t have arrived at a much better time.
From the beginning of the film, we are thrown straight into the middle of a sexual assault. The assailant played unnervingly well by Arjun Shrivastav, has rendered a young lady unconscious and is about to do some unspeakable things when he is disturbed by someone walking close by. Suddenly, even though his victim is out cold, he still feels the need to cover her mouth. It’s an interesting moment that shows the attacker as not just the villain of the piece but also as a human being. He is a criminal who deserves to be punished for his crimes but he is also just as scared and confused about his own behaviour as much as his victims are. Thus begins the first moments of our conflicted feelings towards this evil main character that continues throughout all of Stronger’s twenty-minute run time.
Fading into Shrivastav bedroom, we meet his loving and caring girlfriend, well performed by Sahana Vasudevan. From the conversation, we know immediately that Shrivastav’s character has suffered from erectile dysfunction. His girlfriend kindly suggests that he go to the doctors but, being less than impressed at this suggestion, we are given a brief glimpse of how unstable this man is.
The production design for the interior shots seems to be a myriad of dark greys, browns, and blues; it’s not that easy on the eye but it does give us a sense of the violent darkness that inhabits the main character’s mind. We are given some respite from the dark, if only briefly, in the form of a newly independent young lady in Richa Meena; who, on deciding to fly from her parent’s nest and set up on her own, brings a bit of lightness to proceedings. This does not last however and we are soon dragged back into the darkness of the material. The film is nicely paced by editor Munishwer Rao, while the soundtrack of violin strings and piano helps you to feel even more in tune with the material for Stronger.
There are some nice moments of cinematography in Stronger from Yuvraj Jadeja, particularly involving Meena, but unfortunately, there is not a lot of scope outside of these scenes for him to let loose. The blocking and positioning of the actors are all quite soap opera-ish, mainly consisting of two-shots and medium shots and, while there are one or two external scenes, they don’t allow for a great deal of cinematography skill, which is a shame because Jadeja shows some obvious talent.
The actors though are all very good, and well directed by Nath and Salve. The performances are very believable and it’s easy to see that being an actor himself has undoubtedly helped Nath to mine these fine performances from his cast. The star of the show is unarguably Arjun Shrivastav though who gives a towering performance.
His character does some despicable things in this short; stuff that he deserves to be captured and punished for. He is a deviant who cannot control his urges and is a danger to every woman he comes into contact with. Yet we also notice throughout the film that he suffers from a mental illness; a flashback here, a hallucination there, and that add to the audience’s dilemma. Is he a villain? Is he a victim? Is he one or is he both?
Watch this thought-provoking short film and then decide for yourself. Stronger is well worth a watch.