A documentary about the gang rape and killing of medical student Jyoti Singh has won a prize at the National film awards in India – but not the controversial film India’s Daughter, made by British film-maker Leslee Udwin.
Instead it was Daughters of Mother India, directed by Vibha Bakshi, that was recognised at the ceremony in the best film on social issues category. She said she was “overwhelmed and thrilled at this highest level of appreciation” from the judging panel, headed by director Kamal Swaroop and approved by India’s ministry of information and broadcasting. They described the 45-minute film as “explicitly and determinedly turning the spotlight on the burning issue of rape in the country and the brutal mentality that drives it.”
Like India’s Daughter, her film looks at the horrific incident and its aftermath, but Bakshi criticised Udwin’s film: “My idea was to sensitise audiences towards crimes against women as opposed to Udwin’s film that sensationalised the issue by giving one of the rapists a chance to express his views.”
Daughters of Mother India doesn’t feature interviews with Singh’s family or the attackers, but instead focuses on the national conversation generated by the case, and on reform in the police and court systems. Bakshi said: “Like millions of others, I too felt outraged by the gruesome incident that triggered massive protests and put India in the spotlight worldwide. So I thought of exploring the Indian psyche from various angles and how it was impacted by the horrific crime.” It was executive produced by Maryann De Leo, who won an Oscar in 2004 for her short documentary Chernobyl Heart.
India’s Daughter meanwhile includes an interview with the driver of the bus on which the assault happened, who claimed that Singh herself was to blame for the attack for being out at night and that she should not have resisted. The inclusion of the interview caused controversy, with even some women’s rights activists opposed to it, saying, like Bakshi, that he should never have been given a platform for his views.
The film was banned in India, with a parliamentary minister describing it as “an international conspiracy to defame India”; Udwin appealed to prime minister Narendra Modi, arguing that “India should be embracing this film – not blocking it with a kneejerk hysteria without even seeing it.”