Writer/director Aditya Kripalani's latest film Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal (The Incessant Fear of Rape) is a thought-provoking, emotionally intense film that opens with a sublime, quiet little scene hinting at the undercurrent of fear that exists within the very culture of women living in Delhi, known as the rape capital of India. In the scene, four women are seen together in a taxi. It's a taxi service that provides transportation solely to women, a reference to Kripalani's previous film Tikli and Laxmi Bomb. The scene itself could have easily been portrayed overly dramatically, though Kripalani's approach is more subtle and the ensemble cast far too talented to play the scene with too much in the way of histrionics.
If you know Kripalani's films, you will recognize how the scene unfolds and likely surrender yourself to it rather quickly. Even if you are not familiar with Kripalani's work, this ensemble does a nice job of bringing us to the point where they realize, as do we, that they are bound together by their incessant, incredibly realistic fear of rape. It's a fear that seems to dominate their every day and it seems to influence all of their decision-making.
While the film is easily portrayed as a revenge flick, Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal (The Incessant Fear of Rape) is actually far too intentional in its messaging to be reduced to such a crude, crass descriptor. The justice that is sought here is less about exacting physical revenge, though certainly that element is present here, and more about exacting a sort of psychological revenge to plant the sense of fear with which they have lived their entire lives.
The women in Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal (The Incessant Fear of Rape) are portrayed less as victims and more as women seeking to re-establish a sense of control in their lives. In essence, the justice that they seek is as much about their own empowerment as it is about any sense of perpetration against the man who becomes impacted by their actions. While the film is written and directed by a male filmmaker, the female influence is undeniably strong and one gets the sense that the entire production was a genuinely collaborative effort.
I find myself hesitant to give much in the way of plot description for the film, so important is a sense of suspense to the experience of the film and giving too much a way will likely indicate which direction Kripalani goes here. Recently released on Netflix, Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal (The Incessant Fear of Rape) is the kind of film for which you can have a general idea of the story but still be incredibly surprised by how it all unfolds in simple yet believable ways.
Kritika Pande shines as Shaila, who operates the taxi service and one evening picks up Vibha (Shalini Vatsa), Shagun (Sonal Joshi), and Chitra (Chitrangada Chakraborty). The core of the story takes hold when the four stop for a meal where they are sexually harassed by a biker. While the scene ends seemingly with little concern, on their continued drive home they encounter yet another harassing biker (Vinay Sharma) whose harassment inadvertently causes a crash. With their harassing motorcyclist knocked out on the side of the road, the women realize this is their opportunity to exact the kind of anxiety and fear with which they have lived their entire lives.
How this all unfolds is what gives the film its power, a power that was certainly of some controversy in India where it is well known that rape continues to exist as an overwhelming national crisis. It would be hard to say that one necessarily supports the actions of these women, yet it would also be difficult to not understand them. To Kripalani's credit, the film doesn't so much justify them as seek to immerse itself in the hearts and mindsets of these women.
While we've seen revenge flicks before, it just doesn't seem completely fair to call this a revenge flick. It's something different and it's that difference that makes the film such an important and impactful film. Filmed largely within the streets of Mumbai, Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal (The Incessant Fear of Rape) is beautifully photographed by Aditi Sharma with original music that is sublime perfection. Sruthy Sukumaran's editing work here amps up the film's emotional intensity yet also wisely helps the film never feel less than truly authentic.
At times, this is a difficult film to watch yet it's never gratuitously offensive and never feels like anything resembling a horror film. The ensemble cast here is uniformly strong, especially these four leading women who are so incredibly compelling and strong and wise. They make us believe in their mission even when we don't believe in everything they're doing.
Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal (The Incessant Fear of Rape) is yet another involving, powerfully moving film from Aditya Kripalani and the kind of film that will linger in your psyche for quite some time after you watch it. It's a bold and visionary film that was destined to be controversial in its homeland, the kind of brave filmmaking that improves lives and changes the world.
To watch the film for yourself, click on the "Watch This Film" link in the credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic