A breeze of optimism breezes through his pondering realisms, writer, filmmaker Manish Gupta is the talk of the town. Reason is SECTION 375, the terrific, bold and the most thought provoking court room drama on sexual crimes is written by Manish who has previously prove his mettle in penning fascinatingly absorbing, entertaining and enlightening stories for screen like SARKAR, RAHASYA.
In a free willing and open – hearted interview, the writer, filmmaker Manish Gupta speaks on the origin of SECTION 375, the study, the research, most important – how he managed to maintain the balance by walking on a sharp edged sword and highlighted the truth without disturbing the sanctity of the issue, law and court. Plus, the writer also speaks on the allegations of pushing the MeToo narrative and flipping it into something like MenToo disclosing all the RAHASYA behind SECTION 375. Over to Manish Gupta.
Excerpts from the interview
What was the inspiration/influence behind SECTION 375?
SECTION 375 is inspired by the Shiney Ahuja case. I knew Shiney personally and it was during 2009 when I was planning a movie with Shiney. I use to visit Shiney at his residence in Oshiwara and his wife Anupam was his manager. There was a maid in the house who used to do serve water. One evening I heard that Shiney has been arrested for raping that girl. Shocked, I rushed to the Oshiwara police station.
The DCP said that intercourse has been established but we are not sure whether it’s consensual or it’s a rape. I and a couple of common friends then insisted that in that case Shiney should not be in custody. The DCP said he is bounded by the law, the girl has complained, intercourse is established so Shiney has to be taken into custody.
That was devastating; imagine the trauma of a person who is accused in a ‘fake’ rape case. Career gets sabotaged, respect lost, people look at you with such disdain, you cannot walk with your head high. Things get destroyed at all levels. When I spoke with Anupam she astonished me with a fact that DNA report can be manipulated. It goes through different laboratories and it’s not that simple like 2+2 = 4. Further when I read the charge sheet, it blew my mind. The girl has explained every detail in her statement in Marathi and Hindi with such pain. For rape she used the word ‘atyachar’ (atrocity). I was unable to decide what is right what is wrong. The girl’s ordeal was terrifyingly chilling. Gradually when the case started taking a different turn, I decided to consider the case from both the sides.
What research did you go through and what where your learning’s regarding SECTION 375?
So I had two women one who has accused her employer of rape and the other is the wife of the accused who believes the investigation has not been done properly. I attended 160 hearings at the Sessions Court in Kala Ghoda. There are three courts in Kala Ghoda dedicated to rape and POSCO (The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) cases. No other cases are taken over there.
What where your observations regarding rape trials
When a girl is questioned curtain is brought to cover; only the judge, the lawyer and the girl can see each other. Rest of the people are asked to leave, it’s called “ In Camera’ trial. Otherwise it’s an open court people/press can attend. I spoke to accused, survivors, judges, lawyers, family members of the accused and survivors. It was a grilling three years of research, observations. The issue so sensitive, if I have gone wrong anywhere, feminist and activist would have torn me apart. I have a file of cases which I have attended; the judgment and charge sheet of Shiney Ahuja, in all have watched 22 acclaimed Court room dramas and more than 20 rewrites to get the sharpness, neatness, sanctity on celluloid.
Shiney Ahuja case happened in 2009, SECTION 375 got released in 2019, during this decade many things like Nirbhaya, MeToo rocked the nation. What pressure did you felt?
A woman is the worst affected in a ‘fake’ rape case, due to such cases, the testimony of genuine rape survivors who are victims of this heinous crime comes under doubt. SECTION 375 is in support of woman. Don,t cry wolf.
SARKAR, RAHASYA and now SECTION 375, what’s the secret of turning normal conversations into layered interactions that seamlessly heighten the drama in your scripts?
I am a lot into psychology. Sigmund Freud, I read Sigmund Freud a lot. I observe people, their behavior patterns, the reasons for their reactions on different situations and why it differs from a person to person. Conflicts – which I search for and there is no story without any conflict.
Which filmmaker and films had influenced you a lot?
Govind Nihalani mainly – HAZAAR CHAURASI KI MAA, DROH KAAL, TAMAS (TV SERIES), ARDH SATYA, AAKROSH. Shyam Benegal’s KALYUG is one of my most favorites. Even cinema from Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee and Sai Paranjpye. And yes of course, Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak.
What about today’s filmmakers?
There was a time when I use to admire Ram Gopal Varma, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj and Dibaker Bannerjee but now in my opinion, they are failing in leaving that profound impression according to me.
How did SECTION 375 saw the light?
Kumar Mangat bought the entire script from me. I sold the script to him and rest whatever is done is done by him and his production company Panorama Studios. As a writer I gave narrations to the lead Akshaye Khanna and Richa Chadha. I didn't knew Ajay Bahl personally before.
In spite of maintaining such a remarkable balance and not taking sides in SECTION 375, some voices of dissent are getting hummed and finding chorus?
SECTION 375 is a work of creative art, it’s subjective and people will have opinions. Any voice big or small cannot change the reality. I don’t take any offence; people will criticize your work. I am elated that more than 95 percent of people are appreciating it. My humble request to those who are having objections that kindly watch it from my perspective. People are raising objections by judging it from the literal meaning; SECTION 375 should be watched with a lateral meaning to understand the point of view.
And now the climax which the world is talking about, how did you came to that conclusion, the revelation of the ‘injuries’ to the victim, that not only shook and stirred the audience, it pushed the envelope for SECTION 375 much beyond?
I am glad you asked this question. It’s the turning point and the most important part of SECTION 375. I attended a hearing, Apeksha Vohra a young criminal lawyer. Interestingly, this was not a hearing of a rape case. Apeksha has helped me a lot during my research of SECTION 35. It was a hearing of murder for which she invited me. The case involved 3 guys who use to do electricity work at homes accused of murdering a girl. Apeksha was fighting the case in favor of the accused.
The argument that she raised was that the accused where not present at the spot so how they can be blamed. This sparked the idea behind the lift and stair case scene that pulled out the hidden lies and highlighted the truth. That was the only area where Akshay Khanna catches the lie uttered by Meera Chopra and puts the point forward, in a way similar to that case of Apeksha where she had only that argument to fight her case and plead innocence.