A still from Aika to the Baika: Police Complaint Lavani
From Bajirao Singham to Simmba Bhalerao, Bollywood’s cops can outdo sickle-wielding goons, topple black vans and serenade a love interest, with a motorcycle and a pair of aviators always at reach. But do they know what to do when a woman complainant wants to register a case of sexual harassment? There aren’t enough role models among Bollywood’s mainstream cops sadly, but they can take a cue from a new video by Agents of Ishq.
The eight-minute long Aika to the Baika: Police Complaint Lavani was released online on International Women’s Day (March 8) and is finding much attention on social media. It is the second lavani video by multimedia project Agents of Ishq, which focuses on topics around sex, love and desire, mainly in an Indian context. The first such video was released in 2016. Titled The Amorous Adventures of Shakku and Megha in the Valley of Consent, it highlights that a person may be saying ‘no’ through their body language, even if they don’t necessarily verbalise it.
In the latest video, three women get a dashing police Saab to take their complaints of domestic violence or sexual harassment seriously. The policeman insists on being the moral police. He advises them to think about their families and to guard their honour.
The video is directed by filmmaker Paromita Vohra, founder and creative director of Agents of Ishq. She explains that there is enough research and anecdotal evidence to show that a woman who goes outside family boundaries is viewed as deserving her troubles, especially when it comes to sexuality, harassment, love marriage and elopement. Vohra adds, “Gender biases strongly inform how cases and complaints are viewed and recorded. Frequently the victim/complainant finds herself in the position of being treated as the wrongdoer, responsible for her own problems, rather than someone who can seek the protection of the police.” The video has been made in collaboration with legal centre Majlis, which aims to evolve feminist legal approaches.
When translated, Aika to the Baika means “listen to the women” and the video conveys that listening is the first step to addressing gender-based violence. Despite the gravity of the subject, the video makes its point through humour and lightheartedness, thanks to Shakuntala Nagarkar, Megha Ghatge and Akansha Kadam, the lavani performers who play the roles of the woman complainants. A traditional Maharashtrian song and dance performance, lavani is most often associated with the erotic. The performers, dressed in finery and jewels, bring the mischief and sensuousness of lavani into the police station. Ghatge says, “If you tell people on a serious note, then they don't get it. But if you use comedy, it is more effective.”
The performers are part of Sangeet Bari, a project by Savitri Medhatul and Bhushan Korgaonkar that has presented lavani to more urban audiences across Mumbai. Korgaonkar says that lavani has often been used to address social issues, as long as it retains the form's rhyme and meter. “Traditionally, lavani uses a lot of eroticism in the form of shringar ras, which naturally has to be toned down here,” says Korgaonkar. Sangeet Bari has been a big part of the original Marathi lyrics and the composition for the video, which runs with English subtitles.
While the policeman unleashes his unsolicited opinions on the complainants, surrounding him are portraits of his Bollywood heroes in khaki uniforms. The depiction of the cop in films, says Vohra, is that of a maverick, one who defends justice extrajudicially, using physical force. She adds, “Crime films and series — like the Netlfix show Unbelievable — can also be used to talk about so many complexities, but here they are often used to endorse a vigilante cop idea. And even when there are women cops, they simply play out the same role. The cop is therefore set up as an unquestionable figure rather than a partner in the endeavour of social justice.”