We have all heard of Vishnu taking the form of Mohini to trick the demons into giving up amrita, the elixir of life. We have also heard of Shiva being attracted to Mohini; of stories in which Shiva knows of Mohini’s reality, suggesting gender fluidity in sexual attraction. Then, there is the story of the origin of Ayyappa. Vishnu as Mohini becomes pregnant from Shiva, and gives birth to Ayyappa, who when adopted by the Pandyan king Rajasekhara of Pandalam, who is then referred to as ayoni jata, ‘not born from a vagina.’

Again, according to Tamil versions of the Mahabharata, the god Krishna — an incarnation of Vishnu — also took the form of Mohini and married Aravan. And then there’s more. Clownfish, and some other fish species are known to change sex, including reproductive functions. All clownfish are born male. They have the ability to switch their sex, to become the dominant female of a group. And the change is irreversible.

It is nature’s doing. Anything not conforming to heterosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality is. But while the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexuality, do we actually accept it as natural? That’s why a film like Satyavati is needed to be watched to wake us up
from our slumber.

This film has seen more suffering in four years than we otherwise can relate to — right from its subject, inception, making and viewership. And we bet you wouldn’t be able to guess what the film is about. For it’s about a heinous hate crime that we refuse to accept exists, especially in India.

When I had first heard of corrective rape, I looked up the internet to find out what it is, because I wondered how rape can be ‘corrective’. But that’s exactly what it is. I was stunned, to say the least. Humans, never fail to surprise me!

Corrective Rape, also called curative or homophobic rape; is a hate crime, in which one is raped because he/she/they does not conform to gender stereotypes, and for their choice of sexual orientation. Instances of corrective rape first came to light after the rapes of lesbians such as Eudy Simelane and Zoliswa Nkonyana became public, in South Africa. The perpetrators of the crime, through the rape, aim to turn the person heterosexual. If that’s not shocking and disturbing enough, corrective rape is a planned act, initiated and executed, with pride mind you, by one’s own family!

Satyavati is India’s first film on Corrective Rape. And needless to say, it wasn’t easy making it. In India, where rape is commonplace and the LGBTQIA+ community is still considered another race — forget the decriminalisation of homosexuality under Section 377 — stigma still exists — corrective rape obviously is a crime nobody wants to talk or hear about. In fact, I still get questions and messages expressing disbelief on my story about corrective rape which I had done for a national daily almost four years back. That was the first time I met
Deepthy Tadanki.

Satyavati is Deepthy’s film, born out of her own shock on learning about instances of corrective rape in Bangalore. “I remember two particular cases that I came to know of — one, where a gay girl was raped by her cousin; and another, where a mother seduced and forced her gay son to have sex with her. All this is done within the family so that the news of their children being homosexual does not get out to the world. Also, the act is called curative so as to make them conform to societal heterosexuality that dictates who we are supposed to have sex with!” says Deepthy, adding, “these instances shook me so bad that I knew I had to do something about it, and since I am a filmmaker, I decided to tell the brutal reality of corrective rape
through a film.”

But let’s understand that Deepthy was making this film in India and about an Indian reality of this disturbingly heinous crime. “The biggest problem I think was and still is, is that there are no reported/registered cases of corrective rape in India. No statistics, no proof whatsoever! Even the organisation Lakshya Trust, that I think was featured in an episode of Satyamev Jayate and spoke of victims of corrective rape, did not volunteer to help me with any data. I also tried connecting with Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, but to no avail. I got no response when I wrote to them,” says Deepthy, insisting, “you see, that’s exactly where the problem lies. We just don’t want to acknowledge corrective rape as a reality in India.”

I wish it wasn’t, but it is. A member of the crisis intervention team of an LGBTQIA+ Collective here in Hyderabad had earlier told me that they have seen a rising number of cases of corrective rape, in the past few years — brought to their notice when the survivors sought help from the crisis intervention team. What’s worse is, these cases were not reported because the survivor(s) wanted to bring the family to books, but because they felt threatened and sought help to flee
their homes!

The casting of the film was no cakewalk either. Deepthy reached out to a lot of people — in Hyderabad, Mumbai and then Bangalore. Finally, she found her cast in Bangalore — three girls and one boy. In the film, they are friends — a lesbian couple and a straight couple. One of them is named Satyavati — this girl, as the name suggests, stands for truth, whether or not it conforms to the society’s notion of it. She is true to her sexuality, her orientation, her feelings and her emotions. She is also the one (amongst the four) who is brave and bold. The four friends are happy in their lives as well as in their respective relationships, until of course, their families learn about it.

At the time I first met Deepthy, only 40percent of the film had been shot, in Hyderabad. It had to be stalled because of financial crunch. “I had already put in the money I could, and then had to opt for crowd funding, which did not really help monetarily, but through the same platform, one investor came forward to help. Later, another investor showed interest. It was then that the film was
back on track.”

Interestingly, Deepthy recalls, “There was another investor who was ready to help but wanted the entire cast changed. This person wanted big names, which was okay, but when the name of Sunny Leone was dropped in, I could only laugh! We stereotype, that’s our problem.”

The end of struggle for the film, however, was anything but near. The film, informs Deepthy, though intended for an international audience — its reception in India was really sad. The debutante director, who has worked with Balaji Telefilms and MTV earlier, approached big banners, well-known names and popular production houses to present the film as that would help the film get a good exposure and could then reach the masses. “But forget about rejecting the request, there was no acknowledgement whatsoever! That’s when reality hit me hard! Nobody was willing to be associated with the film because of its subject. Satyavati got rejected at various film festivals, but what really surprised me was that even Kashish Film Festival didn’t get back when I requested for a screening. My film also faced rejection from many international festivals. I was told Satyavati is very violent, graphic and does not have a happy ending!”

“I went into a depression myself, because of the subject, the entire process of making the film, and having to watch it again and again and again. Moreover, the financial crunch, the loss of my father during this period… everything put together took a toll on me. But that’s not to say a film like Satyavati shouldn’t be made or if it is made, it should have a happy ending!” she expresses, adding, “when the film was screened in Bangalore, I wasn’t present there, but the people who helped me with getting a screening told me that a lot of people came forward wanting to speak and seeking counsellors. So, the feedback I got was that it would be nice to have some counsellors present too when the film is screened. And I take that as a positive response, because at least there are people who can relate to the subject and want to speak. Like I said, the lack of data/statistics was a big hurdle in making and presenting this film.”
But not one to give up, Deepthy screened the film at Film Bazar in Goa, and luckily, The Film Collaborative (TFC), a Los Angeles based company showed interest, offering to help with festival screening and distribution. Well, Satyavati recently made it to Harvard University! However, the screening at Harvard was facilitated by Anwesh Sahoo, Deepthy tells us. “I was on the panel for NDTV speaking about my film and corrective rape after the Supreme Court passed the verdict on Section 377 in September last year. Anwesh Sahoo, Mr Gay World India 2016, was also on the same panel. After the show, he reached out to me and said he could help get a screening for the film at Harvard. And he actually made it happen. I am really
grateful to him.”

Having been well received at Harvard University, Deepthy and TFC are now in talks for some digital space. “TFC has requested a new output without subtitles, which we can then present to digital channels so that it reaches more people,” Deepthy informs us. And we really hope that works.

write to us at editor.provoke@paulsons.in