Daman, a new Hindi film starring Raveena Tandon, dares to cast aside Bollywood glitz to tackle the hard-hitting subject of marital violence.

Daman, meaning dominance, is by no means a run of the mill Hindi film. Casting aside the glamour and fantasy usually associated with Bollywood, Daman dares to tackle the hard-hitting subject matter of domestic violence and marital rape.

Directed by Kalpana Lajmi, one of few female film directors in India, Daman tells the story of Durga (Raveena Tandon), a young woman who is subjected to years of physical and psychological torture at the hands of her husband Sanjay Saika (Sayaji Shinde) a tea plantation owner in Assam. Violated and repressed, Durga fights a loosing battle against her husband who undermines the confidence of both her and their young daughter. Supported only by her brother in law and spiritual beliefs, Durga eventually gains strength to break free and taking drastic action against her tormentor.

Although a number of few Indian films have tackled the grave subject of domestic violence, Daman is one of very few films to have focused on marital rape. Ordinarily, Bollywood directors and actors give serious subjects like domestic violence a wide berth for fear of causing controversy and being rejected by Indian cinema audiences. However, this did not deter director Kalpana Lajmi from making Daman.

In an interview with the Times of India, Lajmi explained why she decided to direct a film based on such a risky subject matter. “The ministry of family welfare and health in India approached four filmmakers- Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta, Amol Palekar and me – to make films on social awareness issues….The character Raveena plays has a certain dignity and strength despite her subjugation. I didn’t want to talk about an empowered woman, but a subjugated woman who collapses under the trauma of her oppression. Most often, Indian victims of rape and domestic violence reach a breaking point that verges on suicide. There’s such an inertia and lack of self-esteem that even when there is an opportunity to rise above their situation, they don’t have the strength to respond.”

Bollywood babe Raveena Tandon decision to turn her back on Bollywood song and dance numbers to take on a more challenging role, was a gamble that paid off when she was recently given the coveted National Award in India for her performance in Daman. Having previously acted alongside Manoj Bajpai in the crime thriller Shool, Raveena was able to deglamourise and build on her ability to play complex characters like Durga. Following in the footsteps of Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Dimple Kapadia, Raveena is one of many young actresses who have recently tried to cross over from commercial to serious or ‘art house’ films.

A subject many rural and urban Indian women can identify with, domestic violence and marital rape is sadly a syndrome that exists in all levels of society, both in the east and west. However, like mental illness, domestic violence within the Asian community is a subject often swept under the carpet and kept well hidden from the public eye. While hundreds of Asian women suffer from domestic violence and marital rape each year, only a small proportion report the matter. Fear of reprimand from families and authorities and lack of social support discourages women in India from standing up against such brutality. The expectation for women to give unconditional devotion to their husbands and suffer abuse in silence is another factor that influences women to keep quiet.

Only recently have Asian women in Britain and India taken a stand against domestic violence with the help of governmental run organizations and women refuges. In the UK, women’s support group like the Southall Black Sisters have played a key role in bringing the issue of domestic violence and marital rape into the limelight. By working to raise awareness, they have been able to highlight the extent to which these subjects affect women in the Asian community. The well known case of Kiranjit Alhuwalia, a British Asian woman who was sentenced to years imprisonment for killing her husband in self-defence after years of physical and mental torture from her husband, is just one of many that go unrecognized each year.

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