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What’s the right way to shoot sexual violence in films? Priyamani shares her experience

The 'butter rape scene' in Last Tango in Paris has sparked a widespread public outcry after its director revealed a shocking detail.

Written by Manoj Kumar R | Bengaluru |
December 11, 2016 4:35:16 pm
Priyamani had acted in gruesome rape scene in Paruthiveeran Priyamani had acted in gruesome rape scene in Paruthiveeran

A firestorm of controversy broke out last week after Last Tango in Paris director Bernardo Bertolucci’s old interview resurfaced on the internet. In the 2013 video clip, the director revealed the infamous ‘butter rape scene’ in the film that was shot without the consent of then 19-year-old Maria Schneider .

In the scene, Marlon Brando uses butter as the lubricant while having simulated sex with Maria. The ‘butter rape scene’ was initially not in the script. It was Marlon who had this idea and had Bernardo’s agreement on it. Maria was told about this just before the shoot and was forced into doing it.

The Hollywood controversy also reminded us of a similar story that unfolded in Bollywood decades ago. The actor involved was Rekha and the year was 1970. Rekha, who was just 15 at the time, was kissed on her lips by senior actor Biswajeet without her consent while shooting for Anjana Safar. The film’s director Raja Nawathe had a justification for his utter disregard for Rekha’s consent, which was akin to Bernardo’s. The director wanted to capture the “surprise reaction” of Rekha.

Read: When a 15- year-old Rekha was allegedly molested by actor Biswajeet

Whatever creative explanation can these directors come up with, what happened to the female actors of Anjana Safar and Last Tango in Paris is not acceptable. Filmmakers must take the female actors into confidence and their consensus, irrespective of how small or big a scene is. Actors don’t get paid to be humiliated or to be taken advantage of.

Now the media are dubbing these famous ‘love scenes’ as rape and molestation of actors involved. We had a chat with actor Priyamani and sought her experience of acting in a disturbing scene in one of her films. Her Muththazhagu character from 2007 blockbuster Paruthiveeran is one of the landmarks in her acting career. The film’s climax scene turned this romantic drama into a gut-wrenching tragedy.

A still from Last Tango in Paris A still from Last Tango in Paris

Muththazhagu gets brutally gang-rapped by four men and succumbs to the pain and injury she suffered during the attack. Talking to, Priyamani explained how thoughtful and considerate was her director while filming this disturbing scene.

She said that she did not know about the rape scene, when she began working on the film. Actors were given scripts of that day’s shoot on a daily basis and on the sets. Director Ameer Sultan told Priyamani about the rape scene a day before the actual shoot and assured her that her comfort won’t be compromised.

“He said that for him my comfort level was utmost important and it will be shot with minimal crew, comprising just a cameraman and required actors,” she said. The whole episode in the film takes place in a dimly lit room. She recalled that director had stationed the other crew members at a distance while they shot the scene inside the room.

“The moment I got to know that this scene… obviously any girl will have a bit of hesitation to go through such an ordeal even if it is acting,” she said. “But, the scene was aesthetically filmed as we had only a couple of wide angle shots, while the rest were kept close up capturing the facial reactions of us actors. The director shot the scene, keeping everyone’s comfort level in mind.”

The four actors in the scene were not trained artistes. Ameer had selected real truck drivers for the scene. And he was extra careful ensuring that they all keep a safe distance from Priyamani during the shoot.

A still from Paruthiveeran A still from Paruthiveeran

Even though its acting, scenes portraying sexual violence have a considerable impact on the psyche of the actors. Following the release of Last Tango in Paris, Maria resorted to drug abuse, even as she was reeling under depression and never performed a nude scene again.

“It is not easy to perform such scenes,” Priyamani said. “While dubbing for the film, I saw the whole scene first to understand and get the feel of the scene. I was really haunted by the scene. I started crying in the dubbing studio. I had acted in that scene, but still, it got to me. I was like how can such a thing happen to such a girl. I could not dub for four days after that. Then my mother and director spoke with me and helped me calm down. Throughout that dubbing process director was with me and helped me finish my job,” she added. “I don’t think I would have been able to do it without his support.”

“Female actors’ contribution to films are at par with male actors. So just because they signed the film, they can’t be taken for granted. They should be taken into confidence while shooting. If a female actor is not comfortable with how a scene is shot and says no, it means no. They should not go ahead with the scene.”

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