The Legal Unspeakable: Rape in 1980s Bombay Cinema

  • Ranjani Mazumdar
Part of the Contemporary Performance InterActions book series (CPI)


Vigilante films have historically enacted a quest for personal justice through the use of extra legal means. This global genre draws our attention to themes of revenge, violence, high octave emotional intensity, and the limits of the legal system. The inability of the ‘system’ to deliver justice forms the backdrop within which cinematic vigilantism operates as a visceral response. The experience of humiliation and disempowerment provides the moral justification for such extreme action. This paper will focus on the circumstances that created the 1980s vigilante films of Bombay through a focus on the theme of rape and revenge. In these films the legal system emerges as a major target with ordinary young men and sometimes women taking extreme steps. The national and regional media of the early 1980s witnessed widespread circulation of testimonies of women who had suffered sexual violence. The blatant abuse of power by the police and bias in the judgments on rape trials led to women’s mobilization across the country. Public meetings, poster campaigns, street theatre, signature campaigns, rallies, and demonstrations created a high visibility for the campaign. Rape became a major issue forcing a discourse in the public domain and became the trigger for the rape films of the 1980s. In the films that I look at, there is a union of rape and revenge that leads up to vigilante action. The narratives produce a complicated discourse on morality, womanhood, the law and ‘Indianness’. Through discussion of films like N. Chandra’s Ankush (1986), Aditya Bhattacharya’s Raakh (1989), B.R. Chopra’s, Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1980), and Avtar Bhogal’s Zakhmi Aurat(1986), the paper will raise questions about the visceral enactment of rape on screen and its relationship to political culture in the 1980s.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiIndia

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