The Nirbhaya case was a much-debated one in our country, and though it may no longer be mentioned in every dinner table conversation there is no doubt that it shook every household. Nirbhaya is synonymous with the horrors of being a woman in India as well as the sociological issues plaguing us as a society. It is especially significant in my journey as an actor.
I witnessed one of the trials of the accused men live while preparing for Kajarya, Madhureeta Anand's film on female infanticide. I was standing in a room merely 15 feet away from the accused in 2013, right before I started shooting for the film.
"Nobody tells you it's not OK to cry at one of these things. I was in tears from feeling rage and the kind of pain that only a woman can feel for another..."
I play a reporter in the film and as part of my research for the role I was trailing an actual journalist. Little did I know that I would find myself in a room with men who had enraged an entire nation. And as destiny would have it, witnessing a case that deals with a crime that is directly correlated with female infanticide -- the topic of my film. Having never been to a courtroom before, I was apprehensive about what the scenario would look like: my idea of a courtroom up until then was a hash of what was shown in Hindi movies and American TV shows. The reality was far from it -- the room was rather small and it seemed that everyone present really had a purpose to be there. There was no one other than those involved in the process, and needless to say I stood out like a sore thumb. The fact that I looked mortified might have had something to do with it. I was having a hard time standing so close to the animals that I'd been reading about, and who had inflicted unthinkable cruelty on my fellow woman.
As the trial began, it became obvious to everyone that the defence lawyer was there less to defend his clients but more for his 15 minutes of fame. His arguments were incoherent and illogical. They were lengthy and loopy and meant to only waste the court's time until the next hearing.
He was buying them time. I wasn't sure what was more terrifying and painful -- being in that room and reimagining everything that I had read or learning that monsters like their defence lawyer existed in our society.
I no longer knew who the real criminal in the room was and that was traumatising. I was not only losing faith in our legal system, I was losing faith in all of humanity.
Nobody tells you it's not OK to cry at one of these things. I was in tears from feeling rage and the kind of pain that only a woman can feel for another (and thus at the receiving end of more curious glances).
I walked away from that courtroom shaken and shattered. It broke me as a woman, and as a member of democratic society who looks to the judicial system for redress. Either way, it broke me.
Until then I wasn't sure I would be able to play the role of Meera in Anand's film. I was going about doing research but deep down I was anxious and unsure. Witnessing the Nirbhaya trial made me decide to snap out of my fears and really tap into everything possible to be a part of a film that aimed to expose the state of women in India, and the mindset of the people who perpetuate cruelty on them. Kajarya deals with female infanticide that leads to skewed sex ratios, which are a major cause of the rampant rapes. This fated event made me realise that I was going to be a part of something much bigger than my personal artistic ambitions. I had to serve a grander purpose and it was time to do some shaking and shattering of my own.