It happens but rarely that the Indian movie industry creates a film that unabashedly deals with sensitive issues, and forces the audience to ponder on the same by making them uncomfortable. Fewer films still have had the ability to make a lasting impact, one that not only forces the viewers to question the issues raised but actually bring about positive change. In recent times, despite the negative publicity surrounding the movie Chhapaak owing to unprecedented political involvement, this film has been able to achieve just what it set out for. The Deepika Padukone starrer is based on true events surrounding the acid attack survivor Lakshmi Agarwal. Meghna Gulzar leaves little to the imagination, choosing to delve headlong into the brutalities of acid attack and its aftermath, depicting the reality in a stark manner. Not only does the movie travel back in time to recreate the crime, it touches upon all the matters pertaining to acid violence – women’s safety, failure of governmental laws for protection, and the life of the victim after recovery.
The drive for making people aware of the magnitude of acid violence began as a promotional move for the film. Officials on set were chosen to conduct social experiments with hidden cameras to record the actuality of the problem, such as Deepika herself who went out in public with her make up as Lakshmi Agarwal on. This was done to compare and bring to light the reactions of the people who noticed her, and the degree of insensitivity which is usually meted out to acid violence survivors. Another such experiment was conducted in which numerous people were followed to capture their movements as they tried to illegally buy acid. In this way, attention was drawn to the ease of openly purchasing acid and the shopkeepers who sold them, often without a license or demanding any sort of ID from the customer.
What came as a culmination to these efforts to raise awareness were various governmental acts in the interest of the protection of the rights of acid attack victims. In recent times, the Haryana government has implemented a scheme under which a monthly pension ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 9,000 is being provided to acid attack victims. This is done on the basis of the degree of injuries and physical disability to ensure a steady source of income for the victims. Apart from this, the Women and Child Development Department is said to provide financial aid ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 3 lakhs to such women for undergoing medical treatment. Inspired by this film, the Uttarakhand government has proposed to introduce a pension scheme for such victims in the state to help them lead an independent life. On record there are yet very few acid attack survivors in the state of Uttarakhand government, and they also plan on devising methods to reach out to all such victims by identifying them.
The movie Chhapaak follows the events surrounding Agarwal’s move to file a PIL in the Supreme Court to ban over-the-counter sale of acid, and her win resulting in a historical judgement. Through relevant social experiments the cast and crew of the film have tried to record the illegal sale and the ease of acquiring acid in order to highlight the gravity of the situation. Acid attack cases have not reduced but in fact have been increasing, according to crime records, even after the imposition of a ban upon its sale. By interacting with actual victims and survivors, bringing them onto the silver screen and daring to share their traumatic experiences, Meghna Gulzar exposes a kind of life and world that has mainly hitherto been left in the dark.
This has shown the path to only the beginning of a revolution in terms of arrangements and opportunities of income for acid attack victims, and there is yet a long way to go before the government recognizes this as a pertinent problem and draws up solutions. However, it is the start of such a conversation which is important for the change to eventually break through the system of privileged ignorance. It is apparent that movies and TV shows of such natures have immense potential for spreading awareness and eventually bringing about necessary change. In the past as well, certain films have proved to be the start of widespread revolutions for social causes. Hence movies like Chhapaak, which may not have mass appeal and thus may lose out on box office success, are incredibly important to produce, which should not be slighted by other unrelated issues which might be involved.