A crass ‘rape joke’ dominated the soundtrack launch of Ram’s upcoming Tamil-Malayalam bilingual film Peranbu, starring Mammooty, in Chennai on Sunday. Tamil filmmaker Mysskin, who was a guest at the event, expressed his admiration for Mamootty’s acting prowess by saying, “You can keep watching Mamootty sir in this film. If he was younger and if I was a girl, I’d have romanced him. But that’s okay. Had I been a girl, I’d have raped him actually.”
In Peranbu, Mamootty plays the father of a physically disabled girl.
Mysskin’s comments were met with laughter from the men on the stage and in the audience. But horror at his misogyny erupted on social media, where the director of Anjathe (2008) and Pisaasu (2014) was pilloried for using a crime as a metaphor for love. This included actor Prasanna, who had starred in Mysskin’s Thupparivaalan (2017).
Mysskin brought into the real world a tradition of humour built around the act of rape in the movies. Filmmakers and screenwriters across language industries have frequently resorted to rape jokes to get cheap laughs. The most notorious example is Rajkumar Hirani’s blockbuster 3 Idiots (2009).
Class topper and ace rote learner Chatur Ramalingam (Omi Vaidya) has bagged the honour of giving a speech on Teacher’s Day at his engineering college. The speech has to be in Hindi, so the Tamil-speaking Chatur employs a ghost writer. Chatur’s classmate Ranchoddas (Aamir Khan) is eager to settle scores with Chatur. Ranchoddas gets the word “chamatkar” (miracle) in the speech replaced with “balatkar” (rape). Ramalingam unwittingly ends up accusing the college principal and chief guest of repeatedly committing rape during his speech.
A misplaced alphabet leads to a rape joke in Sajid Khan’s Housefull 2 (2012). The board outside the consulting room of Ranjeet V Asna K Pujari (played by the actor Ranjeet) reads ‘the rapist’ instead of ‘therapist’. The doctor has mostly female patients, and his prescribed line of treatment is sexual intercourse (an in-joke about the number of times Ranjeet has played a degenerate in his films in the 1970s and ’80s). When a patient tries to escape Ranjeet’s advances by saying, “I’ll sleep over it and get back,” he replies, “Sleep over me.”
In Sandhya Mohan’s Malayalam comedy Mr Marumakan (2012), rape is used to get even with an enemy. Ashoka Chakravarthy (Dileep) discovers that his adversary has hired a man to rape his sister. Dileep’s idea of revenge is to ensure that the hired rapist ends up assaulting his enemy’s sister instead of his own.
Who would have thought of rape as a form of courtship? In Tamil filmmaker Hari’s Ayya (2005), two policemen come looking for a rape accused in a village. Vadivelu’s character Karasingam is encouraged by his friends to confess to the crime. “You are an unmarried virgin, just confess,” one of his friends tells him. “At least this way you’ll get married because otherwise, they’ll force you to marry the victim. Just say yes and let’s go see who your potential wife is.”
Vadivelu’s character makes a grand entry into the police station. Holding a mangalsutra in his hand, he proudly announces that he is the rapist.
There’s a similar scene in Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal: Fun Limited (2006). Gopal (Ajay Devgn), Lucky (Tussar Kapoor), Madhav (Arshad Warsi) and Laxman (Sharman Joshi) decide to stop what they think is a rape in progress in their neighbour’s house in the hope that they can emerge as heroes in the woman’s eyes. The rape turns out to be a rehearsal for a play. The men begin flirting with the woman, calling her beautiful and an “item”.
Rape has often been used as a means of taming outspoken and rebellious women. In K Raghavendra Rao’s Telugu drama Coolie No 1 (1991) Ranjani (Tabu) is the daughter of a millionaire who is married to a coolie, Raju (Venkatesh), against her wishes. A rape that will domesticate the independent-minded Ranjani is orchestrated by her mother. She sedates Ranjani and asks her son-in-law to sleep with her daughter. The morning after, Ranjani’s mother is amused, and mockingly asks Ranjani where her clothes are. An embarrassed Ranjani looks confused and horrified.
The situation is reversed in K Ravishankar’s Hindi drama Benaam Badshah (1991). Jyoti (Juhi Chawla) is raped by Deepak (Anil Kapoor), but rather than lodging a police complaint against him, she begs him to marry her. Jyoti eventually reforms Deepak by being a dutiful wife.
In a scene in which Deepak tries to shame Jyoti by telling other villagers that he has raped her, Jyoti replies, “Then if I don’t call you my husband, what else do I call you?”
Rape jokes occasionally extend to men. In Shashank Khaitan’s Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), Badri (Varun Dhawan) is molested by a group of men in Singapore. When he recounts his horrifying experience to his friends, they laugh at him.
In Santosh P Jayakumar’s Tamil adult comedy Irattu Araiyil Murattu Kuthu (2018), a female ghost makes repeated attempts to rape two men. At a press event to promote the film, a journalist asked the director and the actors about trivialising a crime as serious as rape. “That’s why I’ve incorporated a message in our film as well,” Jayakumar replied. “I’ve reminded people that all of them can use their own hands to satisfy their urges before looking for other avenues.”
Twisted rape humour, Exhibit A: EVV Satyanarayana’s Telugu action comedy Alluda Majaka (1995). Comedian Brahmanandam comes disguised as the sister of the hero, Sitaram (Chiranjeevi), to help him seek revenge on his nemesis Peddaiah (Kota Srinivasa Rao). Brahmanandam’s character encourages Peddaiah to rape him and ensures that the police arrive in time to take him to the hospital. When a female doctor tries to conduct a medical examination on the victim, she goes into shock.
In Sai Prakash’s Kannada film Ganga (2015), rape combines with racism and bestiality to provoke giggles. The movie stars female actor star Malashri in the lead role. Kuchikoo (Sadhu Kokila) is mistaken by a group of bears to be one of their own because of his dark complexion and curly hair. Kuchikoo is gangraped by 20 female bears. His ordeal forms part of the comedy track in an otherwise grim, action-oriented drama.
In Nithin Renji Panicker’s Malayalam movie Kasaba (2016), it is Mammootty’s turn to crack a rape joke. Rajan Zachariah (Mammootty) has the reputation of being a macho police inspector. When he is stopped by a senior female inspector from smoking in the corridors and reprimanded for not saluting a superior, he apologises. Then he comes closer, puts his hand inside her trousers, and says, “I’ll make it up to you and I’ll bet you’ll walk wrong for a week.” A buoyant tune plays in the background.