Apart from covid and the daily depressing news, the deaths of Jayaraj, Bennicks and George Floyd have shocked us all. They were victims of police violence and a crumbling system. However, they are not the only ones. Every year, there are thousands of women and men who are victim to police brutality, often succumbing to their wounds. Most names don’t even make it to the headlines. This year has, in general, been a wake up call to us all, and it’s time to understand the lives of the people involved in this failing system. It’s time that popular culture, movies and literature focus more on the marginalized groups of people who are often made to be victims of torture and barbaric murders. It’s also time that we understand our own position, as members of society, with regards to these custodial deaths. One way to do this is through cinema and popular art, where we watch the journeys of prisoners, how they are failed by justice and how we can help in making the system a more equal one.
There have been some incredible films that deal with the difficult genre of custodial violence. They are unabashedly truthful and fearlessly depict the subtlest, most gruesome incidents of police brutality. These films are:
The Hate U Give
Released in 2018, The Hate U Give is an American movie written by Audrey Wells and directed by George Tillman Jr, based on the novel of the same name by Angie Thomas. It follows the life of Starr Carter as she straddles two opposing lives: the poor Black neighbourhood in which she lives and the white-dominated prep school in which she studies. Everything changes one night when her best friend, Khalil, is killed by a police officer. Watch this powerful movie on Netflix.
Detroit released in 2017 with a star cast of John Krasinski, John Boyega and Anthony Mackie. Another powerful film that explores racism and police violence in the US, Detroit is set in 1967 during the peak of the Civil War. Police violence, RnB music, the aftermath of the Vietnam War — all of these strings of American history are tied together to make this iconic film.
Khuda Kay Liye
Starring Fawad Khan, Shaan Shahid and Iman Ali, this Pakistani drama film was written and directed by Shoaib Mansoor, released in 2007. It deals with Western beliefs of Islam and the consequences of radicalisation, all through the story of two Pakistani brothers who are musicians. When Mansoor, played by Shahid, falls in love with Jane at music school in Chicago, things take a turn for the worst and he is arrested by the police who are suspicious of his identity. The next half of the movie depicts the custodial violence committed on a daily basis at the Guantanemo Bay detention camp, where Mansoor is imprisoned for a whole year. This film is shocking and heartbreaking, but relevant to understanding how violent authorities can be.
New York is a Bollywood film directed by Kabir Khan, starring Neil Nitin Mukesh, John Abraham and Katrina Kaif, which released in 2009. This movie was a hit at the box office while also carrying a socially relevant, and jarring message. The three actors play youngsters in New York whose lives change after the September 11 terrorist attacks. They meet Zilgai, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whose heartbreaking monologue narrated how he was wrongfully accused and arrested, and severely tortured by American cops. This movie is an important one because it has all the filmy-ness to reach a wide audience, and an important message about how innocent people are tortured and arrested because of their religious, racial or communal identity.
Directed by the iconic Govind Nihalini and starring Om Puri, Smita Patil and Naseeruddin Shah, this 1983 movie is always going to be a relevant one. Om Puri plays the role of Anant Walekar, a well-meaning police officer who gets caught up in politics and the tangled system. Ultimately, Anant is a grey character who employs violence and brutality against criminals, and the movie ends with him turning himself in. Ardh Satya was, like all of Nihalini’s films, way ahead of its time and asked its audience to really think of the complexities of the police officials’ lives.
Mai Ghat: Crime No 103/2005
Mai Ghat: Crime No 103/2005 is a Marathi film directed by Ananth Narayan, starring Usha Jadhav and Ravi Singh in the lead roles. It is a beautiful film that explores how police brutality and murder has affect on the victim’s families. Where’s the justice for them? Based on a true story, Usha Jadhav plays the role of a mother who has been fighting 13 years for her son to get justice, after having been tortured and killed while he was in jail. In a historical verdict, the alleged police officer is convicted with the death penalty. The film starts with the note “Once you become brutal you are no longer the police,” which is something to think about.
Visaaranai was India’s official entry film to the Oscars in 2016. Directed by Vetri Maaran and based on the book by M Chandra Kumar, the film stars Dinesh, Aanandhi, Samuthirakani and Kishore in the leads. The Tamil-language film depicts the lives of immigrant labourers who are arrested in Andhra Pradesh, accused of having terrorist links, and consequently tortured brutally while in custody. The film was the first of its kind in India to magnify the very real acts of violence that are committed by the police onto the arrested people, barbaric, merciless violence that is often unaccounted for.