Wednesday, April 25, 2007

postheadericon PROVOKED (the movie)

Jag Mundhra

Cast: Aishwarya Rai,
Miranda Richardson, Naveen Andrews,
Nandita Das, Robbie

Release: April 2007

In 1989, Kiranjit Ahluwalia housewife of Indian(Punjabi) descent living in London, set fire to her husband, Deepak, as he lay in a drunken stupor in their bedroom. Kiran admitted to killing him in self-defence (she was afraid for her life after he came close to killing her several times in their abusive 10-year marriage) She was sentenced to a life in prison because the judge ruled that self-defence could not be used in her case as her last physical beating from her husband occured more than two hours before the killing signifying that the murder was premeditated and not in self-defence.

Kiran's cause was taken up by a women's group called "The Southall Black Sisters" . SBS is a non-profit group working against domestic violence and they brought her plight to the attention of the media by organising rallies and gathering public support. When her appeal was heard, in September 1992 at the Old Bailey, Ms Ahluwalia’s plea of manslaughter on the grounds of "diminished responsibility" was accepted. The judge sentenced her to three years and four months in prison — the exact time that she had already served.

By acknowledging the state of "diminished responsibility" and of "being provoked" the British court allowed, for the first time, "the battered woman syndrome" as a legal defence, acknowledging that a battered woman doesn't always strike out in self-defence immediately, many a time the hurt and the abuse will lie smouldering within her and she might strike out even at a time of low abuse, because she believes she will be abused again. Kiranjit’s case upturned the British judiciary and her appeal and retrial are now the stuff of every basic criminal law text in Britain.

So, while the story itself is compelling...I thought director Jag Mundhra could done a much better job with the movie. The movie "Provoked" was based on Kiranjit Ahluwalia's memoir "Circle of Light". Aiswarya Rai who plays Kiranjit, was inconsistent...she was good in some parts but failed miserably when trying to play the shy, battered, non-English speaking Kiranjit. She does get better as the movie progresses or so I thought. The character of Deepak Ahluwalia, the abusive husband, played by Naveen Andrews (of "Lost" fame) could have been fleshed out some more...the viewer doesn't get to know Deepak well and why he was so violent towards his wife. The movie seems to point to alcoholism, but the viewer realizes there has to be something more. The one actress who stole the show is Miranda Richardson (who is also in prison for killing her violent husband and who befriends Kiranjit in jail).

Having said that however, I think the movie should be seen because it speaks very strongly about domestic violence suffered by women. And in recent years, South-Asian women in Canada, especially from the immigrant Punjabi community, have witnessed a rise in the number of domestic violence victims. "...One in every four South Asian women is abused - physically,
emotionally, financially or psychologically,"
says Baldev Mutta, community development officer at the Peel Health Department, Toronto, a government agency.

This raises some troubling questions:

Why is this happening to this group of women? How do we empower them? Why are these men so violent? Do they need help too? What happens to the children when they witness such terrible abuse in their homes?

I guess there will always be more questions than answers.

Read more about Kiran Ahluwalia go HERE


Sanjay said...

Hey Lotus, Nice review there. I saw the DVDs for this movie at the desi store, but I passed it by. One reason is I cannot watch violence against women on screen or otherwise. This comes from a very personal place for me.

The questions you raise are indeed very relevant and sadly complicated. It comes from a place of first a male dominated society and culture. That is threatened as soon as you move to place like North America. There are a lot of avenues for women to find their own way and come to their own as individuals. This threatens the traditional male hold on things.

The couples often can use help with counseling which may be a dirty word in some cultures too.
Also living in a alien society without the community support that is available at home is hard.

Kids are irreparably afected by witnessing this abuse. And that is hard, some of whom may end up as abusers too?

On a unrelated topic this just stirred memories of how poorly some Native American women fare, some crimes against them don't even get investigated. Link from NPR here.

Thank you for the post, it made me think as your posts always do.

Asha said...

Hi Lotus,I saw snippets of this movie on B4U and looks like a good movie on real life story.Ash has done a great job.

I would burn him too if I can't get out that is!Violent people are always be violent no matter what counseling you get.Look at the tirade of Alec Baldwin on a 11yrs girl.She must feel very cozy with men in future!!!!!

hellomelissa said...

have you read the book? i wonder if it tells the story better than the film. of course, i almost always like the book better! :)

ML said...

Any kind of abuse really bothers me to the core. It's very disturbing and yes, frustration would kick in and I would enjoy setting the abuser on fire myself!

Thanks for the review! :)

Beenzzz said...

This sounds like a good movie to see. It seems like the immigration process alone heightens the chances of abuse. I know that sounds like a general statement, but I think added stress, change of the environment, and new freedoms causes a shift of the South-Asian (and other cultures too) male/female dynamic. It's quite sad actually. The early Indian immigrants who went to Guyana saw a huge rise in wife murders. This was due to the fact that the ratio was skewed. I think for every 20-30 men, there was one woman. So, the women held power and could divorce men and take up a new lover or husband. This put them in great danger sometimes. Of course, as more Indians migrated to Guyana, this pattern died out.

starry nights said...

I am glad this movie is out, even if it is not good it will send a message and maybe educate people about domestic abuse.I think womwn have to be strong and even though our society dictates that we stay with our husbands, if there is violence and abuse one must leave.I don't think it is nice for the children to be watching this abuse.they are going to grow up thinking this is the norm.

Sai said...

Hey Lotus

Nice review. I think the reason for such abusive behavior could be male dominated society and if the son sees his father abuse him mother then that is what is fed to him. Lack of respect for women.

From a woman's perspective it could be being an immigrant and uneducated....therefore having very few options in life. It is a lot more complex than that.

Deppe said...

Nice review. Call me jaundiced, but I can't forgive the director for casting Ash in this role.

Some other comment above this one mentioned the effect of domestic abuse on kids. Thought I'd mention this book I just finished "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha" which chronicles such a family in the words of an 8-yr old. I think it's brilliant.

Radha said...

Somehow I never found myself wanting to watch this movie...mainly because I've never seen a single good movie from Aishwarya Rai or Jagmohan Mundra.

Your post is thought-provoking though. I guess wife-beating is closely linked to the issue of femnism itself. Women who dont see themselves as independent people get easily victimised. Hence the stats show that the incidence of dmoestic violence are most in societies where single women or single women are looked down upon. Do you agree?

Radha said...

typo - I meant 'Single women or single mothers'!

Lotus Reads said...

Just wanted to say a BIG thank you for all the comments! I am preparing for a trip...will respond asap. Thanks again, ya'll!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanjay!

So appreciate your input, thanks! Thank you also for the link...I just bookmarked it and will definitely give it a listen.

Yes, I think you make a valid point when you say that many of the immigrant men who come from a patriarchal and male-dominated society feel insecure in a world where women are accorded equal opportunity and it is my belief many will deliberately keep their wives or women from going to school or taking a job to prevent the women from asserting or empowering themselves.

Yes, many kids do grow up to be abusers themselves (it is a learned behaviour after all) and many will be violent with their own mothers and sisters, encouraged by the male members of the family. It's very sad.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Asha!

It's funny but many women were against Kiranjit Ahluwalia's release from prison. They insisted a murder is a murder and that she should have been kept behind bars...I guess we will never know what it is like to be a battered woman until we walk in one's shoes.

Hi, Melissa!

No, I have not read the book and don't think I will. The movie was disturbing enough, to see it all in print once again would be too much. I know what you mean about books generally being better than the movie though!

Hi, ml!

When I tell people the story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, the first question I am asked is, why did she take matters into her own hands, why didn't she go to the authorities? What most people don't realize is that so many of these women don't even realize that there is help out there for them. They see no other way out but to kill their tormentors. Many live with their inlaws and receive no help from them...the girl's family don't wish to get involved for the shame of it all. The woman is really left with no choice. It's sad.

Lotus Reads said...

Wow, beenzzz, that's an interesting bit on immigration from a few decades ago..yes, I can see why the men would fight over the women. Today however, I think immigrant men have very stressful lives. Many a time their qualifications are not recognized in their adopted country and often, despite being well educated, they have to take up menial jobs just to keep themselves and their families afloat. Obviously this leads to depression, drink and violence,with the women or their children bearing the brunt of it.

I honestly think immigrants do not receive the kind of counselling they need...I have been rallying for more ever since I can remember but no one in authority is listening!!!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Starry!

Yes, it's not a well made movie, but an important one and I suppose it will do its job to highlight domestic abuse, atleast I hope so.

hi, Sai!

You are absolutely right...all the factors you mentioned come into play, including the fact that the women are totally secluded and are totally dependent on their husbands or torturers.

Hello, Deppe and welcome!

You know, I thought the same thing. I thought the director made a grave error in casting Aiswarya as Kiranjit. The movie needed an actress with gravitas, not a glamourous doll. It sure spoiled it for me.

Thank you for the Roddy Doyle recommendation. This book came highly recommended by someone else as well, I must get my hands on it!

Hi, Radha!

Oh definitely! When women do not earn their own bread so to speak and are financially dependent on their parents, brothers or husbands as the case may be, they are definitely bullied and more vulnerable to abuse, especially the emotional kind. Financial independence makes it easier for them to seek help when needed. Having said that however, South-Asian women are very conscious of society and how it will judge them, so even if they do know they can go seek help, many of them won't for fear of what it might do to their reputations.

Chimera said...

i think i shall also give this movie a pass esp. because of the bad reviews I've been reading about it.

But yes I do agree that the questions you have raised are pertinent to women's lib.

and I have seen even modern,financially-independant women put up with abuse just because they are too frightened to let go of the emotional bonding or frightened of their future without a husband/boyfriend. Add to that an Indian society where the parents are all against divorce, hopefully things change for the better in the future.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Chimera!

Yes, the things we will put up with just because we don't want society to frown on us! It's too bad that a woman seldom gets the support she needs when it comes to a divorce. I know a couple of women who left their marriages because of emotional abuse and cheating but they tell me being a divorced woman in an INdian society is a 100 times worse than being in a bad marriage. That is just so darn sad!

diyadear said...

seems like a gud movie worth watching.. will try to c it.. thanks for the review..

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

Fab and thorough review. Thank you so much!

Praveen G K said...


A very nice review...I must catch up with this movie...the theme of the movie is pretty catching up with your blogs after a rather long hectic spring semester...:-)

J at said...

That's sounds like a very provocative film, one that might be difficult to watch. Similar to "The Burning Bed" perhaps, here in the U.S. It's interesting to see the differences in how different cultures, countries, ethnographies (not really the word I'm looking for...ethnic groups, I should say), and economic classes deal with this issue, which is, at its heart, probably pretty much the same for all of the women and men involved.

A Reader from India said...

Hi Lotus, An excellent review as usual. I wouldn't want to watch this movie, it sounds too dark and disturbing.

A few months ago, as soon as the Indian domestic violence act came up, there were reports of some women in South India who complained immediately. It seemed as though they had been waiting for the act to be passed all along. A really sad state of things.

Lisa Francisco said...


Hah! how are you? i didn't read the post because I didn't want to get spoiled in case you did so by accident. I do want and plan to see this movie.

how are you? how's the munchkin and her practicing?


Sharanya Manivannan said...

What did you think about the controversy over misrepresenting the Southall Black Sisters and Kiranjit herself? For me, that was the big reason not to go see the movie (at least, not to pay to see it). The filmmaker has a responsibility to portray fact as fact. If it had been based on a true story, but with altered details, artistic license is applicable. But it's very unethical, in my opinion, to claim to tell a true story about non-fictitious people and then toy with that story to make it more cinematically palatable. What do you think?

Annitya said...

thanks for writing about it. I'm gonna watch it tonight or in the weekend.

Lotus Reads said...

@Diya ~ You're so welcome! Thanks for reading the review!

@Maryam ~ What a nice surprise to see you here! You're welcome!

@praveen ~ Hi!!! Was wondering where you had gone to! Thank you so much for stopping by to say "hi"

@J ~ As always, thrilled to see you! I have heard of "The Burning Bed" and it might be a good movie to watch in order to compare and contrast. Thanks for reminding me.

Lotus Reads said...

@ A Reader ~ I have often wondered about the domestic violence it effective enough? Are lots of women coming forward? Is the government able to do enough to protect these women? Does it also cover inlaw violence? I have also heard that it might now be a criminal offence to illtreat one's parents? How far have we progressed with that law? So glad you stopped by and gave me your input, thanks!

@Lisa ~ Always a joy to hear from you! The munchkin is doing really well...she has recitals coming up...will let you know. Keep your fingers crossed for her if you can. Sorry I haven't been around...was in Chicago and only just got back!

Lotus Reads said...

@Sharanya ~

So happy to see you here! Yes, you are right the two of the Southall sisters closely associated with the case weren't very happy with the movie at all, but Kiranjit Ahluwalia, as far as I know, has praised the movie and seems copletely taken with it.

Frankly, I didn't think it was a well made movie. Casting the glamorous Aiswarya was a huge flaw in my opinion because Kiranjit was anything but glamorous, but to address your question if so much artistic license can be taken with a true seems to be happening more and more these days. Take the movies "Queen" and "The Last King of Scotland" just to name two recent ones , both are based on true life characters and on defining moments in history, but in both cases, drama seems to have taken over those grey areas, areas where facts are not easily available. Guess this is slowly becoming like the genre of Creative non-fiction where the truth is being embellished to make it more palatable.

Missed seeing you at "Kriti", I was so hoping you would be there!

@Annitya ~

Thank you for the visit! Took a look at your blog and I think this movie is right up your alley. You must tell me what you think of it. Will visit again just as soon as I settle back in to a routine..I have been away!

Sharanya Manivannan said...

I think creative non-fiction is perfectly legit as long as it is acknowledged as such (for example, "Fur", a completely imagined film about what photog Diane Arbus might have done in certain situations). The true story behind "Provoked" is obviously very powerful. A filmmaker with nobler intentions (even if that only means deciding to justify the liberties taken with a "based on" disclaimer) and a good actress could have done great justice to it. Although I haven't seen it yet, I often feel I have a cultural responsibility to watch films like this, so I probably will. But the iffy factual errors, the casting of Aishwarya and dodgy stuff I've heard about the director (he used to make porn films, apparently. Now he changes tacks and moves on to domestic violence?!) have already pre-coloured my opinion.

Re: Kriti... aaww! Did you enjoy yourself? I just wasn't meant to be at Kriti '07.

Megster said...

Hi Lotus, thanks for the post. I watched the trailer and do not have the courage to watch the movie. I don't know the kind of person that Kiran is, but I can tell you this: anyone can get abused. The shy, submissive stereotype is the obvious, but not the sole, target.

Also, physical abuse rarely starts immediately. It's preceeded by a control, domination and psychological abuse first. Finally, when it gets physical, the bar is set really low. I researched this a little bit when I used to be a journalist, and the stats are alarming.

Also, it occurs more in chauvinistic society because that's where respect for women is low.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sharanya

Sorry for the delayed response. I know what you mean when you say you feel it's your cultural responsibility to see films like "Provoked", I feel the same way. Next on my list is "Parzania". If you end up seeing "Provoked", I would very much like to know what you think. Hope you're not disappointed!

I think Kiranjit's story was powerful and the fact that her case merited a change in British Law makes it even more newsworthy...I just wish the movie had been handled in a more professional manner. Anyway, Kiranjit seems happy with the film so who am I to protest?

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, mesgster!

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to your comment and to welcome you to my blog! I'm so glad you visited!

Yes, I agree, just about any woman can be abused..there is no stereotype..once you take away a woman's sense of self-worth you can pretty much get her to believe she deserves to be abused.

Funnily enough, I didn't feel all that moved as I watched the movie, the director just didn't make it happen for me...however, it reminded me of the recent abuses that the South-Asian women here in Canada have been suffering and I felt it was good that someone (even if he wasn't such a great director) was highlighting this problem.

ANITA said...

Hey Lotus,
I did not see the movie but read the reviews and saw little bit of trailer.
I am happy for the woman as I am a survivor of the domestic abuse.


Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Anita!

Many, many thanks for stopping by and for introducing me to such a great site/blog. I browsed through it very quickly, but I intend to bookmark it and go back to it as often as I can.

I hope you are doing well now. Please feel free to stop by anytime.

Megster said...

Lotus, I left you a response on my restaurant tag..just wanted to ensure that you saw it:)

Lisa Francisco said...

Stopping by to say hi! Have a nice monday!


jamesreegan said...

Any kind of abuse really bothers me to the core. It's very disturbing and yes, frustration would kick in and I would enjoy setting the abuser on fire myself!