British filmmaker Leslee Udwin, director of the banned documentary India’s Daughter, has responded to a number of allegations levelled against her in recent interviews to The Hindu and The Economic Times.
Calling a number of charges being made against her a “smear campaign”, she gave detailed and precise answers to questions that were posed to her. Here is what she had to say:
On why she focused on India when rape and gender discrimination is a global problem
Speaking to The Hindu, Udwin said, “It was not the horrific rape that made me come to India. The extraordinary, courageous and unprecedented protests that followed made me think: ‘My God, they are fighting for my rights in India.’ I was so grateful. I have myself been raped. It is not surprising — one in five women globally have been raped. So I am one of the 20 per cent.”
While one of the accusations against India’s Daughter has been its focus on rape as an inherently ‘Indian’ problem, Udwin has now revealed what viewers didn’t see in the version that got leaked. The Indian version was meant to end with statistics of offences against women across the world. However, the version that went viral was the BBC edit, which doesn’t have these figures for a reason Udwin calls “mundane and ridiculous” — a house style enforced by the Storyville format that disallows statistics on any film they exhibit. “It upsets and angers me that people in India would have seen the film without these statistics,” said Udwin.
On whether rape-accused Mukesh Singh was indeed paid Rs 40,000 (negotiated down from Rs 2 lakh), as reported by some media outlets
In all her interviews, Udwin has vehemently denied this charge, calling it “malicious.” She revealed that she was, in fact, asked for money by one interviewee (identity not yet known) and chose not to interview that person. Speaking to ET, she said, “As an interviewee, you either do it for free or not at all.”
On whether she deliberately fled India after the Indian government decided to ban India’s Daughter
In her interview with The Hindu, she said that she came to know about an FIR issued against her on Tuesday, March 3, while she was screening the film for a few senior editors in Delhi. The first thing she did was call “around seven lawyers” whom she knew in Delhi. While everyone advised her to leave on the immediate next flight to England, warning her that her passport would be seized, Udwin decided against leaving. “If I left early, they will think I fled, that I was in the wrong and had something to hide,” she said.
On why she chose to keep the questions asked to interviewees out of the documentary
One word: aesthetics. Udwin has made it clear in The Hindu that India’s Daughter owes more to feature film production values than to journalism. She explained: “I personally switch off when a dry narrator’s voice tells me information in a documentary or asks questions. The answers are what is interesting and dramatic and insightful. I did not want my voice to appear at all in the documentary, nor did I want a narrator, or dry experts opining.”
On her methodology of filmmaking and the allegation that Singh did not know he was being interviewed
Udwin has strongly denied this charge, calling it “absolutely untrue.” In her interview with ET, she explained that while she prepared lists of questions and interviewed everyone who spoke in English, the others were handled by her co-producer. Udwin would hand over the list and, in turn, the co-producer would jot down translations of what was being said so that they could come up with follow-up questions.
“We never did any secret filming. As a world-renowned producer who has won a British Oscar, I would never do a thing like that,” she said to The Hindu, adding that they needed to put a mike on Mukesh — implying that secret filming would have been very difficult to do in such circumstances.
On the allegation that she made the film for commercial gain
Despite backing from the BBC, Udwin told The Hindu that used her own savings and borrowed from her mother as well as a friend to finance the documentary. Reportedly, she is in debt for £120,000, although she will be making money from it over the years by selling the film to other countries. Interestingly, she claims that she gave it to NDTV for free, out of a personal desire to not make money from the Indian version.
On why Nirbhaya’s male friend, who was with her the night of the crime, did not feature in the documentary
She admitted to ET that her team did try and approach Nirbhaya’s friend for “several long months, to persuade him to be interviewed.” However, he did not want to and therefore, after a point, Udwin gave up.
On her alleged ‘insensitivity’ as a filmmaker (by choosing to air the views of a rape-accused)
Udwin feels that there is no room for insensitivity to the victim from her film when Nirbhaya’s parents — who were part of the documentary and watched the final cut with her and the film’s editor — have given the film their full support. In both her interviews, she quoted from a message sent to her by the father, which she claimed said: “We are very happy with the work you are doing and remember when you walk on the right path, there will always be obstacles and there will always be thorns.”