Jyoti Singh grew up in an impoverished Delhi family. Her parents hoped that she might achieve financial stability or comfort through marriage, but Jyoti never wanted that: She wanted to be a doctor.
How could someone with so little money access that education? Singh convinced her parents to spend her dowry on medical school, and they were thrilled by their driven, curious daughter. As Singh’s tutor and close friend describe it, Jyoti came from a very traditional family with a very progressive mindset. In the disturbing, vivid documentary India’s Daughter, Leslee Udwin tells the story of how Singh’s promise — her whole life — was ended when the young medical student was gang-raped and murdered on the way home from an evening at the movies with a male friend.
What does it mean to be a daughter? In interviews, Singh’s rapists describe women as delicate flowers who, if not protected, will be destroyed in the gutter. Their wooden speech, combined with the details of the murder, are profoundly unsettling. The film is undeniably compelling, and the fury and protest with which women across India responded to Singh’s murder was explosive. Delhi is India’s rape capital; who could live facing such fear and powerlessness?
Yet there’s something worrisome in the sensationalist tone. Udwin is examining a single event and the individual lives affected, but because the crime caught countrywide attention — and India’s Daughter has been banned there — and Western films so assiduously portray problems in developing countries to the exclusion of other narratives, the documentary verges on exploitative. The vulnerable people involved speak of hard truths — the loss of children, future, a sense of safety. That act, at least, deserves respect and reverence.
Directed by Leslee Udwin
Opens October 23, Village East Cinema
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 20, 2015