Patharagitti (Butterfly) is a Kannada film that pretends to be a film about sexual violence against women, but it’s really about a boy named Aakash (played by Srikanth), a handsome dude so cool that he wears lip gloss, sweater vests and dismounts from his bike by swinging his leg over the handlebar.
He’s also a do-gooder and a hopeless romantic who falls in love with Bhumi (Prajwal Poovaiah) at first sight and wants to marry her even though he’s never spoken to her before and knows nothing about her (he’s followed her around aplenty though) – he’s convinced their love will last forever.
The first time he ever speaks to Bhumi, he pretends to be a customer where she works and tells her he wants to marry her. She instantly rebukes him and sends him packing. But the next time he passes by, she tells him she loves him and they prance about to music, against various backdrops and in hideous outfits. However, it turns out Bhumi is only using Aakash – she makes him buy her stuff all the time and run errands for her. She’s demanding and mean and believes that Aakash deserves this treatment because he’s a man. Meanwhile, Aakash has been gushing all over the place about their wonderful, everlasting love (striking plenty of poses as the camera zooms in on his dimples) when he finds out she’s been lying to him all along, and confronts her about it. That’s when Bhumi says the only thing that makes sense in the film – she shouts at him for thinking she could love him when he’d never even spoken to her before, and asks if he thinks girls are like fruits in a market that can be bought. And then she gives him a resounding slap.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. There’s the small matter of the film’s strange prologue, which begins with a woman. What is she like? Oh, your standard cray-cray, evil type who wears very little clothing and cheats on several men. This woman is abducted and raped by a bunch of masked men, one of whom claims she broke his heart. Then the film goes one to recite statistics on rape in India and Karnataka, and points out that Bangalore has the fourth highest number of rapes in the country. Completing the Tastelessness Trifecta, the prologue includes a slideshow of photographs of corpses of women supposedly raped and killed. And then the voiceover ends by saying the film is a message from men to women. No, this film was not commissioned by the Men’s Rights Activists. Why would they need to when it often seems like Mainstream Cinema = Men’s Rights Activism?
The film isn’t a sympathetic or insightful portrayal about sexual violence: it’s a warning. There’s a moment when a jilted Aakash yells at a female friend (after telling her to shut her mouth) that women are like butterflies, who flit from thing to thing never understanding what their dreams are or what they really want. Obviously Aakash was thinking of that scene from The King and I, in which Yul Brynner as the King of Siam says, “A girl is like a blossom, with honey for just one man. A man is like a honeybee, and gathers all he can. To fly from blossom to blossom, honeybee must be free. But blossom must not ever fly from bee to bee to bee.”
After Bhumi slaps Aakash, she is abducted and raped – a standard fate for the women in the film who’ve been shown to deceive men. Mercifully, this happens off-screen (but the director, Eshwar K, who also produced and wrote the film, couldn’t resist showing us scenes in which other women are raped). Bhumi believes the rape was fate’s way of punishing her for ill-treating Aakash.
But Akash, incredible human being that he is, stands by her side even at this dark hour, enduring slurs and beatings for her sake. It may seem like what happens to Bhumi is a big deal, but don’t be fooled – everything that happens in the film is to show what an amazing man Aakash is.
Aakash bleats endlessly about the difference between prema (love) and kama (lust) and just wants people to listen to his story of love (hilariously, no one’s interested). He cries to show that he’s sensitive. People drop their sunglasses on the road so that he can stop riding his bike to pick it up for them. Evil, two-timing girls in mini-dresses get abducted and raped so that he can save them from the baddies. The woman he claims to love gets raped so that he can show how deep and genuine his love is (after all, he says in the film, if people can love those with disabilities (!!!), can’t he love a woman who’s been raped?). In the end, Bhumi falls at his feet when she realizes she’s been a fool all along – if he can love her after she’s been raped, he must really be something, right? Especially when he tells her, “Your body is spoiled, but not your mind.” They get married (while you have an apoplectic fit).
A brief pause for random stuff that we didn’t get
Why does Aakash, who owns a flower shop, appear dressed as a policeman in the beginning?
Why does one of Bhumi’s brothers wear a long-haired wig and lipstick through most of the film, only to just as inexplicably ditch them in the end?
Why does a demure and mournful Shakeela – so demure that her saree blouse is long enough to reach her hips – make an appearance in an item song about lust? And why then outsource the Shakeelaesque jiggling to a younger woman?
To return to the deep, so deep meanings of the movie
Redonkulous, insane misogyny pervades everything here, and amidst stupid interludes with crude humour, there’s the strong message that the high number of rapes has to do with the fact that women ‘misuse’ their freedom. And just to throw more stupidity into the mix, the film says that we need to take the law into our own hands when it comes to rapists, because the justice system is inadequate. When the hero catches Bhumi’s rapists and gives them a good thrashing along with her brothers so that their manly egos are soothed, they tie the men up in the forest and pour petrol on them. You’re meant to infer that they’ll be burned to death for their crimes. So yeah, the film says. Rapes are women’s fault, really, but do indulge in a little lynching now and then – makes everything so much better.
With the exception of Aakash’s granny, the women in the film are portrayed as downright crazy, whether they feign madness or not. And they never speak to each other about something other than men.
There’s no way in hell that this film passes the Bechdel test.