Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A eunuch serial killer: A review of 'Murder 2'

Murder 2 is a Bollywood film released in 2011 about a serial killer of call girls. The Murder 2 storyline is heavily based upon the South Korean movie The Chaser (Chugyeogja, 2008), but in Murder 2, as the Times of India put it, "the antagonist is kind of Indianized by giving him a eunuch identity." The killer's inconsistent gender identity, based on a distorted image of femininity, also bears similarities to the villain in Hollywood's "The Silence of the Lambs," a story which in turn was imitated by Bollywood in Sangharsh (1999). The killer in Murder 2 has the same last name as the killer in Sangharsh. Additionally, the place where the bodies are dumped evokes the burial place in The Ring, originally a Japanese film.

Murder 2 is suspenseful, revealing part of the complex inner life of the hero, Arjun (Emraan Hashmi), who fell from grace at his former police job but nevertheless retains a strong impulse to defend the poor and powerless from criminals. To pursue justice, he works behind the law, without notifying police wherever possible. He struggles with his Christian faith because he is angry at God. He is clearly entranced by his girlfriend Priya (Jacqueline Fernandez) but is not prepared to express love and loyalty to her. The serial killer pursued by Arjun is also an unpredictable character, and the film contains a fair amount of the creatively horrifying violence one expects from such a story.

Meanwhile – spoilers to follow! – the most memorable part of the film is its treatment of India's "eunuch" gender identity as something that is supposed to make the serial killer seem even more unsettling. The killer, Dhiraj (Prashant Narayanan), is a sadist who once kept his own wife in a cage. When hired as a sculptor to make Goddess idols, he made demons instead. He was tormented by his sexual desires for women until one night he had a vision that the Goddess told him to castrate himself. He visited a eunuch named Nirmala and said, "Make me one of you." A flashback scene shows him in a red sari and a long-haired wig, surrounded by other eunuchs draping him in a veil and clapping their hands before a bonfire. Even after his castration, he continues to think of women as "devils." It is not clear whether his personal identity is more feminine or masculine. His personal journey to castration was certainly atypical and, unlike most other eunuchs, he wears masculine clothes most of the time, putting on women's dress only when killing girls.

Nirmala remains his mentor. When she visits him at the police station, she addresses him as "Sakhi" - "friend" in Hindi, which can also be a girl's name - but uses the pronoun "he" to refer to him when speaking with the police. Nirmala tells an official: "You are making a mistake by entrapping the devotee of the Goddess! I will levy a curse on you that will make you suffer badly!" The official challenges her to explain how she can hurt him. She warns him that his phone will ring immediately and then he will be castrated, too. In Nirmala's words: "You will dance at marriages at nights and beg at traffic signals during the day." (This is traditional behavior for eunuchs in modern India.) The phone rings with a relevant message, and so, presumably due to the officer's fear of offending Nirmala, the criminal is released. (The question of whether Nirmala actually possesses magical abilities is never answered.)

Nirmala goads Dhiraj to visit the local temple of their goddess Bahucharaji, the patron of eunuchs. Nirmala funded the construction of this particular temple with her dancing money and Dhiraj sculpted the idol. A younger, maverick police officer concerned about the release of the criminal follows the pair to the temple and watches them. Dhiraj acknowledges the presence of his pursuer by staring at him with a strangely gaping mouth as if he is cursing him.

When Dhiraj senses that he is cornered, he briefly prays to the goddess, then suddenly slays three people including Nirmala, the priest serving the goddess, and a girl whom he'd previously left for dead. His willful, deceitful offense against another eunuch and against the eunuch's goddess ultimately pins his evil on a source outside of the eunuch community and outside of his castration. It is made reasonably clear to the viewer that he was a sadist before he chose to be castrated and he remains a sadist after he renounces the eunuch's life. This softens what is otherwise an unflattering portrayal of eunuchs in the film.

Originally posted Sept. 11, 2011 to Helium Network.

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