One of the greatest literary characters of all time is Milton’s Satan, a sexually impotent voyeur who is tormented by the sight of Adam and Eve’s lovemaking. In his incarnation in the 1997 film The Devil’s Advocate where Al Pacino plays the egocentric Satan with soliloquies and narcissistic speeches, he says: “I’m the hand up Mona Lisa’s skirt. I’m the whisper in Nefertiti’s ear. I’m a surprise. They never see me coming. That’s what you’re missing”.
In the reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost we are directed to follow someone’s line of sight, that of Satan’s gaze with which we first view Paradise and then Hell and Chaos. But we are also complicit in his voyeurism as much as we are in the two most intensely reported and reviewed cases of recent times – the Tehelka sexual assault and the Talwar double murder.
Tarun Tejpal may as well be seen enacting Pacino’s role in The Devil’s Advocate (perhaps inspired after escorting Pacino’s colleague De Niro) and uttering similar egocentric lines: “I understand the extreme distress you have been feeling and if regret could turn time back, the force of mine would surely place us all back in a space and time before this terrible lapse”.
Satan, in the film, champions human rights. “I never rejected him. In spite of his imperfection, I’m a fan of man! I’m a humanist. Maybe the last humanist”. Similarly, Tejpal’s lines matches Satan’s semantics. “I have often spoken for the absolute rights and freedoms of women, and it shames me beyond words, to find myself located in this awful context. I would say it was a moment of insanity, except that would mean evading responsibility for it, and that I will not do. I hold myself, first and last, accountable”.
Satan is not only a seductive tempter, a rapacious womaniser but also a lawyer. After Tejpal being “smothered with regret” and hanging his head in shame he goes on to express how it wrenches him. But when the law comes after him Tejpal and Associates invoke Al Pacino who tells his son – “the law, my boy, puts us into everything. It’s the ultimate backstage pass, it’s the new priesthood, baby! Did you know there are more students in law school than lawyers walking the earth? We’re coming out, guns blazing! The two of you, all of us, acquittal after acquittal after acquittal – until the stench of it reaches so high and far into heaven, it chokes the whole fucking lot of them!”
The parallel of the characters may end here but the voyeuristic gaze of the media goes far beyond the horizons of chaos. For five years, one case which kept dodging in and out of the front page was that of the Talwars. They were convicted of double murder by a court on Monday. The story is unlikely to end here as the sentence has to be endorsed by a higher court. But jog your memory to the day when a police officer was addressing a gloating media and had already convicted the parents of the murdered girl even before the investigations started. The media loved the murder mystery and wrote story after story while the dentist couple carried on fighting to prove their innocence. Many in the media dissected the evidences, the charges and insinuations and wanted to see the couple held for the murder of their 13-year-old daughter. Is everyone a little relieved today?
Tarun Tejpal’s self-confessed assault is another case in point. Violating all codes and ethics of journalism, the fraternity went on reproducing the complainant’s email written to her editor, salivating over the details of the sexual assault graphically stated by the young woman. Some of them even mentioned her name. A social media onslaught ensured her profile was as familiar to the nation as if she were the girl next door. (Unfortunately when it is the girl next door who is assaulted they do not bat an eyelid). Mainstream media was forced to play it up, putting immense pressure on the Goa police to act. Rightly so, though now it is not clear how the spin doctors play their game and embed the media in it. The media is bursting with anticipation to discover Tejpal’s assets, his lifestyle, his liaisons, the mystery around his editor’s smugness, the intrigue around power and money. It doesn’t matter if it scars anyone’s life in the process. Neither does it help in covering similar cases happening almost every day with much more severity and evidence.
What then propels and feeds the media interest in these cases? Maybe it is because these two stories and the characters feed our love for scandal and drama. As described in The Devil’s Advocate, Tarun Tejpal and the Talwars are, “On a scale of one to ten, ten being the most depraved acts of sexual theatre, one being an average Friday night run-through at the Lomax household, I’d say…six.”