Bottomline, when a girl says no, she means no. En O, which means `nahin’, nada, don’t want. It means go away, don’t bother me. It can also be a prelude to stronger language if the aggressor in question refuses to back off. The young woman can wear short skirts or jeans or Tees. She can be present at rock concerts. She can laugh and reach out to a young man in a friendly fashion. She can have a drink or two in his company. She can even be, shudder, sexually experienced.
Hearing the phrase ‘are you a virgin’ in a Bollywood film in a meaningful, non-smirky manner? Fantastic. Underlining a woman’s freedom to own her sexuality? Priceless.
When she says no, it means only one thing. No grabbing. No forcing. Take that groping hand and mouth away. She isn’t easy. She isn’t a person of loose morals. She is not, never, ever, asking for it.
That it has taken Bollywood so long to make a movie which says it so clearly, without beating about the bush, without prevaricating or using obfuscatory language, tells us a great deal about the country we live in, and the social mores that its women have had to live by, buried under crippling patriarchy and misogyny and a sense of mistaken shame—if you are pawed or worse, you must have done something to provoke your molester. So cross your hands across your chest, put your head down, and keep shut.
The three female protagonists of ‘Pink’ are your regular young women. Minal (Taapsee Pannu) is an events manager, whose work can extend into the late hours. Falak (Kirti Kulhari) works in a corporate set-up where image is all. Andrea (Tariang) is from the ‘North-East’ (Meghalaya, she says, but clearly no one is interested in the specifics : girls from the `North East’ are fair game, even if they are covered from top to toe). The girls share a flat in a ‘posh’ South Delhi locality, and we meet them first when they are heading back in a cab in the early hours of the morning, disturbed about something that has just happened.
As the plot (oh joy, a plot, verily), terse and on-point, unravels, we get to know that the trio was in the company of three young men, after a rock concert in Surajkund in Haryana. Things take an ugly turn after the dinner that follows. The women have to make a run for it, and one of the young men ends up needing stitches in a deep bloody gash above his eye.
It doesn’t a genius to discover that the political might backing the injured Rajveer (Angad Bedi) and his friends, Dumpy (Raashul Tandon), Vishwa (Tushar Pandey) and another fellow (Vijay Varma) who wasn’t there but is happy to engineer and participate in the humiliation of the women, will try and turn the tables: instead of being the victims, they will be painted as the aggressors. How do you silence a courageous young woman who has the temerity to ask questions? You label her cheap, slut, whore: the film mutes the word ‘rxxx’, but you can see it emblazoned on the face of the guy who says it out loud and the girls who have to hear it. You can see it in the body language of the female cop (Shankar, just so) who helps nail the wrong person for the crime.
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Pink reminded me of Jodi Foster’s The Accused in which her character is gang-raped in a bar: because she wears a short skirt, and has been drinking, she is made out to be a woman on the make. Something similar happens here, but it is all three women who have to bear the brunt of the rage that such male entitlement comes with: ‘aisi ladkiyon ke saath toh aisa hi hota hai’.
Pannu, Kulhari and Tariang, all very good, typify the dilemma of the modern working young women ( they live in Delhi, and the young men who accost them are very much a part of a certain kind of coarse North Indian ethos—they bully but are too cowardly to do this on their own, needing patronage and protection from the nexus of `netas’ and police which exists only to protect them, not call them out on their wrong-doing), but this could happen anywhere , and not just in India.
The young men are also spot on. Bedi exudes menace : when he snarls out that awful expletive during the trial, you feel like shrinking, and wondering — how did we fail this generation, this youth of today, if they still feel like this? Or is it just a continuation of the way generations of men, only surface smooth-and- suave, have felt about women? Scratch a little, and putrid patriarchal pus comes pouring out.
The other three guys are the kind of hangers-on who slip stream alongside a strong leader : if he is having fun (`mazey’ is the word used, and you feel faintly grubby after hearing it used in this manner), then so can they. ‘Behti ganga mein sab haath dho sakte hain’, and girls who refuse to give in and lie back and enjoy it, be damned.
How dare they?
The major weak link in this film is the elderly lawyer played by Amitabh Bachchan. (Piyush Mishra takes away some of the sobriety in the court scenes by his unsubtle notes, but he is not so germane to the film’s scheme of things). Deepak Sehgall, we are told, is suffering from bipolar disorder, which means mood swings, which means Bachchan alternating between chewing out dialogue and being growly and forced. He takes on the girls’ case, and we want to cheer because he is the Bachchan and will make everything come right. But because he is Bachchan, the director handles him with kid gloves, and there goes the naturalism with which everyone else is playing their parts so effectively.
For the most part, the thespian comes off mannered, and you want to shout out and say, no, this film doesn’t need Bachchan to be in a pulpit of his own, when he is meant to be taking apart those who are in the witness box. Only occasionally during the second half ( most of which is spent in the court-room with the excellent Chatterjee as the presiding judge), Sehgall forgets he is Bachchan the Baritone, and lights up the screen with a couple of superb moments. It is in these moments you are face to face with the One and Only Bachchan, who should have been in exactly that mode through the film: why are his directors so chary about telling him what to do and how to do it, when he never tires of saying that he is a director’s actor?
Those sporadic moments make you nostalgic. Is there anyone out there who can craft a solid, challenging role for Bachchan? Anyone at all? Being awe-struck is not a good place for a filmmaker. I am waiting for the return of the actor who, back in his day, used to routinely blow my socks off in a way no one has even come close to, in all these years.
Meanwhile, Pink, perhaps called thus because the colour is girly, subverts it and turns it on its head. In its best bits, the film blazes, its call-to-arms radiating outwards and forcing us to acknowledge uncomfortable truths. It has something to say, and says it with courage and conviction. Gather everyone and go; and while you are at it, spread the word.