Had Pink been made in Hollywood, it would have been labelled “Oscar bait.” It makes all the right noises. The story is one that will launch a thousand op-ed pieces. In an echo of Shah Rukh Khan’s gesture, the leading man’s name appears after the names of the female actors. The cast makes room for well-regarded performers – Ray and Mrinal Sen regulars, Mamata Shankar and Dhritiman Chatterjee (who plays a judge named… Satyajit). The tone of the filmmaking, for the most part, is echoed in the tone of the score – ruminative plink-plonks heard every now and then, as though someone slipped a sleeping pill into the pianist’s drink. It’s a well-behaved score. Pink is a well-behaved movie. It doesn’t even have an item number over the closing credits, which is something most Hindi films feel naked without. Recall the recent Baar Baar Dekho. The hero spent the movie time-travelling through divorce and infidelity and death. After returning, you’d think he’d sleep for a week. But there he is, with sunglasses, jiving to Kaala chashma. The film says “Make time for true love.” The closing credits say “Thrust your pelvis at the camera.” Pink remains focused throughout. Over the closing credits, we see the event that sets off the story. Three girls, after a rock concert, decide to spend time with a few boys, friends of an acquaintance. Rajveer (Angad Bedi) forces himself on Meenal (Taapsee Pannu). She assaults him and flees. The boys go to court.
Pink may be the first film to literally bridge the divide between the (perceived) sensibilities of the multiplex audience and those that frequent single screens. The film is structured as two distinct types of narratives: the relatively understated pre-interval portions that show us what it’s like to be a single woman in the country’s capital, and a rip-roaring court case post-interval. (In other words, the first half could be titled Flamingo, the second half Fuschia.) It shouldn’t work – except that it does. It’s Damini for today’s times. We don’t get the ejaculatory shot of a frothing beer bottle spilling its contents over the hapless domestic help’s sari. Here, Meenal breaks a beer bottle on Rajveer’s skull. Earlier films showed upper-class men preying on lower-class women. Pink shows us that upper-class women are targets too. Indeed, all women. Which explains the representative nature of the characters. Meenal shares her flat with Falak (Kirti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Tariang). One Delhi-ite. One Muslim. One from the North East.
As in Damini, a male lawyer stands up for the woman on trial. Should it have been a female lawyer, like Rekha in Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye? (There, a boy dumps a girl after she gets pregnant. She takes him to court.) I don’t think so. If feminism is about equality, then men who fight for women needn’t be seen as saviours. They’re just… supporters. Like any good “issue film,” Pink makes us think about these things without lecturing at us. Which isn’t to say the film has no lectures. It’s just that they aren’t pointed at us. They are addressed to the judge, in court, which may be the only place oratory doesn’t sound odd anymore. It helps that the orator is Amitabh Bachchan, who plays Meenal’s lawyer, Deepak Sehgal. Bachchan isn’t playing Deepak Sehgal so much as late-career Amitabh Bachchan. Another film named after a colour comes to mind: Black. But if it’s not a new performance, it’s still an effective one. And very entertaining too. After a particularly incompetent witness takes the stand, Deepak says, “I object. To this awkward performance. He is overacting.” I laughed, and then wondered if Piyush Mishra, who plays the prosecuting lawyer, was squirming. Every line he utters sounds like “Oink!”
A lot of the time, director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury is saying “oink” too. He gives Deepak a pollution mask and makes him look like a Hollywood serial killer. He gives Meenal a collarbone tattoo of soaring birds – we’re meant to infer the irony that her wings are so easily clipped. Or something. And he loads the odds against Meenal to the extent that her case begins to resemble an underdog story. The boys have political connections. They have the cops in their pocket. They have that smug, self-righteous lawyer, a stand-in for all Indians who get all Arnab Goswami on women’s personal lives. (The nation wants to know…!) Plus, Meenal isn’t… pure, the way Indians define the word, the way Indians define their women. As with the Jodie Foster character in The Accused, there is the suggestion that maybe this girl who drinks and makes lewd jokes was asking for it. (This is the crux of Pink’s argument: No matter what the girl may say or do, no matter what she wears, no matter what her history is with men, when she says no, it means no.) And what does Meenal have on her side? Two easily excited girlfriends who keep annoying the judge by piping up, out of turn. (The boys are impressively stoic. Or at least, they’ve been coached well.) And a lawyer who’s been diagnosed with a mental condition and who says he doesn’t want to cross-examine the first three prosecution witnesses. It’s Devina vs. Goliath!
But other parts of Pink are beautifully subtle. Consider the scene where Meenal goes running in a park and stops for a breather, when she sees Deepak staring at her. (At that point, he hasn’t yet taken up the case. He’s just a neighbour.) She stares right back. Later, another neighbour – another man – stands in his balcony and looks towards the girls’ flat. The film doesn’t make much of this by way of a plot point. But a hint is left hanging, that had this flat been occupied by three unmarried men, these neighbours wouldn’t be looking. Unless, of course, this was another kind of pink movie.
I wished Meenal had been more convincing. We’re told she’s a brave girl, and it’s not hard to see why she’s reduced to a shadow of her former self, especially after being abducted by the boys’ friends and molested in a moving car. Fear has a way of clipping your wings. There’s a moving scene that highlights the difference between our public and private selves, when Meenal is asked to repeat a lewd joke in court and she cannot because her father is present. But Taapsee Pannu overdoes the tentativeness. Kirti Kulhari, though, is marvellous. As is her character Falak, who is willing to compromise and say sorry to the boys in order to avoid legal proceedings, but when they abuse Meenal, she loses it. She loses it again in court, when the prosecution lawyer accuses her (and her friends) of soliciting. You can see in her the many women who put up with many things until they cannot put up with them anymore. Another film would have loaded these characters with sensitive backstories. We’re not even told why Deepak Sehgal takes on this case. (A daughter who found herself in Meenal’s position, maybe?) But there’s no reason, because you shouldn’t need a reason to do what Deepak does here. Pink doesn’t want sympathy. It just wants fairness.
- Baar Baar Dekho = see here
- Damini = see here
- Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye = a remake of the Telugu film, Nyayam Kavali (see here)
- Black = see here
- The Accused = see here
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.