Pink: Why No means No
Pink is a tour de force which deconstructs the walls of misogyny and patriarchy which have ossified into becoming the status quo
Sonali Ghosh Sen Delhi
There’s a moment in the movie, Pink, when lawyer Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan) walks across the city in his training mask and finally at the park removes it and breathes in a lungful of fresh air. That’s how the audience feels too, at the end of the movie, because Pink is a movie that grabs you by the throat and hurtles you down an Alice in a nightmare tunnel of misogyny, until you want to breathe in air, free of toxic sexual gaze, free of an unwanted touch and feel free to just turn around and say “No”.
That’s the thought which makes Pink so much more than its plot.
The plot is something we have seen before – three women who go afoul of the wrong group of guys, who they met at a rock concert, and the consequences that they have to face in a feral city which almost always has to be Delhi. But what makes Pink different is that these women fight back. Not as vigilantes or candlelight protesters. But with a beer bottle, with their resolve, with a court case. They turn around and say “No.”
In Hindi films, a woman is objectified, stalked, and paeans are sung about her body and what men want to do with that body, and she is rarely allowed to say “No” to all the sexual advances she gets in the form of pelvic gyrations in item songs or stalking in the name of love. So, when you see this very message as the plot pivot of a Bollywood movie, Pink has won half the battle because you can watch the movie just for that glimpse of empowerment that it offers.
The three young leads make the single woman in the city come alive. Minal (Tapsee Pannu), Falak Ali (Kirti Kulhari), and Andrea (Andrea Tairang), could be you and me. So you feel the rush of fear and disgust, of being stalked, threatened, abused and worse, in your plush seat in the multiplex. These three make the film personal for all women because, growing up a woman in India, you have gone through what they have gone through. Maybe in a lesser measure, but which woman hasn’t been groped in a bus, gawked at on the street or had lewd comments passed about some part of her anatomy? That’s the understanding that makes you feel the reel could any moment give way to the real.
Pink also shows a compassionate understanding of sisterhood, a complex, deeper bond than the Dil chahta hai male bonding that mainstream cinema has offered us till now. For instance, when Falak, who had earlier sought to apologise to their molesters, suddenly turns around and tells Rajvir Singh (Angad Bedi) on the phone that she won’t, it’s as spontaneous as a tigress protecting her young. The camera pans on Minal’s face, with a slight smile of finally being vindicated, of finally being supported by someone.
However, the film is always in danger of frittering the pace and all the goodwill of its fabulous first half to the hyperbole of drama in the second. The narrative is not above sermonising or falling prey to clichés that it tries to prevent, points are sometimes hammered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the prime mover, Sehgal’s character is inconsistent. Sometimes, he gives in to his mental illness and sometimes he is sharp as a tack, depending on how Mr Bachchan wants to play him in that shot. But he does deliver in the key scenes, where he moves in for the kill on the prosecution’s witnesses with all the talented stealth of a thespian.
It’s not to say the second half is not manipulative. The prosecution’s witnesses tick all the columns in shades of misogyny – the Neta’s nephew, the unsympathetic woman cop, the baby-faced molester – and you know where your sympathies are going to lie. But you are willing to be manipulated because between the legal wiliness of the prosecution lawyer (Piyush Mishra) and the hard-hitting rebuttal of Sehgal is that little word, “No.”
A woman does not give consent to have sex , no matter what she is wearing, no matter whether she has had a drink or two, no matter what time she’s been out with a man. The point is hammered home repetitively, and with every repetition it gets stronger. Through the character assassination, through slut shaming, through desperation, it gets stronger. The execution could sometimes be simplistic and populist but the message is strong enough to seep through.
Director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury makes an assured debut in Hindi films by letting the script be the hero, and keeping everything else to amplify the alienation that the girls feel which includes the haunting “Kairi Kairi” track. The taut editing keeps our focus on the main issue, and the cinematography, shot at night or mostly indoors, gives us a feeling of the claustrophobia the girls feel in the city. It’s only in the girls’ home with its little delicate, personal touches that one can breathe safely.
As the credits roll, and you can finally see the events you had only imagined for the last two hours unfold on-screen, it is all as cathartic for the audience as it is for the protagonists. As you walk out of the theatre, you remember Minal, Falak and Andrea and by identifying with the characters, not the actors who play them, you are identifying with a film that stayed true to the issue at its heart. And for that, Pink is a film that has to be watched.