Pink exposes India's real face

Connecting to real cases and issues, it was a film waiting to be made.

 |  8-minute read |   24-09-2016
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The film Pink is a profound and perfectly-timed cinematic social critique of the current times, as well as a stinging social comment on how we treat our women. Whether we objectify and commodify them, or treat them as persons deserving respect both for physicality and opinions.

Pink powerfully portrays the precarious position of women in the rapidly changing urban landscape, by reflecting reverse mirror images of prevalent stereotypes, clearly indicating:

(i) rapidly shifting social mores that depict dichotomous definitions and duality in societal expectations of desirable conduct from both sexes, especially women.

(ii) that the time has come when  women shouldn’t turn pink in apologetic embarrassment when men themselves are unwelcome "intruding" (both literally and figuratively) violators in the first place. A similar sentiment is echoed, loud and clear, by Emily Doe in her famous rape victim impact statement that was poignant in painting the abominable act and the entire process of justice (case elaborated below).

(iii) Gnawing gaps in contrasting worldview and values between the first gatekeepers of public order, manning police stations, and the public seeking redress in distress, which has fostered in the people an all-pervasive obsessive instinct to shun even an initial interaction with the state’s law and order instruments - forget dreaming of success in filing a FIR.

Mercifully, the aversion of the police to register an FIR is likely to see a change because of the Supreme Court ruling prescribing putting of all FIRs in the public domain (internet), similar to its earlier path-breaking ruling on revised procedures pertaining to arrests, especially of women

(iv) issues of housing/habitation of working women in urban areas,when living alone invites labels of "easy pick" or being a "loose woman"

(v) labyrinth of Indian legalese and justice juggernaut that crawls, even though the film compresses time for cinematic convenience.

pinkbd_092416102303.jpg Pink powerfully portrays the precarious position of women in the rapidly changing urban landscape.

This film was waiting to be made. A series of repeated events over the last few years have fuelled frustration and heightened public helplessness. Some apparently intractable issues thrown up in the recent past have been:

- The protracted legal battle waged singularly by murdered Nitish Katara’smother to bring to justice a politically powerful person who tried to manipulate systems across all levels. It indicated deep-rooted malaise in the system.

- Drunken, point-blank shooting of Jessica Lal caused national outrage as killer Manu Sharma initially went scot-free (and later mocked the legal system by partying while on parole).

- The Priyadarshini Mattoo’s rape case that eventually led to conviction of an IPS officer’s son under public scrutiny and press pressure.

- Issues of consent, implied or otherwise, arising out of former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal’s sexual assaulton his employee.

- The rape case of Suzette Jordan in Kolkata that involved unnecessary character assassination of the victim and highlighted her courage in coming out in the open as a rape survivor and becoming an activist.

- The Keenan-Reuben murder case, in which standing up against eve-teasing led to brutal butchering of two boys.

- The infamous case of Bhanwari Devi who was murdered brutally by Rajasthan’s political network on allegations of promiscuity and prostitution, but what was overlooked was the sexual exploitation by men across the social spectrum. The case also demonstrated anabominable duality and social hypocrisy.

- Also connected to this is a rape case involving a Rajasthan woman pradhan who raised uncomfortable issues in a village (Jag Mundhra made the film Bawandar on a similar theme)- and let’s not forget the gangrape of Phoolan Devi.

- The gruesome Nirbhaya gangrape and the reprehensible public comments of the legal counsel in the aftermath is another case in point.

- Recently, filmmaker Mahmood Farooqui was convicted on charges of rape under the new law defining rape.

- Then there’s the ongoing debate on the need to include marital rape in statute books – it has raised opposition from the established order. 

- And lest we forget, we have Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame who faces a rape charge himself and the case hinges on the woman’s right of withdrawal of willingness by saying "no" (the word at the core of Pink) during intercourse itself.

- The Emily Doe rape case in the US (2015), in which former Stanford University varsity swimmer Brock Allen Turner was found guilty of sexual assault, brought to the fore issues of alcohol, implied or assumed consent and memory blackout. It resulted in Turner earning a "gentle" short sentence on the ground of safeguarding the career of a promising student.

Besides the above mentioned social context and cases, one can only guess about the possible cinematic inspiration for Pink. One can’t miss the similarity of subject from the film The Accused (Jodie Foster, 1988), that created a public debate about law on abetment and apparent assent; another film, North Country (Charlize Theron), depicted a true life story of a miner’s two-decade fight for the right wages during which she faced character assassination while seeking justice (observe that as recent as the '80s and '90s, even in the US, women were judged for their sexual conduct).

Pink touches the widely held belief about women, prevalent in the Indian male psyche, that "Ladkee Hansee to Phansee". It portrays the pathos (ably enacted by Taapsee Pannu) as to how even introductory familiarity can go awry for girls from Hinglish urban middle-class backgrounds, in metro cities or even smalltowns.

Pink portrays the continuum in contrasting socio-cultural consciousness between countryside and urban India (sociologists define this duality between Bharat and India that has existed throughout history); there has been mutual exclusivity between the two but post-Independence, this exclusivity has been increasingly eroded by interpenetrative interaction facilitated by galloping population growth and employment-driven urban migration.

And when these two world views collide, the results are unpredictable and unimaginable. This collision in consciousness is creating conflict and there is a functional need to redefine the role of women, earlier prescribed for a predominantly patriarchal social system. 

There are several other issues posing similar questions: such as how to address increasing divorces, arranged/inter-caste marriages, ethnocentric and religious prejudices, old-age care issues, gay rights, etc.

Pink is also a social comment on the world view of today’s youth,which redefines the concept of "fun", fashion (tattoos, body piercings), relationships (casual, romantic or even extramarital) and personal statements through mobiles, motorbikes and cars. 

This world view is influenced by internationalism and has created cultural clones or connected global villages where boundaries of time, space and mind are merged by the internet - literally and figurativelyin the real and virtual world.

Since the dominant value of the West is strong individualism and heroism, films such as The Accused and North Country were wholly carried by individual characters (ably portrayed by heroines); in contrast, the female bonding in Pink is a mirror image of male bonding depicted in films such as Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Rock On, 3 Idiots, Kai Po Che, et al.

Pink chooses the safe option of three characters. A strong single portrayal of woman empowerment hasn’t succeeded well in the past, if we consider films such as Subah.

Without undermining the effort put in even for a moment, one can say that the film may face criticism as it can appear to treat "consent" as a standalone issue and runs the risk of trivialising sex; sex and consent can be two different things and sex, as we know, comes in individual variations in the private bedroom - and one doesn’t know where boundaries emerge, merge and cease; and that initial consent can boomerang (Julian Assange’s case is an example).

Moreover, what happens when someone differently-abled gives consent or where it is obtained by threat?

Maybe the film could have touched on the need for further education and continuous training (Barack Obama and Joe Biden have launched a campaign on this aspect titled "It’s On Us"). But one must concede that the film can’t cover all imaginable contexts and messages.

Pink portrays perfectly the ground reality of an archetypical police lockup, almost appearing as an open public urinal seen commonly in India (the director is successful in bringing to the audience the nauseating smell from it, as if diffused from the screen).

Something needs to be done about this by the police administration, before the top court rules it as an essential element of basic human rights.

Mercifully, though the film broaches the subject of politico-administrative nexus obliquely, it doesn’t go over the top as seen in other films handling similar issues. After all, manipulation of FIRs is a common occurrence and a matter of common knowledge even where the mighty are not involved. As aforementioned, this abhorrent tendency is likely to abate with new Supreme Court ruling.

Pink also ably depicts that the first reaction of an individual is to resort to a reflexive retreat when faced with instruments of law and order, as being left alone provides relative protection and any protracted interaction may invite unimaginable consequences costing cash, time and harassment.

One must appreciate the directorial finesse of Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury in creating a wonderful work in Pink and that too in his very first attempt to directa Hindi film. He must also be credited for extracting excellent performances from the fresh cast, especially Pannu and Kirti Kulhari.

Amitabh Bachchan has used his time-tested act of an intense gaze and baritone dialogue delivery. Dhritman Chaterjee as the judge is good while Mamta Shankar is present for just a few frames. Piyush Mishra is okay and Angad Bedi stands out while facing Amitabh in the witness box.

The court set is fine but has unmistakable Bengal flavour with a photo gallery of Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Bose, besides the usual personalities.

Overall, the movie is likely to remain a favourite among women for a long time and is a praiseworthy effort. Bravo!

Also read: Pink introduces us to feminist man and patriarchal woman

Also read: Pink is our everyday tragedy that never gets old


Sushil Kumar Sushil Kumar

Film enthusiast and a senior IAS officer

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