How many times has the value of consent been taken for granted in our society? How many times has our culture considered consent, and specifically, sexual consent, important enough to be acknowledged and discussed? Consent, as simple as it sounds, is not simple to apply in a global culture not only because women are never actually given bodily agency at any point in life, but also because standarized laws do not fit individual lives. There is hardly a space where women can have the agency in terms of their own sexual experience without judgment, and express their sexuality which is squelched, scrutinized and questioned at every point.
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Angad Bedi, Andrea Tariang, Amitabh Bachchan, Piyush Mishra and Dhritiman Chatterjee.
Director: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s ‘Pink’ takes this very aspect of consent as its central theme. This is one of those hard-hitting films which talks about the ‘character assassination’ every woman undergoes because she chooses to take charge of her life, and determines its course on her own terms. The film actively questions the pre-conceived notions held by the society with respect to independent women, the type of clothes they wear and the number of men they befriend or choose to sleep with.
The film quite effectively deals with the theme of consent, and specifically, sexual consent. A resounding point that the film means to convey is straight-forward and simple – that a NO is a sentence in itself and it needs no further explanations. Even though there were fundamental problems in how the movie dealt with this, we’ll get back to them a little later!
The opening sequences of the film show two sets of people in their cars late at night. In one car, a young man, lying at the backseat is bleeding profusely, as blood runs down from one side of his face. In another car, the camera shows three women, visibly anxious and nervous over something that shouldn’t have happened. This scene, which shows the visible consequences of the then unsaid and incomprehensible turn of events, highlights how obvious it becomes for any person to blame women even before knowing the complete story. Perhaps, the opening scene was also intended to pre-tell the coiling of the entire narrative that would end up blaming the women who, inspite of being the survivors, are constantly blamed for hurting male ego and dismissing male entitlement.
These women, namely Meenal (Tapsee Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari), and Andrea (Andrea Tairang) share an apartment in a plush South Delhi neighbourhood. Their lives take a major turn the night they attend a rock concert. Post which, the three women are constantly cornered by Rajveer and his friends. Consequently Meenal files a complaint against them. But the influential Rajveer Singh (Angad Bedi) in turn seeks a trial on the charges of attempt to murder against her, because of his head injury. The legal proceedings blame the women for soliciting the men and claim that they turned aggressive because they were refused money. The women take the threats, the intimidation and the sexism by these men head-on and what follows is how they confront them with the help of the lawyer Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan) in a court-room battle.
The first half of the film deals with how the lives of these women get affected one by one because of the unrest created by Rajveer and his gang of dudebros (the kind we are all aware of). One of them is forced to take a leave from her work because her picture has been morphed, another woman is threatened through text messages and phone calls, one is abducted and assaulted in a van. And finally, their landlord is threatened to kick them out of the house, but he chooses to believe in them rather than believing a stranger. Yes, sounds like a more or less idealistic situation in today’s times!
There is an inherent patriarchal mindset which is so normalised by now that rarely any Hindi movies bring them under scrutiny, but this one decides to bring them (at least some of them) under the lens. It isn’t presented matter-of-factly that in our society, certain “kind” of girls need to be “punished”, that their social friendliness and gestures are an invitation to men for sleeping with them without even asking them, and that women are blamed for their own assault and violence.
Although the film falters in stretching the screenplay in some parts of the first half, the heated courtroom trials add dimension and life to fit the screenplay in the second half of the film.
Tapsee Pannu (Meenal) stands out in her role as a determined woman who is not ready to back out and is ready to take up challenges. Kirti Kulkhari’s character of Falak is shown as the most collective of all, who, (and we loved her for this) brought in the importance of consent even when it is a sex worker we are talking about. Andrea Tairang (Andrea) does justice to her role with an impactful presence and enforces the idea of the shallow mindsets of most people who think that women from North-East are an “easy-target.”
It is through Deepak Sehgal, a retired lawyer, that the ideas of how the society has maintained the rule-book for women for their character-sketch, and how grim the reality of a patriarchal culture (which most of us are happy to be in denial of) is, are enforced. With a deadpan expression on his face, Bachchan delivers a clean, intense and convincing performance and doesn’t falter, throughout. However, the development of his character takes longer than usual to occupy shape in the mould of the screenplay.
Having said that, being a film that aims to vouch for gender parity, a female lawyer that defends the case of the three women would have been much more empowering than deploying the character of a male lawyer. It would not only have given the characters a greater sense of empathy, but also unfolded the narrative in a much more convincing way. Choosing a male lawyer for the same purpose might reinforce the idea that a man shunning patriarchy, questioning male entitlement and being the “saviour” is more convincing than a female lawyer doing the same job.
This further reinforces the idea that we are somehow less convinced or perhaps are not convinced enough to take her seriously. And usually, when women make a valid argument, the very nature of their arguments are usually deemed as “bossy” or “intimidating”. The film, therefore, at this point, seems to contradict the very idea it seems to be enforcing and this fault is so glaring, it’s hard to miss it. If this still doesn’t seem like a convincing enough argument, take a close look at the most viral posters of the movie. They have a nauseatingly dominant image of the angry Amitabh Bachchan, whereas the women (who are meant to be the protagonists) are laughably just doll-sized as compared to him. Irony just died a thousand deaths!
What also didn’t go well with me was how certain things were not tied into the larger narrative of the film, which led to a lot of loose threads. One of which was the character of Sehgal’s wife. She had absolutely no relevance in the bigger picture of the narrative and was a passive and silent character throughout and eventually given a sad demise. What was the point, really? Another thing that wasn’t developed on and was almost erased was the traumatic scene where Meenal was abducted by Rajveer and his friends to “teach” her a lesson. The incident was not given a definite closure and was left hanging like it was nothing. Similarly, the stare sequences in the beginning involving Amitabh Bachchan were never reasoned out throughout the film. The way in which he stared and the way it was normalised, without it being given the space for further explanations in the course of the film, was downright creepy and uncomfortable.
Besides that, it also needs to be noted how sex work is looked at in the film. While we shouldn’t have much hopes from the patriarchal and misogynist Rajveer and company, Falak’s resignation to the idea of being paid for sex in front of the court was not taken positively even by her friends (who were shown as empowered, independent women). Even when they weren’t involved in it in the first place, their reactions just furthered the already prevailing association of shame, anxiety, guilt and exclusion with sex work and sex workers.
Now, coming back to the portrayal and representation of consent by none other than Mr. Bachchan’s character! The way he keeps asking Meenal whether or not she said “No” to Rajveer when he was forcing himself on her, is discomforting to say the least. It is not just the absence of a “No” that determines the lack of consent, but also the absence of a definite “Yes.” Meenal kept reiterating that she pushed him away, but evidently it wasn’t enough. Flawed and incomplete consent lessons, anyone?
Regarding the title of the film, Shoojit Sircar, in one of his interviews said that the title is meant to destigmatise ‘pink’ as a feminine colour and the various associations that are made with it. But, during the entire course of the film, not even for once, this association has been substantiated and most people are reading it as, “film about women and ‘women empowerment‘, hence pink.”
The subtle sledge hammering of what needs to be done in a society choked with prejudices, widespread misogyny and outright injustice is evocative enough in the film and the impact remains solid because of the climax which ultimately collects the bits and pieces of hints from throughout the film and gives it a defining edge, ultimately creating an unbiased space. Of course, male saviour complex is playing itself parallely. And this brings us to the submission that, ‘Pink’, however far from flawless, is an important film. Not only because it deals with a lot of important issues, but also somewhere breaks conventions and reinforcements of mainstream cinema in a lot of ways. At the end of the day, it will make you question a lot of things that are wrong with us even today!
With inputs from Adishi Gupta
Featured Image Credit: A still from the film