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.

Pink (2016)

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!

Pink

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!

Also Read: 17 Ways Popular Media Like Television & Cinema Could Be More Gender-Sensitive


With inputs from Adishi Gupta

Featured Image Credit: A still from the film

5 COMMENTS

  1. It’s equally patriarchal and sexist to assume that men cannot be gatekeepers of feminism simply because of their gender. The fact that the lawyer was a guy is elemental to make a feminist statement, because to change the power dynamics, it has to happen from within. Men’s contribution to feminism is equally important here, and instead of reifying gender roles and stereotypes, this movie takes into account men and women themselves likewise, that aid and support patriarchy (such as female inspector, society people etc.). Also, instead of making remote childish comparisons, one can read the pairing of the male lawyer to be rather subversive and much more pro-feminist than a female one. Because largely the man understands and empathises with the women, unearths the logic that the men he so called ‘represents’ employ, and expose the fallacy with subversive brilliance and humor. The idea that men are not themselves the subject of feminism is just sad, since A) they are affected by it equally, and B)Their contribution is needed for erasing patriarchy, because they will have to give up such power and privilege to those who don’t have access to it, including many men, women and others.(One of my favourite scenes was when the woman accused put the hood on her face, and he took it off, among many others) The distinction here is important to show since even feminists refuse to get out of their gender framing, as is clearly evident here. A reason why one would feel this way maybe because Amitabh has that persona, which other films have framed.

    I’m not sure this makes him have a ‘saviour-complex’, there was no patronising, there was no ‘let me speak for you’. Yes his help as a lawyer was needed, but that not by itself means that women have submitted themselves to the guy, and that their narrative is stolen. The very fact that the cross examination and their witness testimony was the central focus of the film, despite Amitabh in it. In fact, the ability of the director to have such a huge star be embodied into the narrative is by means an easy task. You have wrongly theorised the saviour complex in this film. Secondly, the lawyer is clearly not the most legitimate subject himself because he is retired and considered unstable, due to his mental disorder. This again breaks the stereotype you have imposed in your article that ‘men’ are more heard than ‘women’. Again, the savior complex reference is quite cruel to give him because you are essentializing and gendering who deserves to promote and be part of the emancipatory process.

    Secondly, the argument with respect to consent that the author makes is a problem that many debates on consent have still not cleared. Because what is consent? Highly subjective and no objective standard can be established. However, since this isn’t real life but a legal issue, it’s articulation in the film has been satisfactorily observed. Contextually, even a ‘no’ can mean something different, especially with respect to different kinks and sexualities that we have now in place. Obviously at no point in time did the film contend that the pushing away or physical reluctance was irrelevant, legally this is the context on which ‘no’ has been interpreted. The author is clearly not legally sound here. The author should have rather problematized the very black and white notion of consent, and that the film should have shown a grey area that required more thought. For instance in cases where people initially agree to have sex but later choose to not go any further, even while they’re at it. This theme was lacking.

    Thirdly, the author of the article must realize the historical consciousness and mindsets that even ‘independent working women’ (Whatever that means) may have . Let’s not put ‘independent working women’ as a category into a pedestal, intersectionality functions on various levels even within ‘independent, working women’. Oppression is the creation of a patriarchal mindset. If all female subjects were shown as perfect feminist models, then the purpose of the film is largely defeated. A character’s internalized misogyny and patriarchy is a creative choice of the filmmaker, and this character’s perspective throws light on some assumptions that even seemingly ‘open minded’ people make. It’s also funny that if you had a problem with this character doing this, you didn’t have a problem when the women were reluctant to go to the police station and file an FIR. Either way, the problem isn’t them but the social and legal environment that makes them take such decisions and have such opinions. The society’s taboo on sex work is so strong, you will find lewd references about them in songs, music, abuses and everything. This obviously makes even fairly open minded women intimidated, not to mention in a court of law which harbours such views many a times.

    Having said that, you are right that the conditions were way too ideal and clear cut, which is sad considering the world has come so far ahead, yet we are stuck on archaic questions on past sexual conduct, black and white consent and prohibitions on female desires and sexuality.

  2. Originally commented on the Fb post:
    First of all, I would love to applaud this well-written, detailed and completely honest and subjective feminist review of the film presented by the author without any fear of backlash (as the majority of the reviews present contradictory or dissimilar views on many of the aspects touched upon by the writer) I myself have some contradictory views being a feminist. However, I would point out the major agreements first. Primarily, I would agree with the loose ends mentioned in the reading which I also very much agree with, one of them being the assault of Meenal by Rajeev’s friends in a van, even I felt that the incident required some definite closure or at least a mention during the highly intense courtroom drama. And that the film required more crisp editing and that some parts from the first half could have been omitted or at least shortened. The disagreements: There is a valid reason why Emma Watson came up with #HeForShe campaign to invite and involve men along with women to fight for women and their rights, she encourages men to be feminists as well and makes them realize that being a feminist they are fighting against the gender stereotypes and the hegemonic masculinities and essentialism according to which even men are assigned certain societal images and roles based on their gender/sex just like women which they don’t always fit into or execute. And how even men can be and are victims of patriarchy in many ways like women. Deepak Sehgal’s character is one such feminist who believes in the cause of women and fights for them because that’s what he believes is right and just. Hence, the absence of a female lawyer in his place doesn’t contradict what film actually stands for or tries to achieve but rather encourages full-fledged involvement of men in Feminism as a whole because men can equally empathise with women and one always doesn’t need another woman but a feminist to understand the cause and question of women and her issues as well and can be equally staunch feminists and dedicate themselves to the cause (Justin Trudeau for the record). You could have highlighted the brief scene in the second half where while jogging Meenal covers her head with the hood but Sehgal removes it implying that she does not need to hide her true identity from anyone as she hasn’t done anything wrong, why should she cover herself in shame? There’s no reason for her to be ashamed and that she hasn’t lost her honour but rather the perpetrators have lost their honour. Also, during the scene where Falak admits that yes they had solicited but later turned it down, Meenal and Andrea react not simply because being a sex worker is looked down upon with disgrace but because of being falsely accused of something that they haven’t done. But Meenal understands that how difficult it was for Falak to accept something which she hasn’t done which is highlighted in the scene where Meenal slaps her a moment and the very next embraces her and ends up crying because she understood that. Another aspect which I believe needs to be brought up is about the common school friend of Meenal and Rajeev. He does try to come up with a solution to establish peace between the two parties which is obviously not acceptable (an apology from the women) but nevertheless he does distance himself from his other male friends and proves that he does not promote equal male entitlement like his friends. His character is a strong hope hinting that men are on the verge of attaining feminist consciousness but require some more guidance/ training/awareness/knowledge/sensitization as its not that easy to shatter the patriarchal ideologies and sexist/ male chauvinistic behaviours/attitudes in an average man which has been internalised ever since he was a child thanks to the inevitable gender-based socialisation which children are almost always exposed to (same applies to girls as well). About the title, I guess, it was very much implied in the film and if still one could not grasp its significance then the poetry by Mr Bachchan during the rolling of end credits does make it quite clear as it talks about redefining and re-establishing one’s identity and true-self, the essence of being a woman and a human which highly suggests the shattering of connotations and symbolism associated with the traditional feminine pink. Also, regarding the online posters, they way I perceive this issue- it was used as a promotional tactic for obvious reasons to gather as many people as possible to the theatres since it is a mainstream commercial movie at the end of the day and not only is it doing a great business but the word of mouth is building up excitement and curiosity amongst people and spreading the much required awareness and indulging in feminist consciousness being raised and lets admit that the movie is nothing short of a much needed gender sensitization workshop coupled with entertainment, mystery, thrill, humour and their likes. So, overall I believe it does a lot of justice to the cause and comes across as a huge pathbreaker from androcentric mainstream movies that happily sideline women and their causes or dismiss them as mere sex objects. This was my personal opinion and Feminism in India can obviously agree/ disagree with this.

  3. Questioning the Patriarchal attitudes: A review of the film Pink by Shoojit Sorcar
    by Jayashubha
    Instances of rape are quite common in India. According to National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB), about 93 rapes take place in India every day. Two different perspectives emerge in relation to cause of rapes.
    There is a prevalent patriarchal view with a base in feudal mindset, which blames the victim. It argues that rapes do happen due to lack of safety practices by victim themselves. Their patterns of dressing with modern outfits, their openness and friendliness interacting with men, their physical mobility beyond certain hours, their activities such as drinking titillates and encourages men to perform the act. Hence it argues that it is for the women to have a control over themselves. This means that they should only resort to traditional clothing, restrain from interacting in free manner particularly men, restrict their physical mobility beyond certain hours and keep themselves away from activities like smoking and drinking. Women with similar patterns according to them are of ‘questionable character’.
    The counter view argues that acts of rape have a base in patriarchal and male chauvinistic attitude of men. It states that if factors such as dressing, openness, mobility, habit of drinking are by itself a factor, then what could explain instances of rape and molestation of children and even aged women, who are also victims. Even traditional women following the said codes are too victims of rape. It states that it has a base in male ‘masculine’ attitudes which believes women bodies as objects and a property. ‘Force’ is seen as a sign of masculinity of men. This view holds that this attitude hardly pay attention to the factor of ‘consent’ and ‘willingness’ even within and outside the institution of marriage. Their act is seen as a right of display of masculinity and exercise of control over women.
    The film by Shoojit Sorcar titled ‘Pink’ tries to bring out the hypocrisy related to debates that take around cases of molestation and rapes. The expansion of autonomy and emergence of spaces through modernity, economic independence and autonomy leading to behaviors equated with ‘consent’ are questioned.
    This is done through the three characters Minal, Falak and Andrea who represent independent modern urban women working in Delhi. Their dressing, friendliness, drinking and participation in rock concert get perceived as indications of invitation and openness. Rajdeep, Dumpy and Vishwa represent men with attitudes perceiving independent women as cheap, slut and whore. In the events that take place, as an act of self-defense one of the aggressors Rajdeep gets physically attacked. The aggressor, in the name of teaching them a lesson resort to mischaracterization of the three women.
    The film tries to argue that wearing skirts, jeans or T-Shirts, being present in Rock concerts, laughing and being friendly with men, having drink in a company or even with sexual past does in no way represent openness. Women do have freedom to decide and to make choices. Saying ‘No’ is a clear expression of unwillingness.
    Much of the debate happens at the backdrop of arguments in the courtroom. Some of the dialogues (translated into English) which try to counter presumed view include:
    • “Any girl at any time cannot go alone with men. If this is done, it is assumed that the girl has willingly issued license to touch”
    • “During night when girls go out on the roads independently, then vehicles slow down and so their windows come down. No one gets this great idea during the day”.
    • “Liquor is seen as representing a sign of bad character, only for the girls. For boys it is only an health hazard”.
    • “If you are present in Rock show, then it is a hint. If you are in library or temple, then it is not a hint. Venue decides your character”.
    • “In urban areas, no girl can live independently. Men can live but not women. Lonely and independent women confuse the men.”
    • “The girls who go out to Party and have a drink, they become your traditional right to own”
    • “If women go out with men for a dinner or drinks, then it is their choice. It is not a sign board that they are available”.
    • “‘No’ is not just a word. By itself it is a complete sentence. This does not require any rationale, clarification, explanation or sentence.”
    • “These boys must realize that No means No. The girl who says so could be known person, could be a friend, could be a sex worker or even your wife. ‘No’ means no and when someone says No, you stop.
    The questions raised by the film acquire importance in contemporary times. It points that the problem lies with the societal attitudes towards female autonomy and female behavior, which is anti-women and patriarchal. It is not the restrictions on female autonomy and behavior that is required but a change in the patriarchal mindsets of men and anti-women societal attitudes.

    About the Author: Jayashubha has done her M.Sc in Organic Chemistry. She works as a Teacher.

  4. I liked the film immensely … and I think it is a path-breaking initiative . Quite a few emotions of Indian women suppressed traditionally have been boldly and sometimes subtly brought home to the liberal discerning mind which is educated enough to feel the agonies reserved for the fairer sex in India . The movie , as correctly observed above , falters a bit – though not very much- in the first half . The Histrionic ability and tremendous personality of Amitabh Bachchan … (not to mention his superb dialogue delivery … which is the backbone of the film) ,the easy and natural way the girls performed , and the great peculiarly Delhi-type acting of the main villians’ friend carries the film with elan on it’s shoulders . In a nutshell a film very very much worth watching !!!

  5. Consent is a critical issue. Its use selectively, however, is abhorring. Society does not give any importance to the issue of consent when it is men’s consent that is required. Whether or not a man wants to pay alimony he alone must decide. After all it is his hard-earned money. Not even supreme court has a right to direct him in this matter. Likewise everything, absolutely everything in a marriage should also be based on consent and consent alone.

    Why do feminists claim to smash patriarchy? Rights of the men are hated but patriarchal responsibility of men are taken for granted. It is patriarchal responsibility forced on men that make it legally binding on him to take care of women and their children. If you hate patriarchy dissolve all such laws. But feminism and honesty are mutually exclusive.

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