2016 has so far had two films taking up the very pertinent, past, current and ever present issue of sexual harassment and more importantly, consent. One did it with the most lightest of touches, offering up an experience that bordered on the visceral, taking advantage of all its genre conventions. Your eyes may widen, foreheads may extend and your mouth may be agape when you hear the name of the film. It was called Phobia starring the ever dependable Radhika Apte and was directed by Pawan Kripalani. One of the finest films this year. Now comes Pink, directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury (screenplay by Ritesh Shah) starring Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang and Amitabh Bachchan. The treatment of the subject in Pink is the stark opposite. Phobia is a mood piece, it’s all atmosphere. In Pink, every proclamation is accompanied by the sound of a gong. Sentences are book-ended with a pause as if the speaker is waiting for applause from the audience. Is this what the current generation would call a mic-drop? Then yes, and they sure are mic-drop worthy. Is this great cinema? Not always. Is this what the current cultural climate requires? There is a solid case for that.
Phobia had a woman – after an incident of sexual assault – suffering from agoraphobia and is forever locked inside an apartment. In Pink, the big bad outside world is shown in all its goriness. This creates a fearful atmosphere in the first half of the film as the women are themselves living in fear even as they go out and about for work, meet friends or for a run. We see many shots of public places, one of the women chased on the roads of Delhi, stalked in a coffee shop, the landlord attacked and forcibly thrust into an auto, the women traveling in the metro or a cab. The women in Pink stay in the same place even as they are trying to run away from something they fear. Minal’s (Taapsee Pannu) daily run in the park looks more like she’s running away from someone. So much so that a neighbor (Amitabh Bachchan as lawyer Deepak Sehgal) looks on creepily and begins to take interest in their curious behavior and goes on to defend them in the court. Wonder what was on Chowdhury’s mind – #NotAllMen or that a man is still needed to save three women. It is a film by a director from West Bengal and several in the technical crew hail from the state and yet the reference here is from what is traditionally the weapon of right of centre – a lawyer supposedly with a mental condition, for all practical purposes retired, returns to the courtroom in aid of the wronged, because there is justice to be meted out. Rings a bell? Or should I say a gong? It is the Gita.
Sehgal’s mental condition (harking back to Sunny Deol’s alcoholism in Damini) though doesn’t amount to anything. He has problems focusing in the court initially. He gazes upon a cockroach, the judge has to call his name twice to get his attention and even requests him to speak louder (which brings a chuckle because he just asked the man with the most famous voice in Hindi cinema to speak higher). Is it a subtle (the only subtle part about the film?) injection of heroism for the Bachchan persona because Sehgal rises above it all and doesn’t land a single false note in the trial. His ailing wife and her meeting with the defendants don’t tell you much either. Chowdhury’s strengths – from his past films – have always been the easy ebb and flow of relationships. The camaraderie, the matter of fact exchanges or the slice of life and at times the oh-so-Bengali existential ruminations. But Pink talks about consent. There is no relationship without consent first. So right from the get go, Chowdhury is a fish out of the water. That’s not a bad thing. Just that he is operating outside of his comfort zone and what is an artiste if he isn’t someone who’ll push himself into a situation where he could possibly fail.
A picture of Subhas Chandra Bose hangs behind the witness stand and informs us that nothing from here on will be handled with grace or non-violence. That aforementioned gong is in full use now and truth bombs will be dropped by both the sides of the case – one representing the defendants and the other representing the stigma, the larger thinking and perception behind these issues among the general public of this country. Or even elsewhere as many recent cases have demonstrated. Thankfully the setting is a court room drama that lends itself to dialog and therefore Pink doesn’t come across as empty pamphleteering. Even the media is cordoned off. Now Phobia is good cinema but how many are willing to buy the premise and the subtext running through it and assimilate the cloaked (or virtually non-existent) message. Maybe we do need a film like Pink on an important issue like this to drive home the point for so many educated imbeciles like Rajveer (Angad Bedi) who, in their privilege and facade of masculinity, don’t get the simple meaning of a word like No.
Two of Taapsee’s roles have had her kicking ass – literally – with some amazing martial skills. One in Baby and the other in a small role in a forgettable Tamil film – Vai Raja Vai. Here, her Minal is the victim. While she puts on a brave face to fight the whole system, the horror in her face, as she goes through a rigorous examination of her character disguised as a trial, is palpable. Kirti Kulhari is even more impressive as Falak, the woman we get to know more about. She has loans to repay. She has/had a relationship with an older man – her professor. Her brother is ailing and needs special care. Her last name is Ali. Chowdhury also manages to bring in the issue of racism against North East Indians as the third woman Andrea (Andrea Tariang) hails from Meghalaya (which the prosecutor – a suitably scenery chewing Piyush Mishra – mistakenly identifies as Manipur at first). There is also marital rape that Pink touches upon that I haven’t come across in any recent film.
Pink raises questions in terms of both form and content. Its content is important and therefore Pink becomes an important film to be celebrated. Its form leaves a lot to be desired and therefore there is some reluctance to celebrate it as good cinema. What do you go for and where do you draw the line depends on you as an individual. In the current age, maybe content triumphs form. We now celebrate films championing the causes of Dalits, class divide, relevant burning issues even if we are forgiving towards the filmmaking aspects of the same (Remember one little film called Kabali?). Maybe Pink deserves that leeway too.