Pink: The girls are alright, but the boys?

September 15, 2016 03:03 pm | Updated November 01, 2016 06:40 pm IST

This week’s big Hindi release is a hard look at male entitlement through the lens of a traumatic incident that involves three young women

Every once in a way you decide that enough is enough and go for a confrontation, however ugly it may be. Years ago in Delhi, as a greenhorn in journalism, I decided to take an auto driver with a faulty meter and uber-rude ways to the Lodi Road police station. I should have sensed that something was amiss when he willingly drove me there to file a complaint against him. The 10 minutes inside the station became a protracted nightmare with the cops, women included, ganging up with him against me, calling me names, playing mind games of the worst kind. I still can’t figure out how they manipulated, turned the tide against me and made me into a wrongdoer out to harm a “poor” driver. I filed the complaint but found myself stepping out, trembling in both fear and rage, knowing they would all be laughing behind my back. Who knows, the auto might have been registered under a cop’s name, said close friends.

Why start a film review by narrating what is clearly a personal story? The connection lies in drawing attention to what appeals the most about Pink: its compelling portrayal of a system complicit with the influential in badgering the innocent is something we would all have seen, heard of or experienced closely at some point in time and can empathise with. Only the degree of harassment varies. It gets more skewed when a woman is at the receiving end.

In Pink, the focus is on the ordeal of three single girls, Meenal Arora (Taapsee Pannu), Falak Ali (Kriti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Tariang), whose night out at a rock concert sets off a terrifying chain of events. Their frightful experience gets cleverly sandwiched between the blank opening credits and the final explicatory visuals of the closing credits; it’s all about things coming a full circle for the threesome.

The first half is like a thriller, taut and tense, with the audience biting its nails out of concern for the girls’ safety as Rajveer (Angad Bedi) and his set of cronies are out to make life hell for them. All for nixing his advances and resisting his attempts at molestation.

Ostensibly, it might be a film about three women (the gender and happiness quotient of a Dil Chahta Hai turned on its head) but besides their fears, frustrations, anger, helplessness and vulnerability, what we see most are the men around them, and their attitude towards women. There are all kinds in their universe: from the loving, caring landlord who won’t evict them despite threats from the nosy neighbour who suspects them of prostitution; an estranged boyfriend who says he can either be truthful or liberal (never helpful) and the severely entitled, deeply patriarchal and feudal boys; a cop (much like the ones I faced) who wants to deter them from filing a complaint and the lawyer who goes to any extent, asks intrusive questions and seeks intimate details, to humiliate them to save his clients. Even the biased Haryanvi woman cop is like a toy in the hands of the powerful men.

The film addresses the men and uses the figure of Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan), a respected patriarch who doubles up as the girls’ lawyer, to reach out as the voice of reason, with the judge (Dhritimaan Chatterjee) as an ally. The girls are alright; it’s the boys who need to get their act together.

The three girls make for an utterly believable slice of working women’s life in the Capital. The camaraderie and sorority between the trio is effective because the three actors play off very well against each other. But a special word for Kulhari (as Falak), who holds her own with a few remarkably-handled breakdown scenes. Efficient turns from veterans like Bachchan and Chatterjee are a given, but it’s the not-so-known faces who make an impression. Like Vijay Varma as Rajveer’s friend Ankit, who makes you loathe him for his air of masculine entitlement. Not to forget Mamta Malik as the Haryanvi cop, who gets her accent, gestures, attitude spot on. The film also uses a lot of familiar Delhiwalas in small roles: Vinod Nagpal, Sudhanva Deshpande, Dibang.

You could question a lot of plot points, find the Mamta Shankar subplot entirely needless, think of the raising of the North-East issue as a bit perfunctory and patronising. The courtroom drama of the second half gets heavy-handed and is high on histrionics, with Piyush Mishra going over the top as the boys’ lawyer.

Pink is a relevant film, in a day and age when there are many such cases in the news, when attempts by women at seeking justice are often equated with vindictive litigation. Despite the fact that so many women don’t even have recourse to justice, they are accused of misusing the law. And feminists are roundly dismissed as ‘feminazis’. When one article upon another on a recent case (of alleged sexual assault) has been obfuscating reason and rationality in many of us (including yours truly), it’s good to have a film stating categorically, even if a trifle simplistically, that a no is a no is a no. That single working women are not a catch. That friendly girls are not promiscuous. That a shared drink doesn’t mean a woman is available. That it all boils down to a woman’s choice and consent.

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