SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 19 SEPTEMBER, 2016
Pink: The Power to Say "NO"!
God save any girl or woman who says “no” to any male approach made to them through word, touch, taste, behaviour, action and body language. “Any” male here could be the father, the husband, the brother, the son, the boyfriend, the fiancé, a neighbour or even a stranger. “No” is a loaded word that should not exist in a woman’s or a girl’s vocabulary. Because “no” is a moment of clear choice denied to the female of the species. Because it announces, however indirectly, something affirmative about the one who is saying it, either through a shake of the head, or a facial expression or body language or physical action such as pushing away a person who forces himself on the other, or shouting out some invective in anger.
And this is what Pink boils down to. The denial of “No” within the biased parameters of patriarchy to girls and women, in India or other societies sets limits on every girl’s and woman’s freedom – to move, to wear, to speak, to socialise, to work, to read, to sleep, to work, and even to think and dream.
Minal, Falak and Andrea could be any three young women anywhere in urban India, who work in different occupations but live together in the same apartment in Delhi. The fact that they happen to have distinct identities serves the purpose of the film on the one hand and could be construed as a coincidence on the other. Their story could be the story of any woman, young or old, healthy or sick, married or single or divorced, who said “no” to some male proposal as simple as a husband telling his wife to quit her job or to give in to his physical demands because she is unwell or not in the mood.
Minal makes the mistake of saying “no” to Rajveer, a handsome young man with a six-abs body who took her dirty jokes and her drinking and coming along with him and his friends for dinner as an ‘invitation” and began to molest her. Her friend Andrea is touched by Bunty, another young man who switches off the lights when she goes into the restroom. When Rajveer continues to grope Minal and feel her, she picks up an empty bottle and hits him with it, injuring him badly in one eye and head. They drive away in great haste and decide to keep quiet and not go to the police.
The men drive a heavily bleeding Rajveer to a hospital and this is all that we are given access to about the act of molestation. Rajveer, with powerful political connections and one of his friends Ankit are adamant to ‘punish’ them, mainly Minal. They threaten the landlord of the apartment in which they live but he refuses to relent. They begin to threaten them and even kidnap Minal when she is on her morning jog in their car, molest her and throw her out. The girls finally lodge a FIR with the nearest police station though the inspector dissuades them citing flimsy excuses.
One fine day, Minal is arrested on complaint of having caused grievous injury not amounting to murder, soliciting, extortion and prostitution. “But we had lodged the complaint,” says Minal, moved to tears at the public humiliation when she is pushed into the police van while her helpless friends promise to follow. Till this point, Pink gives you the feel of a tightly knit, edge-of-the-seat thriller where you expect something scary at every turn till you are sucked into the danger the girls feel constantly pressured by.
Once the case comes to court, it suddenly evolves into one of the best-scripted courtroom dramas in the history of Indian cinema. The continuity is fluidly effected by the script, the dialogue, the director and the actors led by Amitabh Bachchan as the defence lawyer Deepak Sehgal followed by the three young actresses Tapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang who keep pace with their legendary co-star in every frame, every scene, breaking down from time to time like any normal woman would, given the circumstances.
The questioning of the three girls, interestingly by both the lawyers, Prashant (Piyush Mishra) the prosecution attorney and the defence lawyer is so brutal and insulting both in the framing of the questions as well as the manner of their delivery in pitch and volume and enunciation that you feel that the girls are being molested all over again, this time, in a public place like a court of law.
When Minal is asked to repeat the dirty joke she exchanged with Rajveer that night, her father quietly walks out but Minal still cannot narrate the joke. “Are you a virgin?” “When exactly did you lose your virginity”? “Who did you lose it with?” “How much were you paid for the act”? “When did you start soliciting?” “You are a woman of questionable character” are the questions and allegations used. Even the judge (Dhritiman Chatterjee in a sparkling performance) appears as embarrassed as he is confused by the aggressive line of questioning by defence attorney, Sehgal. The main plank of the accusation shifts from attempt to murder to prostitution and this gives the film a different twist but along the same line of argument – the victimisation of women and girls simply by stripping them of the power to say “no” till they do not even know that they have the right to say “no.”
“Prostitute” is a term applied to any woman who does not subscribe to conservative norms laid down by the society exclusively for women. 'Prostitute' therefore, is a loosely defined term thrown casually at any woman by any man or woman as a form of abuse, insult and an extreme form of humiliation. The police, the law courts and even the criminal justice system have no definite criteria for deciding which woman is a prostitute and which woman is not. They therefore, take such decisions on self-imposed norms and presumptions of a woman's body language, her way of dress, by the company she keeps and in terms of her behaviour such as laughing loudly in public, using a loose tongue dotted with a colourful vocabulary, touching a man as she talks, going out with men she hardly knows, smoking and drinking and so on. The list is endless.
They also decide that a woman is a prostitute by the hour of the day or night she is out. In other words, they can choose any criteria they wish to in order to label a woman a 'prostitute' and humiliate her in public space. This has thus become an effective way of humiliating women to force them to adhere to conservative norms, which are absolutely patriarchal, and to restrict their geographic, economic, personal and even emotional liberty. We often see in films, television and in theatrical performances, a female character being called a “prostitute” by husband, brother, boyfriend, fiancé and sometimes, even the father.
Does a client have the right to call the woman he visits professionally a “prostitute”? No Sir, he does not because he chose to come to her door to buy sex which is her profession and she is selling sex for a price.
None of this could have been achieved and hit the audience with the sledgehammer effect it has unless the technicalities of cinema were handled so precisely with so much restraint and so well. And thanks to the entire team of actors and technical crew for all this. For instance, the actual focus on which the film rests – the girls being molested and touched inappropriately is not shown at all.
When it is shown later through the video acquired from the said hotel, the closed circuit television captures the shots in long, top angle shots with a silent soundtrack which could be read any which way. If the soundtrack is silent, how can one decide who the victimiser is and who, the victim? The camera is never voyeuristic though the dialogue is more hard-hitting than any film we have seen recently minus the generous invectives we are privy to in Bollywood cinema.
There are some fine nuances you might miss because of the rapid pace at which the narrative moves. One is when Javed, Falak’s elderly lover she has broken up with, arrives at their door with her things he had in his flat.
The other is the washroom in the girls’ apartment that functions as a space for letting off steam, for crying, for taking a shower fully clothed as a way of cleansing oneself of the dirt of being molested, for looking into the mirror to question where one went wrong when no one went wrong, and so on.
The third scene is when on a morning jog with Sehgal, Minal pulls the hood of her jacket over her head when fellow joggers recognize her as the girl in the infamous court case and Sehgal pulls it away pointing with that brief gesture that she has done nothing to hide herself from others.
The fourth very imaginative and restraining touch is keeping the media track completely silent when the news anchor stands in front of the court and speaks into her microphone into the television camera. This is symbolic of silencing the media from sensationalising an issue that damages the girls much more than helps salvage their self-respect. In the court scenes, the camera democratically pans across the girls and the boys seated on the other side. We see a clear smirk on the face of Ankit and the arrogance on Rajveer’s face while Bunty looks a bit scared of what he sees is going on. But as things come to a close, the smirk on Ankit’s face has disappeared while Ghosh who is let off walks out sheepishly.
Thank you Aniruddha and Shoojit for giving us back the Mr. Bachchan we love so much back to form after a couple of blemishes like Teen and Wazir. But please do not burden him with bedridden wives in every other film such as Kaante, Teen and now this. The ailing wife is a terrible waste of the talents of Mamata Shankar and so is the bipolar disorder he is suffering from.. Shantanu Maitra’s complete rapport with the director is evident in his musical score for Pink too and so are the beautiful background songs that lend ‘body’ to the story and its unfolding specially the Raat song.
On April 30, 1999, 34-year-old Jessica Lal, a Delhi model who stood in as a celebrity bar maid in a crowded socialite party in New Delhi was shot dead by Manu Sharma because she said “No” when he kept demanding drinks even after she declared the bar closed. On January 23, 1996, Priyadarshinee Mattoo, a 25-year-old law student who was found raped and murdered at her uncle’s house in New Delhi by Santosh Kumar Singh, son of a IGP, Pondicherry. She was struck 14 times with a motorcycle helmet, and finally strangled with a wire. Her fault lay in her resisting being stalked, her way of saying “no.”
Nirbhaya was gang-raped on 16th December 2012 in a Delhi public bus when she resisted physical attack by her rapists. Resistance is a strong way of saying “no, you cannot do this, I will not allow you to do this.” Judith Sills Ph.D., in her article, The Power of No, writes: “No says, "This is who I am; this is what I value; this is what I will and will not do; this is how I will choose to act." We others, give to others, we cooperate with others, and please others, but we are, always and at the core, distinct and separate selves. We need No to carve and support that space.” Pink marks the beginning of a movement when girls and women assert their right to say “no”.