The 'Pink' Of Total Disempowerment!
NEW DELHI: I went to see Pink, the now not so new movie in town, because of rave reviews. And in a rare bid to be able to say ‘yes’ when asked by the umpteenth person,” you haven’t seen Pink, don’t tell me!” So there I was just last evening at a Delhi movie hall with two close friends, a bag of cold popcorn and a drink with sufficient ice.
We settled back, amidst screaming children (yes at least 3 families had brought toddlers and babe-in-arms to the movie!) quite sure of a good evening ahead given the rave reviews. I was particularly happy that I would emerge from the theatre, part of the Delhi herd, able to add my two paisa worth to all the great things that were being said about this movie.
The beginning seemed good. Two vehicles hurtling down roads, one with three young girls, tense and clearly having gone through a bad experience. Another with young men, one of them bleeding profusely, having been ‘attacked’ by one of the girls .Hmmm...this should work I thought, trying to ignore the kids bawling at the back.
The next two hours were awful, and just as the three young girls (who to be fair do try to give a decent performance in the movie), we too hurtled down a path that left us completely confused as to what the movie was trying to say. Yes, of course, it was centred around Amitabh Bachchan---oh sorry, around the right of a woman to say No, but the manner in which this was brought out raised more questions than it answered, and that too in a manner that can be mildly described as objectionable.
A highly pretentious movie, Pink loses the plot because of what is clearly the director’s preoccupation with Bachchan. A word about this. The mega-star appears towards the beginning, as a rather weird looking man, walking around with a menacing mask, and looking at the young girls who we later find stay in the same evening with staring eyes that make them---and us---uncomfortable. He then moves into this concerned person who is keeping a watch on the girls--living in the same colony---and is witness to one of them being grabbed by the men and whisked away in a van. There is little he does about it except call a cop or two and whisper “North, North” or some such words into the phone that clearly leaves even his cop friend nonplussed.
Bachchan also has a wife, who is in hospital, and who dies somewhere along the way and till now I am wondering whether there was something symbolic that the director wanted to say, and one missed. She was just this poor lady he would visit, who gave chocolates to the girls when they visited her once, and died just after. Probably it was to get a few extra scenes in for the ageing actor, and he sure does look old, and speaks old too. And then he transforms into this retired lawyer, who first appears mysteriously at the girls door after one of them is arrested for attempt to murder to give some advice, and then emerges in a suit and a tie as the superman lawyer, out to get them justice.
And how does he do this? He stares at cockroaches in the courtroom. He goes into a frequent trance, being shaken out of it by the judge who actually seems to be the only sane person in that dramatic court room. And he does not cross examine the witnesses brought in by the prosecution, allowing the story against his clients to be established unchallenged. And this story has a strong middle class appeal, as it is stressed, emphasised, by the prosecutor, by the witnesses and by Bachchan himself who keeps citing Rules emerging from the case, where women should not drink with boys, they should not go out with boys they do not know, they should not got into private rooms etc.
Perhaps he was being sarcastic, but then perhaps he was not, but the director ensured that the primary message that middle class families took out of the movie theatre was that all this trauma could have been avoided had the girls not mixed with men they did not know, had not accepted drinks, and had not gone into private rooms with them. And that girls living alone might not be bad per se, but they do invite these allegations from which they cannot escape. A friend from such a family who had liked the movie tempered her comments with, “good but you know I don’t know why the girl did this, why did she have to drink with these men.”
The movie thus reinforces the stereotype, rather than breaks it. And makes it clear that in society, of which we are all this middle class part, girls are supposed to live with their parents, and follow laid out procedures of behaviour. And so while it is no one’s case that they should be raped, it stands to reason that they become sitting ducks for men who misread them. And yes, while the men are wrong for thinking they are available, they cannot really be faulted as their sisters do not do the same. They are good girls as the main male protagonist says so articulately in the movie.
And if reinforcement of this position is needed Bachchan finally wakes up to accost the youth with a photograph of his sister drinking with some men. That gets the youth angry, and furious, and as Bachchan says, establishes his guilt in trying to molest the girl as she was not like his sister. But in the process also establishes that the women fighting the case actually had no case until Bachchan pulled out this rabbit from the hat, namely the photograph of the youth’s sister. And if he had not got this photograph the girls would have been hung for a crime they did not commit, as there was nothing else in the movie to suggest that they had a case, no history of their work, of their lives, of their family, of their friends. Nothing, just three girls with no past and no present.
In fact the only little past that the movie shows is of an older, divorced manfriend of one girl who leaves her. She is questioned about this by the prosecution and breaks down and says suddenly, that yes they had asked the boys for money and yes they had taken the money. This probably was the directors effort to say that even sex workers have the right to say no, a good point if the story had been about sex workers. This outburst coming in the middle of the movie from one of the three girls, whose strength till that point was perhaps the only saving grace in the movie, strengthened the prosecutors position. Certainly not of women fighting for their rights.
And now on to the cul de sac of Pink. A point of no retreat for the movie. Bachchan the lawyer, is interrogating the main girl protagonist, his client. Are you a virgin? She is nonplussed, we in the audience cringe. Are you a virgin, he thunders, full throated Bollywood style. I forget if he repeats it a couple more times, but finally she whispers no. He wants her to speak out loud. And follows up with the shout: Who was he? What was his name? You have had more relationships after that? Did you sleep with all? A scene that was sad and bad, and made a mockery of womens rights, of justice, of her as a individual with the right to privacy, to dignity, to respect.
Pink succeeds more in reinforcing the stereotype of the working, independent girl than in breaking it. It brings the three young women almost to their knees, with the save coming not from the law but from the super Mr Bachchan with a photograph in his pocket. From striking out the girls become quivering, helpless creatures, who literally fall at the superlawyers feet when the verdict declares them not guilty. The applause is reserved for the superlawyer, not for the girls as there is little left in them to applaud by the time Pink is done with them. One is left quite sure that if they were now asked whether they would return to their lives as before, the answer would have been a resounding “No”.
And that is the tragedy of Pink. It does not carry a message of empowering women. It justifies the status quo while trying not to, and makes the women appendages in a system where only the man can save them. And where there is no second word about the woman cop who doctors a FIR or about the youth who pick up one of the girls, whisk her away in a van, molest her, and then release her with the warning that this was only an introduction to what they would do to her later.
The lights came on and with it reality. Relief! From the shrinking disempowered women we had become in the span of two hours, we were transported back to the real world where believe me, we are far better off than those poor girls being saved by lawyers of the Bachchan kind.