The first thing that strikes you about this film is the title. If it is anything that challenges gender stereotypes and social norms about women, you wonder why the title is Pink (traditional ‘colour’ of femininity that feminists have resisted and disowned). Could it not have been the colour Purple (associated with feminist suffragettes) or is Pink the new Purple? I am reminded of one of the first feminist novels I read: The Color Purple by American author Alice Walker, whose powerful female character, Sofia hits her husband Harpo and seriously injures him. Later in the novel she also beats up the Mayor before she is subjected to brutal violence herself. Pink is indeed like ‘the color purple’, a shade different and lighter perhaps.
Meenal hits the rich bratty boy, Rajveer Singh when he tries to sexually assault her, and injures him at a rock concert night out with her friends in Surajkund. The revenge drama begins and ends in the courtroom, with the verdict where she and her two women friends are vindicated. Terrific beginning where a woman confronts sexual assault by a method long denied to the female race, violent physical retaliation that causes injury. It sets the tone by challenging our conventional patriarchal worldview and yet towards the end it is also a cumulative assertion of those very gender stereotypes that it seeks to challenge.
There is something cathartic about watching this film in the back drop of the recent verdict on the Mahmood Farooqui case where forced oral sex was declared as rape and criminal offence and Farooqui, a rich and influential artist and film maker was awarded seven years in prison by the trial court in Delhi. Farooqui is not the first offender from a class of rich, educated, liberal, influential, well connected men who do not understand the meaning of ‘no’ when a woman says so. R. K. Pachauri and Tarun Tejpal, both highly educated and influential men also did not grasp the meaning of ‘no’ when it came from women. There are many other men of this influential class and otherwise to whom this film drives the message squarely and powerfully (in the deep baritone of Amitabh Bachchan none the less): “These boys must realise that ‘no’ ka matlab ‘no’ hota hai. Use bolne wali ladki koi parichit ho, friend ho, girlfriend ho, koi sex worker ho ya aapki apni biwi hi kyun na ho. ‘No’ means no and when someone says no, you stop.”
Pink brings out the identity crisis of the urban Indian society, which lays claims to modernity while advocating for traditional ‘Indian’ values. We talk about equal opportunities and financial independence for women, but women are expected to pay a price for this ‘luxury’. Deep rooted misogyny and stereotypes about women are entrenched in our society, which talks about women’s liberation in the same breath. Women who transgress social norms (always determined by patriarchy) are quick to be branded as immoral and deserving of the violence inflicted on them. Wear a short skirt, attend a rock concert, have a drink or two, flirt with men and you are easy game for sexual advances even if you have said ‘no’; be assertive at home and a sound beating is your due; demand equal treatment at the work place and you must be put in place. The film clearly points out how the moral and social codes are different for men and women. This hypocrisy is brought out in Amitabh Bachchan’s court pronouncement, “drinking is immoral for women while it is only a health hazard for men”; and when the guy in the witness box says, “only the men in the family drink, women from good families don’t drink.”
Pink sends out a loud and clear message to those who blame women for everything untoward or violent that happens to them. The blame lies with those who inflict violence and those who judge women for their unconventional choices and life styles. This is what sets this movie apart from women oriented films of the past. Women in this film are not shown as virtuous, sari clad, demure damsels in distress who have been wronged by villains taking revenge or driven by lust. Pink shows ‘real’ women like you and I who struggle for our spaces and rights and are often reminded that when we transgress, we ‘invite’ violent or abusive behaviour.
The art of filmmaking in India is pretty much a dying art, as I have said before and this film is a breath of fresh air. It has some fine creative and rebellious moments and excellent performances with an occasional dose of humour. When the policeman talks about ‘bindi wali fauj’ (wonder what Brinda Karat, Lalita Kumaramangalam, Vandana Shiva and Ranjana Kumari, all part of the ‘Bindi Brigade’ would have to say about this. :-)) and candle light vigils making noise about women’s safety and when the men find it difficult to tell the politician uncle that Rajveer was assaulted by a woman, it all looks very real.
But does Pink actually challenge gender and social stereotypes in a radical way, or was that even intended? Plenty of stereotypes in the daughter supporting the father, the mean female cop, the finger pointing neighbours, the three odious men, Falak’s weak lover, Javed who wants to protect his daughter, her typical boss who wants no controversies etc. And seriously in uptown neighbourhood like South Delhi, no woman (friend, colleague, neighbour) identifies with their point of view or their experiences? Did all their neighbours suddenly turn prudish and label their behaviour ‘loose’ because of one police van that comes to their house and takes them away? The girls had no sympathisers other than the landlord uncle and Meenal’s female boss? In the courtroom arguments, first it is suggested that their lifestyles make the women morally loose and ‘available’ and then it is suggested that they were money-making prostitutes! Rajveer admits he ‘went with the flow’ when Meenal touched him, but he stopped when she asked for money. Seriously? It took a photograph of his sister drinking at a party to bring out the patriarchal rage in Rajveer? He was not aware of his sister’s upbringing or lifestyle? Did his sister wear loose salwar kameez at home and change at a friend’s place for her drinking parties? Plenty of inconsistencies thrown in.
It is also one thing to make progressive films and another to get a receptive audience. Friends watching this film in small towns reported that they did not find much acceptance from the crowds there. There were many men and women who argued that the woman was definitely at fault and that she had it calling. The choices made by the three women, Meenal, Falak and Andrea were questioned more than what the men did to them. “You play with fire, you get burnt”, was the pure cold logic on offer by many audiences. Even among those sitting in metropolitans and applauding the movie there would be many men who would not choose women who drink and smoke as life partners. There would also be enough urban residing, educated working women who would pass similar judgements about how the women deserved what they got.
The biggest problem I had with the film was the star power of Amitabh Bachchan that was considered necessary for the film to work. Shoojit Sircar wanted to recreate the larger than life Bachchan of Piku, perhaps unaware that this wasn’t the best themed film for his purpose. Bachchan’s towering and menacing picture dominates the three women (who, in my opinion, are actual heroes, fighting and standing up for themselves) in all the posters of the film. Bachchan as the lawyer Deepak Sehgal emerges as the real saviour, the real hero and the triumphant winner in the end who overcomes all odds in the process (hasn’t been practising for a while, is bi-polar and is attending to an ailing wife at home).
It seemed as if lawyer Govind (Sunny Deol) of Damini had aged into Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan) of Pink, who again emerges out of his self imposed seclusion and personal adversity to uphold the rule of law and the rights and dignity of women. When audiences see Big B they know he’s going to get the girls freed. Lip curling and sneering Piyush Mishra, the men’s lawyer, makes one feel vindicated in the end. He reminded me of the lawyer, M.L. Sharma and his odious comments during the Nirbhaya trial and in the documentary, India’s Daughter.
Bollywood does not have a great record of making progressive films on women that challenge gender norms and patriarchal concepts. In that context I would say, Govind’s dhai kilo ka haath in Damini to Deepak Sehgal’s courtroom pronouncements in Pink on how NOT to treat a woman and the rules in the Girls’ Safety Manual, we have made some commendable journeys. Bring on Parched now.
Dr. Swati Parashar is a senior lecturer at Monash University, and tweets @swatipash.
Views expressed here are personal.
Feature Image Credit: bollywoodara.com