The latest offering from Shoojit Circar, PINK, comes as a bloody shot on the forehead of male chauvinistic Indian society where everything revolves around men and the rules they have made. It enters the filthy brain and splatters the matter everywhere, leaving bloody remnants.
You have seen them: On the roads making lewd comments on girls. Shouting at you if you refuse to pay more than what the Rickshaw meter shows. Barging and jumping ahead in queues – and threatening you if you dare to protest; being rude and disrespectful to waiters; brazenly asking for bribes; groping girls in plush night clubs; driving their Benzes and Audis with no regard for anyone. Pushing, shoving and screaming their way through life, trampling weaker ones on their way. They are everywhere, ready to upset the balance of your harmonious life at any time. All it takes is a change in your luck, a few small throws of the dice by the universe in the wrong order and voila, you are in a whirlwind of catastrophe.
You have seen the victims as well. The once beautiful Rupa, an acid attack victim. The two sisters in North India, raped, killed and hung from a tree, the police deciding that this was a suicide. Nirbhaya who is the ultimate embodiment of atrocities to women everywhere. And so many unseen faces, unheard stories.
PINK tells the story of a fun party going haywire when one of the boys decides to listen to the call of his penis and the girl reacts, albeit with a beer bottle. From there the events escalate in realistic fashion we see everywhere in India. The boy is from an influential family. The police refuse to take action against them and demoralize the girls with sermons on safety and shame in the society. As usual, the first reaction from the girls is to keep quiet. But when their patience is tried to its limits, they decide to bring the boys to task. Meanwhile, they undergo harassment, threats and even further molestation.
When matters get serious, the tables turn and the girls find themselves accused of assault and attempt to murder, with no-one to help them fight their case. Can things be more realistic?
The underdog steps in, but without the usual fanfare this time. Amitabh Bachchan essays the character of Dileep Singh, a retired lawyer who decides to fight the case for the girls. Thankfully, we are not fed a heroic story as the reason behind his quitting the profession at the height of the glory. Instead, what we are given is a riveting courtroom drama which is thrilling, shocking and relevant to the core. Most of us have been there, experienced injustice and at times fought against it, but have almost always given up the struggle out of concern for family safety and fear of other dangers.
As we rightly know from the beginning, when the girls get their justice in the end, we are left with a few questions which the lawyer throws at the speed of a pinball to us. Is it sign enough for a man to molest a girl if she laughs and flirts with him? Is the way she clothes herself a silent call to rape? If she drinks, does that mean that she is available? And despite all these, if she doesn’t want to be touched, isn’t it reason enough to abstain from the urgency of the penis?
The film raises a lot of such questions without ever being preachy, and is well-judged considering the delicate subject matter. Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang deliver nuanced performance as the three girls traumatized by the incident and its aftermath. The scenes where their characters are dissected and they are branded as women of low morals merit mention. As the antagonist, Angad Bedi delivers an impactful act. He is the epitome of feudal India, the strong undercurrents of which still flow through our veins; he explodes like Hulk every time a voice of dissent rises above the fray. Aamir Khan must know how it sounds!
Amitabh Bachhan delivers a stellar, yet at times, unrealistic performance as the moody lawyer who fights for justice, for reasons known only to him. His could have been a better characterization if the director had been more in control than in awe of him. But apart from that, his baritone booms, echoes and circles the theatre, finding its way to the collective psyche of the nation.
“If a girl drinks, wears a skirt, goes out with male friends, laughs and flirts – are these reasons enough to molest her? If she works for a living, comes home late at night, lives with her girlfriends away from family, are these reasons enough to brand her questionable?” his character asks.
On a deeper level, these questions are directed to all of us. Even though the film tackles the specific issue of women’s safety, it’s a reminder of everything that is wrong in the democratic society of India in terms of morality, religious intolerance, political power and wealth. The antagonist represents all those about whom we read every day in the media, who use their power to trample those weaker than they. This film is saying clearly that it’s time we took notice and acted.
PS: The girl next to me looked at me intently when the final credits were rolling. We smiled at each other. She extended her hand for a shake, for she had seen me clapping loud through the movie. I hugged her warmly instead. We felt victorious even when we knew that once we step outside, we will go back to our old ways. But at least for the moment, we felt good. I asked how she saw the movie from a woman’s point of view.
“Amazing, yaar. We need more awareness and more action like this in real life as well. Then India will be a better place to live.”
‘Let’s hope,’ I said. After all, hope is the one thing that takes us forward!