The past two weeks have been quite interesting as far as ‘female-centric’ movies in Bollywood are concerned. Two such movies were released on two consecutive Fridays - Pink and Parched. Pink, which was the former has been a refreshing experience especially seeing female characters with meaningful roles, rather than playing second fiddle to the male lead.
Pink is a story about three women in an urban setting trying to achieve their independence either economic or social, who end up with a chance encounter with the law, when a molestation case lodged by them against some influential men backfires. Consequently, they have to fight their way through the hostile and inherently patriarchal criminal justice system.
At the very onset of Pink the director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury establishes the context in Delhi, the rape capital of India. During the course of the movie, the audience (especially the ones from Delhi) know that the lead actors live in Sarvapriya Vihar, one of the affluent neighbourhoods in South Delhi suggesting that these characters come from middle class/upper middle class strata of the society. The director has tried to put the intersectionality of class and gender away by setting up a particular background, but the subtleties of the intersectionalities at play are visible for anyone looking hard enough. Whether it be the not-so-affluent Falak Ali who is shown to be a pacifier who is ready to back off to end the dispute or be it Andrea, the North-Eastern girl who is unnecessarily targeted by the defense lawyer, who purposefully asks her hometown, which compels us to remember the kind of harassment prevalent against North Eastern women in the country, especially Delhi. Curiously, a survey conducted by Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia covering 300 participants showed that about 81% of northeast women have faced harassment and unfair discrimination in Delhi.
What remains a bit of a let down in the movie is the subtle generalisation which even the director falls a victim to, e.g. Falak Ali, played by Kirti Kulhari, is a Muslim girl from Lucknow is the only protagonist wearing a kurta (Indian ethnic wear) and the North Eastern girl Andrea played by Andrea Tariang has a pierced upper lip and works for an events management company. One can give the benefit of doubt to the director as giving into some stereotypes helps in building the character.
From a women-centred reading of the movie, the objective of the director is being conveyed very clearly to the audience. While there are few scenes that could have been dealt with better--be it Falak being fired from her ‘image conscious’ company because a badly morphed picture was floated around by some ‘unknown sources’ (Vishaka guidelines anyone?) or the heavy diction from epiglottis and overtly dramatised courtroom drama by Piyush Mishra --the audience still leaves the theatre with just one message -- “No in itself is a complete sentence. It does not require logic, explanation or interpretation. No means no.”
There have been a lot of reviews and most of them have appreciated the movie for its relevance in this day and time. Namrata Joshi from The Hindu talks about a certain alleged sexual assault case that has clouded our rationality and reason; this movie has categorically conveyed that it all boils down to a woman’s choice and consent.
Pink is a movie that depicts hypermasculinity, good woman-bad woman binaries and the patriarchal mindset of our society realistically. The movie portrays the sexual liberalism, enhanced by economic liberalization and globalization which has drastically impacted the cultural arena of our modern cities. New cultural and material products with modern values and meanings have brought different dimensions of sexuality that draw the dominant norms of gender asymmetric heterosexuality: male sexuality as aggressive and uncontrollable and female sexuality as passive and compromising; male sexuality extends beyond family boundaries while female sexuality centres around marriage and spouse (Abraham, 2007). This phenomenon is beautifully portrayed in a courtroom scene where the male antagonist Rajvir proudly says that the women of his family do not go to ‘parties’ but to ‘family gatherings’, clearly indicating his low opinion of women who drink or go out to parties. This lays bare the socialization of an average Indian who categorizes women in binaries - good woman and a bad woman.
The other issue that has been addressed sensitively by the director is that of embodied female shame about self and body which is a cultural inheritance. While shame could be of different types and for different reasons, it is equally a cultural and a family phenomenon as it is reproduced within families with a distinct source or target (Bouson, 2009). In the movie, after the protagonist Meenal gets arrested, there are various instances where the neighbours have been heard saying “Ladkiya akeli rahengi toh aisa hi hoga,” (If girls stay by themselves, such things will happen.) There is a scene where she wears her hoodie after being referred to as Surajkund kaand vali (Surajkund victim). In another instance, when she is asked to narrate the same sexual joke that she narrated that night, her father leaves the courtroom, a form of non-verbal shaming.
There has been a lot of criticism as well, mostly regarding the casting of Amitabh Bachchan who happens to be the saviour of the girls in the movie. It has been argued by many that the director could have cast a strong female actor who could have played the part. What one doesn’t understand is that the objective of the director was very clear - reaching out to the masses and having a movie with a strong message about consent. Apart from his acting, his name did the part. Pink crossed Rs 50 crore mark on 25th September, making it one of the top five most profitable films of 2016.
This article is part one of a two-part series that critically assesses two recently released Hindi movies - Pink and Parched. Part two will be featured on this blog next week.