By Hala Syed
Any conversation about sexual abuse, especially on the internet, almost inevitably descends to victims blaming. Sometimes this blame is couched in gentle, seemingly well meaning terms “Girls should be more careful for their own safety”. Sometimes it’s mingled with curiosity and gossip “What were they wearing? Where were they going? Who were they with”. Eventually if people are honest enough, they say what they really mean “They were just asking for it”.
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink, takes that implied blame that is ever present and makes it literal. When Minal Arora (Tapsee Pannu) reports her would be attacker, politically influential Rajveer (Angad Bedi) after prolonged harassment and intimidation, it is she who is arrested instead. This clever plot device is a real reflection of the world. Women are asked to account for every aspect of their behavior and explain why they are responsible for their own situation while men are hardly questioned about anything. Rape victims are often treated as suspects in their own cases anyway, so its not much of a stretch for them to be the defendants here.
The inciting incident in “Pink” is talked about but not shown until the very end. A choice that forces audiences to imagine what could have happened and perhaps encourage them to reexamine their own biases and prejudices.
The opening scenes deal with the immediate impact of the incident, as Rajveer’s friends take him to the hospital for a potentially severe injury while Minal and her two friends Falak (Kirti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Tariang) are panicking on their way home. All three are so naturalistic that we forget they are acting and feel as if these are people we might know. As we slowly piece together the circumstances that led us here, we are swept up in the fear and anxiety that the girls go through as they are tormented.
The first half of the movie functions as a low-key thriller, amplifying the everyday concerns that the average woman faces. Being watched, being followed, being talked about, being shamed, all turned up to an11 here, but familiar nonetheless. By not being privy to that first pivotal event the significance of the aftermath is heightened. Being attacked is horrible, but it’s daily living that wears you down.
Not being able to go out alone, not feeling safe in your own home, not having anyone to turn to, create a constant dread that something will happen no matter how careful you are. Rajveer and his crew are not the only enemy here. The entire system is complicit.
The police would rather badger Minal for coming forward then take her complaint seriously. Falak’s boss fires her for a doctored photo, putting his company’s reputation over her personal safety. The girls’ neighbors are suspicious of them simply for living alone. In desperation Falak and Andrea turn to their Boo Radley like neighbor, retired lawyer Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan) to fight the trumped up charges against Minal.
Once the court case starts, the movie switches tracks from showing what women go through to directly addressing men. Issues of consent, entitlement and victim blaming are nothing new, but here the framing is slightly unique. Instead of trying to prove the “innocence” of the women, Deepak Sehgal aims to look at the motivations and actions of the men. Even if they “deserved it” or were “asking for it” (which are ridiculous ideas to begin with) the person carrying out the assault it responsible for it every time.
The other lawyer tries to make it about the women and their drinking or behavior or character but Deepak shows how irrelevant these arguments are. His list of rules for the Safety Manual for Women gets longer and sillier until we are faced with the fact that it doesn’t matter what women do, nothing will make them safer until we start paying attention to what men do to.
At first it seems like a movie called Pink with 3 strong female leads should have them do the all the talking but perhaps we are not ready for a mainstream movie like that. That movie would have been critically lauded for a few days but easily dismissed by audiences at large as “for women” which is code for inferior. Using Deepak Sehgal as a mouthpiece serves the same purpose as casting Amitabh Bachan as the lead.
It acknowledges that we live in a patriarchy where an older man’s voice counts for more than a young woman’s. Acknowledging this and using male privilege for good is the first step creates room for other voices, and makes Pink a film that is well worth the effort of downloading or purchasing despite the cinema-wide Bollywood ban.