Film Review: 'Pink'
Opened: 16 September 2016
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang, Angad Bedi, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Piyush Mishra, Mamata Shankar
Director: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
Producers: Rashmi Sharma, Shoojit Sircar
Spoiler Alert: Mild spoilers ahead
One of the cleverest twists in the grammar of cinematic-craft is housed in the end credits of Pink. It is an extremely thoughtful depiction of causality that actually turns the definition of 'causality' on its head! When any individual traverses through what the protagonists of this movie endure emotionally, ‘the principle that nothing can happen without being caused,’ starts sounding a little shaky. The end-credits reveal what actually ‘happened’ that triggered a chain of events causing emotional upheaval in the lives of three young ‘normal working-girls’ (as mentioned by one of the girls), and translated as ‘easy-going’ by society. By that time, however, a LOT has happened, and a stark question faces us: Is the actual ‘incident’ even really rendered important at this point in time? It is almost as if the filmmaker is mocking the audience: Is this scene really important for you to see? Will you empathize more with the trauma that these women went through if you finally see the causal incident? After what you witnessed in the last 130 minutes, does this ‘fact’ really twitch your conscientious nerves with even more vigor? What is your sensitivity index? It is only if one sits through the end-credits that one realizes the truth behind this cinematic ‘trick.’
There is actually nothing novel in Pink in terms of content. All one has to do is read the copious editorials published after Nirbhaya or the Steubenville case or the Stanford University swimmer case and there, right there lies the base of this movie: However, what Pink does is humanize those well-meant or sometimes, even lofty, editorials and manages to shake you emotionally. In one line, this film is about a woman’s ‘NO’ to advances, and what that ‘NO’ means to the man, and how this inappropriate combination and interpretation of responses play havoc in the life of a woman – emotionally, professionally, and legally.
That the director is gifted is revealed right during the initial-credits when a silent credit-list rolls over only to be disturbed for a minute with sounds of ‘partying.’ And then that arc traverses all the way through to the end-credits when emotions have covered almost a-180 degree. In a fantastic scene, the land-lord (Bassesar Ram of Hum-Log; oh lord, bless your soul, what a JOY to see Vinod Nagpal after decades) is purposely side-crashed when riding his scooter. One of the accused’s ‘friend’, who is more loyal to his ‘wronged’ friend than a tissue-paper to one’s behind, then smoothly lifts him up and ‘helps’ him get an auto-rickshaw ride gently reminding him at the end to throw the three women out of his flat. It’s a chilling sequence not because of the physicality of the incident but the emotional wreck and damage that could scar a straight-forward man’s soul who is power-less, middle-class and away from the jungle of power and wealth and privilege. When Tapsee’s Minal goes to file a complaint, the reaction of the police-inspector is to die-for. His dialogues regarding the ‘liberal’ bindi-stuck activists are a hoot: That I fell off my seat howling at his statements regarding the ‘repercussions’ of a police-complaint is the success of powerful writing and even better enactment; that I ‘enjoyed’ the scene is up for judgement. Go ahead. Don’t stop.
This is a metro-centric film—(you know, of folks having the luxury of decorating walls with framed quotes and images – nothing explains ‘contentment’ and fun more in life and Hindi-movies than the fact that one has the time and energy to keep one’s house filled with more insignia than idli-plates for the South-Indian and ‘tawa’ for the North-Indian) — no two thoughts about it. This is the story of women who stand up to fight because they are privileged by the accidents of birth – just as I am writing this piece on a $500 laptop when someone else some-where is struggling for days-on-end to make two ends meet. (If this is the state of citizens who are well-educated and independent, one can only imagine the to what extent the under-privileged can fight back; or can they even attempt to?). That the women struggle to answer questions in open court about their sexual preferences or lives or boyfriends or whatever, throws a powerful light on these dynamics. (In another effective scene, Minal breaks down not because she is locked in a cell over-night; but because she has to bear the stench of urine in the cell (how ironic that one of the inmates of this ‘urine-stenched’ cell feels Minal’s forehead and shouts for the officer to address her sickness immediately; a wonderful display of how class, gender, bureaucratic-power and class inter-cut.)
Of the cast, ALL the three protagonists, Tapsee, Kirti, and Andrea shine in their own way. Tapsee, of course, has the meatier role but boy – sorry, girl – does she do justice to it? Kirti is the voice of dignity and maturity (which she loses by the way in an emotionally-wrenched scene) amongst the trio. Andrea is the one who has to bear the doublecross; of being a ‘North-Easterner’ and a ‘normal’ working-woman. Angad as the privileged politician-son is great.
Finally, that long thread that binds and holds the film together is Amitabh’s Deepak Sehgal. As a hinted-at mentally-afflicted once-prolific and excellent lawyer, he tears the screen apart with his gaze and silence. His initial entry and immediately-following scenes are downright creepy – and programmatically so. Oh those eyes, that gaze with a weird training mask hinting at some OCD and other mental illnesses due to deep trauma (never explained and rightly so.) His character is used as a metaphor and a literal-character through-out the film. (Only a mentally-afflicted person would take up such a case and would pull the hoodie off of Minal.) There is some trauma that is hinted at which propels him to take up this case; but never ever revealed. Who cares? As I mentioned before, ‘causality’ is a pleasant casualty in Pink. Watching Amitabh grill the ‘super-woman’ S.H.O is an adrenalin-rush that one has been long-deprived of. Watch him ‘object’ to Dumpy’s (by the way, if Dumpy is handsome, then I am McConaughey) testament due to ‘over-acting’ and you know why this actor stands tall at age 70+ in this entire country; or watch him over-pitch when he asks the VERY same questions and in the very same tone that the prosecution uses to dis-credit a defendant just because of her gender: Conversely, when he brings the guy to the stands, he retains his under-statement tone! What a stunning performance and what thought-process! Of course, the credit must go to the director for this but the way he transforms this idea into action is sheer brilliance. And a lesson to the fan-boy/girl/women directors: There’s a skill that’s required when you have such a behemoth of a star-actor at your disposal; utilize him, do not embarrass him and consequently yourself. Of course, it is difficult to get the caliber of Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Yash Chopra or Prakash Mehra or Desai or Sippy in their prime but hey, you were never in contention! So break free of the shackles and milk this wonderful, age-less star-actor you have the good-fortune of working with. This is true super-stardom; where story-tellers younger than half one’s age are coming up with roles that can be played only by one actor, not because he demands it, but because he commands it, irrespective of the diktats of commerce. If it was bums on the seat in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it is this inexhaustible cultural currency now.
Though the film borrows a western-narrative style, it is a great achievement in itself that it tailors quite well to the cultural specificity of the film’s intended demography. It is peppered with liberal dosages of Hinglish.
The film is beautifully shot. Ashwini Roy Chaudhry is one promising director to look forward to. One must be thankful to Shoojit for yanking from his camp another fine story-teller. There are some loop-holes (a scene right after an invigorating court scene where Amitabh introduces the three women to the bed-ridden Sarah looks forced) but largely, this is a great Hindi film industry debut. We never know who Sarah is, or what Amitabh’s back-story is that catalyzes him from hibernation to take up this case. In the end, it doesn’t matter and that’s where the director scores. It doesn’t matter to the audience too, because there are bigger issues at stake here.
Of the songs, it is KAARI KAARI that scorches the soul. This one (which looked so ‘forced’ in the promotional video but is used brilliantly in the film) is rendered by Qurat-ul-Ain Balouch in the Abida Parveen fashion but is as effective as her voice if not more. Sample and savor some of the lines -
तितलियों के पंखों पर रख दिए गये पत्थर,
Rocks have been weighed on butterflies’ wings
ए खुदा तू गुम है कहाँ?
And yet you are absent o Lord?
रेशमी लिबासों को चीरते हैं कुछ खंजर,
Silken clothes have been shredded by some piercing knives
ए खुदा तू गुम है कहाँ?
And yet you are absent o Lord?
The penultimate treat, once again, is Amitabh’s rendition of TU CHAL as the end-credits roll: Takes one back to his fantastic rendition of EKLA CHALO RE from Kahaani.
Don’t leave until the end-credits roll-over if you want to savor this.
P.S.: My favorite line in the movie, just because I am in love with the ‘liberals’ from any society is by the character named Javed: Look, I can either be truthful or liberal. What do you want me to be?