Pink opens seconds after a traumatic event has taken place. An event we know nothing about. We just see three girls rushing, hustling into a cab with exhausted, stunned urgency.
They want to get away, go home and exhale. And yet we sense fear lurking in their gut. On their faces we see two things, the hope that it’s all over, and the fear that it’s not.
We also see three boys. Hassled, agitated, one of them bleeding and being rushed to a hospital where an MRI has to be done, glass shards to be removed carefully as they are lodged close to his eye. There’s anger here, and talk of revenge. For them it’s not over. It’s only just begun.
The girls, comforting each other, want nothing more than to live and let live. The boys, unable to swallow even perceived insult to their entitled being, join forces to inflict pain, to demand grovelling, just so they can feel the pulse of their manhood and declare it alive and well.
These diametrically opposite attitudes is the first glimpse that Pink gives us of the DNA of India’s girls and boys. There are many more, very unsettling ones.
Rajveer (Angad Bedi) comes out of the OT with his eye bandaged, and as he heads home we pick up that he is someone who matters. Rajveer has a significant chachaji, a powerful politician.
The two other boys with him — Dumpy and Prashant — don’t really account for much in the film, but they are crucial extras in the power game between men and women. They are eyewitnesses, but they too need to exercise their power to feel it.
Pink, written by Ritesh Shah and directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury (he directed Aparajita, Tumi), makes very interesting choices in the characterisation of the girls.
The three working girls living together in a colony in Haryana come from three different parts of the country. There’s Andrea (Andrea Tariang) from Meghalaya, Falak Ali (Kirti Kulhari) from Lucknow and Minal Arora (Tapsee Pannu) from Delhi.
It’s a deliberate, political, fabulous choice because it’s so true.
Colourful bras are hung out to dry in their balcony, attracting the attention of other balconies from where some men keep an eye on them because, as someone says later in the film, independent girls confuse boys.
And these girls, with their tattoos, piercing, short skirts are confounding. There are also easy to label and dismiss.
Rajveer’s loose cannon cousin, bristling with the need to show the girls his manly power, takes charge.
Lies are told, language that makes you cringe is used, there’s loose talk about the girls, about “rate ka dispute”, threats are issued, all to teach these girls their aukat.
And then threats are carried out, brazenly.
These are scary moments. Moments meant to break your spirit, shake your faith in yourself.
The girls complain to the police and here on we see a system, created and operated by men, standing in attention against girls, holding the whip of morality.
The girls are not out to be heroes. They don’t want a fight. They just want to live and let live. But they won’t apologise, they won’t say sorry because they did nothing wrong.
But a case is filed against Minal and the others — attempt to murder, soliciting.
An old man, Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan), lives in the same colony as the girls.
We know little about him but he seems odd. Strange. Grumpy.
Deepak has someone he cares about in a care home.
He wears an anti-pollution mask when out on the road, and when he witnesses what looks like a crime, he is unable to articulate it.
And then, slowly, it unravels. Deepak Sehgal is a famous lawyer who quit practicing law years ago.
The case goes to the court of Judge Satyajit Dutt (Dhritiman Chatterjee) and it’s there that the story of what happened that night begins to unfold — through CCTV camera footage, witnesses at a hotel in Surajkund, the three boys’ and the girls’ testimony, and finally through Deepak’s commentary.
Were the girls soliciting? Or were they sexually assaulted?
The court scenes in Pink, the cross-examination, is superb, electric, crass and fun. It’s structured deviously as a cross-examination of India, of our society, of you, me and him.
And it’s here that the film issues a Girls’ Safety Manual.
To sift good girls from bad ones, it lists out what good girls must and mustn’t do. It tells us which gestures are okay, how much laughter is acceptable. When to return home, what to wear, how and with whom to live, when to go out, how to avoid eye contact.
This patriarchal list of dos and don’ts is spelt out in court with dripping condensation by, ironically, a man who assumes the role of the patriarch, a protector of the girls.
The sharp questioning, searing judgments on Indian men and society, which bit by bit bring out the inherent hypocrisy, is powerful stuff, especially when it puts the power back in the word “No”. And then it takes an even more daring turn, and challenges even girls’ prejudices.
Apart from being stunningly engaging, the movie made me very emotional because, mostly, we live on Bollywood’s crumbs. So, when, once in a while we get a film that is sensitive, smart and unapologetically political, one that finally sides with the girls, we are completely overwhelmed at our thoughts, experiences bring articulated on screen.
But, without underestimating Pink’s power or significance, I have to strike a discordant note.
Apart from the fact that Pink has arrived in the theatres after some seriously cynical, calculated marketing that shamelessly used exploitative ploys involving AB and his granddaughter, there is something wrong in a film about women where a man is its centrepiece, its hero.
In fact, once AB arrives, it’s as if the director stopped directing.
It’s true that AB is often the load-bearing pillar on which the entire façade of a film rests.
That he has insane power to take control of a film, the screen is a rare gift. But this power needs to be channelised.
There’s not much attention to details with regard to his character. It’s simply powered by the promissory note we’ve been holding on to since he stood on a Bombay street saving a chaku-churi waali.
And here, in Pink, he has no humility to submit to the role, the character he’s playing. He simply upstages the character with his full power.
In fact, the oldies in the court room — Amitabh Bachchan, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Piyush Mishra — often turned the proceeding into a ham fest.
It’s another thing that even when he’s hamming, AB can dazzle. And we, well, reconcile that it’s the prerogative of a legend to keep bringing a kalashnikov to a knife fight.
The girls and the boys in the film, all of them, are excellent. But for me Kirti Kulhari stood out. She has an incredibly expressive face.