by Suniti Sampat and Aditi Prakash as part of the Dirty Picture Project.
With Pink, Bollywood has made a bold attempt at making a movie about women and the way society treats them. In a lot of ways, women’s lives in most parts of India have been circumscribed by the dangers the sex faces. Should we venture out at this time? Why is he smiling at me? Why is that car slowing down? Is this dress too short? As women living in Delhi, these are questions we have grappled with all too often. Sometimes, the looming threat of sexual harassment or rape forces us to alter our choices.
This fear has been masterfully captured in the film- showing just how easily harmless fun can turn into a waking nightmare, if women test the invisible boundaries that have been set for them. And society always, always finds a way to affix moral responsibility on the ‘fairer sex’. In this case, three women (Minal, Falak and Andrea) accept an invitation to have dinner with men they meet at a rock concert. Unfortunately for them, these men assume that their acceptance is indicative of their willingness to have sex with them. Completely disregarding her protests, one of the men even proceeds to try and have sex with with one of them. In response to this, she attacks him with a beer bottle. With a wounded ego and eye, the man in question tries every trick in his bag to make life difficult for them.
A Comfortable domesticity
Our protagonists – Minal (Tapsee Pannu), Falak ( Kirti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Taring) are ordinary working women leading a peaceful life in the metropolis. These women are fighters in their own right, living away from family for the independence that such a life affords them. It is revealed that Falak is also paying for the treatment of her sibling, who suffers from a medical condition. But such a life is not exempt from the judgement of prying neighbours. Even Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachhan), who ultimately turned out to be a concerned neighbour, would stare at the girls with a discomforting fixed gaze. However, the camaraderie and comfort the women share is heartwarming. In many a nail-biting moment, they support each other and stand up to the world quite defiantly. In a particularly tear-rendering scene, the girls chase after a police van which takes away their friend. Disturbingly, the calm of their lives was shattered by an extremely shocking incident which took place after a seemingly innocuous interaction at a rock concert.
The Bechdel test would not serve as a fair tool to judge how the women in the film have been portrayed. While the women are primarily seen discussing the men, the discussion revolved around how to deal with the ramifications of the incidents from the night of the concert. However, the film passes the Makomori test (which looks at whether the women in the film enjoy an independent personality of their own) with each of the three women having strong, well-defined personalities.
Trial of morals
The misogyny of the men is put to open display in court. The manner in which the women are questioned highlights society’s double standards. Women’s personal lives undergo intense scrutiny while men are excused from suffering this indignity. It is also seen that these women lose so much in the fight- relationships, jobs – all is sacrificed. This drives home the point that women can be harassed in so many ways when men control a system steeped in patriarchy. In such a situation, it might not always be possible for a woman to possess the resources to put up a fight. Another telling instance is when even the police officers are reluctant to register a complaint on behalf of the women and the character assassination that starts from the police chowki and continues well into the last stages of trial. The film also gives a glimpse into the use of sexual molestation by the boys to get back at her and put her ‘in her place’.
In the film, the women’s counsel (Deepak Sehgal) speaks about certain rules of conduct that women must follow to ensure their own safety. Through these rules, it is evident how women are constantly de-humanised, being forced to refrain from even seemingly harmless conduct such as laughing and making any kind of physical contact with the other sex, lest it be taken as an invitation to be assaulted. The idea of law as an objective tool is dispelled by the film, which shows how the women are constantly harassed by the functionaries of the legal system.
While the examination-in-chief of Minal was going on, it was being purposefully established that Minal had had sexual relations with men in the past. In doing so, the movie drove home the point that the fact that a women is sexually active does not make it okay to subject her to any kind of unwelcome sexual advances.The beauty of the film lies in how realistically situations have been portrayed. The manner in which the women were judged for drinking and having dinner with men they had just met, is accurately reflective of prevailing attitudes. At the same time, the men themselves found nothing wrong in indulging in the same acts.
Pink starts a discourse- one that has been avoided so far, coloured and diluted by social conceptions of morality- a discourse on Consent. Is it rape if she was drunk? What if she was smiling at him? What if she is his wife? What if she was a prostitute? What if she said yes and later said no? The answer is an unequivocal NO MEANS NO. Kudos to the film for focusing on the concept of consent. While lawyer Deepak Sehgal was saying and doing all the right things, the film could have gone a step further by having a female lawyer defend the three women, instead of sticking to the old knight in shining armour trope. When Minal spoke emphatically of her feeling of utter disgust at being touched against her will, we knew that the film was making a strong political statement. However, it is the male lawyer who ultimately hasthe last word on the topic of consent. As his baritone resounded across the courtroom, I couldn’t help but wonder whether a woman speaking about the same issues would be taken just as seriously?
Pink is a telling story. It shows that India has progressed – women can enjoy the freedom of living alone and having an independent lifestyle- but this freedom always comes with certain conditions. While the city may be able to boast of the snazziest buildings and the trendiest bars, the ugly reality of a society still mired in patriarchy continues to haunt us- ask the women, we all have stories.