You’d really have to be cold, cynical, and possibly living in denial if you aren’t deeply affected by Pink. This powerful film, directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and produced by Shoojit Sircar, is a stinging indictment of the deep-set prejudices, unmistakable misogyny, misplaced male entitlement, and outright injustice that women across India must contend with daily, and particularly when protesting against unwanted sexual attention.
When a woman says no, it means no. It doesn’t matter how she’s dressed, whether she’s had a drink or two, whether she was flirting with the man earlier, and irrespective of her sexual history. The filmmakers drive home this point with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and Pink is all the better for it.
In a smart storytelling move, we never actually see the incident that sparks off the chain of events in this film (not until the end credits, to be fair). We must rely on the snatches of conversations, accusations, and confessions made during the course of the film to piece together what may have taken place at a Surajkund resort one late evening between three young women who escaped to their south Delhi home visibly rattled, and three men raging with fury, one of whom is seriously injured.
The women in question – Meenal (Tapsee Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari), and, as she’s routinely described, “the one from the North East”, Andrea (Andrea Tariang) – are what our society tends to describe as “modern, independent types”, which, as we know, is shorthand for educated, working women who wear dresses and shorts, may smoke and/or drink, and who hang out with male friends. That these “modern independent types” are automatically perceived as promiscuous and of loose moral character, therefore themselves responsible for triggering aggressive sexual behavior in men, is one of the many harsh realities that the film confronts head on.
The men too, are just as recognizable. Entitled brats with political connections who think nothing of openly intimidating girls that dare resist their advances. When Meenal files a harassment complaint against Rajvir Singh (Angad Bedi), he uses his clout to have her arrested for attempted murder and accuses the three women of soliciting him and his friends that night.
The film moves seamlessly from tense thriller to riveting courtroom drama post intermission, and Amitabh Bachchan playing Deepak Sehgal, a retired lawyer who has witnessed the girls’ ordeal from his flat across the road, signs up to be Meenal’s defence counsel. The scenes in court are stomach churning. It’s impossible not to cringe as the prosecutor (Piyush Mishra) repeatedly attacks the girls and their character, and they crumble before our eyes.
Pink is not easy viewing. It makes you uncomfortable and is a stark reminder that this could happen to any Indian woman anywhere, not just in Delhi. It works as much as a cautionary tale as it does a wake-up call. The writing, by Ritesh Shah, is excellent, and the performances are consistently terrific.
From actors in smaller roles – the girls’ landlord, the unsympathetic female cop, the instigating friend – to the central players, there isn’t a false note here. Angad Bedi is suitably menacing, and Tapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, and Andrea Tariang deliver natural performances as strong but emotionally vulnerable women, without a hint of affectation. Amitabh Bachchan uses his booming baritone to great effect, and despite such contrivances as his bipolar disorder, his ailing wife, and his habit of wearing an anti-pollution mask, he creates a fully flesh and blood character that you can’t stop yourself from cheering for in the end. A word here also for Dhritiman Chatterjee who is so good, so effective as the elderly judge.
I left the cinema, my mouth dry at the end of Pink. This isn’t just an important film, but also excellently made. It’s a giant leap for Hindi cinema, and easily the best film this year. I’m going with four-and-a-half out of five.
Rating: 4.5 / 5