Three single, working women in New Delhi. In twenty-first century India, that one line constitutes a horror film. Pink is a savage indictment of our sordid patriarchy that shackles women in stereotypes. Here character is determined by the clothes you wear, the time you come home, how much you smile at men, whether you drink or not and of course, your sexual history. Pink takes a sledgehammer to these archaic assumptions. Director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and creative producer Shoojit Sircar eloquently establish that none of it matters – when a woman says no, it means no.
An evening at a rock concert ends with a bottle being smashed on a man’s head. Rajveer Singh is the nephew of an influential politician. His assailant Meenal is an ordinary working girl who refuses to have sex with him. The incident soon spirals into a nightmare – only for the women, of course. Meenal’s roommate Falak loses her job. Meenal herself is abducted and terrorized. The boys lay siege and do their best to break the women into submission. One of them declares that it’s important to show these women what their ‘aukad’ is. When Meenal is arrested, the only resort the girls have is a retired lawyer who lives in the neighborhood. Deepak Sehgal has blank, bruised eyes. He no longer remembers very well. But Deepak brings to the table an almost righteous rage. His impassioned defense of these brave girls is both heartbreaking and inspiring. I walked out of Pink, shaken to the core.
Not because this film is telling us anything new. A cursory glance at the news will tell you of the trauma that Indian women – urban and rural – face on a daily basis. But Pink makes the horror so real that your skin crawls. It’s the detailing – the prying neighbors, the sniggering co-workers, the indifferent cops. The third roommate Andrea is from Meghalaya. At one point, she says in court: As a North-eastern girl, I feel I’m harassed more than the average Indian girl. It’s a small moment but it underlines the awful truth that harassment is normal but extra-harassment is reserved for those we perceive as outsiders.
Pink works because the grimness of the material doesn't weigh on the telling. This isn’t a labored lecture on women’s rights. The first half works as a thriller and the second as a courtroom drama. Aniruddha keeps the scenes tight and tense. The writing, by Ritesh Shah, is terrific. So are the performances. The women – Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang – don’t seem like they are acting. These are women you and I might know – strong and vulnerable, and confused and angry. There’s a wonderful moment when Falak is ready to apologize to Rajveer. But a conversation with him enrages her so much that she screams at him defiantly. After all, this is a man who believes that ‘aisi ladkiyon ke saath aisa hi hota hai’. Taapsee is excellent in the courtroom scenes. And a special salute to Amitabh Bachchan, who imbues his character with a tragic majesty. Bachchan towers in every sense but without a hint of showboating.
Some stray bits don’t work as well – I’m not sure what the gas mask that Seghal wears or his dying wife added to the character. But I’m nitpicking here.
Pink is a powerful film that deserves to be seen. I’m going with four stars.