SYEDA HAMEED | 19 SEPTEMBER, 2016
After watching Pink sleep eludes me tonight. I recall the same sleeplessness 28 years ago when I watched Jodie Foster in The Accused. It has taken all these years for Bollywood to make a film which is as real as disturbing and as hurting.
Three young girls, Minal, Falak and Andrea share an apartment in South Delhi. They are 'working girls' who live away from their families, like hundreds and thousands in the metros and second tier cities of India. The film opens with a disturbing scene of them huddled in a taxi fleeing from some ghastly episode. We hear about it throughout the film but the episode itself is played only after the film has ended.
The story is one we have heard too often. At a rock concert the girls meet a group of boys, one of whom is a friend of one of them. The concert is followed by dinner, drinks and what else, male expectation of easy sex. It is when Minal says 'No' to being groped by one Rajbir, that the violence starts. The bottle she smashes on his head could have done far worse damage than it does. But there is enough blood and stitches for the big boys to vow to get their revenge from the 'sluts'. The girls begin to be hounded by the foursome who want to taste blood; there is one scene where they kidnap Minal and take turns in the car after looking for a coin. Raison d'être for it is left menacingly ambiguous.
Meanwhile the girls inter personal relationships are stretched thin; each one has to deal parallely with her personal life while fighting the terror of the 'bad boyz'.
The film takes the issue of gender head on with no trace of bias or sentimentality. Its focus is the overwhelming issue is of accepting 'No' from a woman. Amitabh Bachchan, splendid as the old doddering lawyer, Deepak Sehgal stands six feet tall and taller, when he tells the judge 'When a woman says No, it is exactly that, 'N' 'O'. What she is, is irrelevant; whether she is a barmaid, a non virgin or, yes, a sex worker'. It is this fact that society is not willing to accept. The rule book of gender conduct says a girl should not go out with men, she should not laugh or drink with them nor should she wear short dresses and tight jeans. If she does any or all of this she is rightly branded as 'asking for what she gets'.
In the excellent second half of the film, the rotten social duality is stripped to its core. The girls' male neighbors testify that men visit them late night but when asked whether they have seen them in the sex act they feel affronted, 'I don't look into others' houses'. The police, Haryana what else, and a woman to boot, gag on their own lies to ensure that the girls are nailed.
The system rises as one huge Godzilla to declare the trio unclean. Only three out of thousands milling around offer a helping hand. The aging lawyer, the elderly landlord (kudos to Vinod Nagpal) and the judge, outstanding work by Dhritman Chatterjee. When he pronounces 'guilty' we know he will give tough sentences of the men. We also know that the case will go into appeal higher and higher. And we have seen too much to hope that the rapists actually rot in jail.
This film is the screen version of the lived reality of my days as Member NCW. The words spoken at the police station where the girls file the FIR echoes the words I heard in my visits to the country's thanas in district headquarters. 'Bas aa gayein ghar phodu mahilayein ' (the house breaking women's brigade is here), meaning we will break up happy families by stopping girls from compromising in cases of VAW. In the film the policeman counsels the girls to 'compromise'. 'See Madam, you will have to come every day to the thana. You will have to answer dirty questions in court. And my life will be miserable because of the bindi wali brigade who will lecture us on women's rights. So go home, think for yourself, no hurry, no hurry'.
A woman says 'No' and she is disfigured (if not killed) by being splashed with acid. A woman says 'No' and she is gang raped and pierced with rods to reach her compliance. A woman says 'No' and her morphed photo is splashed on the internet to strip her of courage and grit. Then there is Amitabh, as the lawyer who steps into the most sacred social territory by declaring that even when a married woman says 'No' that is what it is, simply 'No'.
Where have we gone wrong with our youth, I asked myself turning in my mind the persona of the three guys plus a fourth, one who was not present at the scene but joins the brigade full force for the fun of 'teaching a lesson'. Bachchan's baritone was at its best when he recited the mantra of masculinities. It is our boys we should protect, not the girls. These laadla boys should be protected against short dresses, tight clothes, fun loving girls. Because the boys, vulnerable as they are, won't be able to control themselves and if they let loose can we really to blame them?
How long will it take our society to accept the fact that we are two decades into the 21st century? When will our girls be spared from being fed the deadly potion of patriarchy with mother's milk? When will our boys begin to cry, to cook, to clean and nurture babies? The fact that the film has made the biggest national icon speak words which exemplify all this, is the hope I took home from this film.
The dawn may be breaking because we Indians love to follow icons. We did that when Bachchan spoke for 'two drops, only two drops' and India became almost polio free. By playing the persona of Deepak Sehgal, old, grouchy, ill, and a feminist of the first order, Bachchan has taken a beautiful risk in the present claustrophobia we are living in. He needs to be highly commended for this as also for his powerful rendering of the last poem which could become the anthem for this land where goddesses are worshipped and women are trashed. My only regret is that the hall had almost emptied out when the poem was recited. It deserved a place of honour.