A scene from Pink, Bollywood’s first truly feminist film. Photo: Supplied Pink’s director, Aniruddha Roy Chowdury, decided to do something after being disturbed about crimes against women in India. Photo: Supplied
Legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan plays the lawyer who defends a woman against the charge of injuring a man who tried to sexually assault her. Photo: Supplied
Taapsee Pannu plays a working woman who hits back at a man who tries to sexually assault her. Photo: Supplied
New Delhi: In a pivotal courtroom scene, a young woman charged with injuring a man who tried to sexually assault her is asked a series of questions to establish her ‘character’.
Has she had sex before? Has she slept with more than one man? Does she drink? Is she friendly and relaxed while talking to men? Does she laugh with them? She answers yes to all of them.
In any Indian film, this would instantly put her into the category of “loose”, that is, a woman who can’t complain if a man forces himself on her.
But not in a new film called Pink. In perhaps India’ first truly feminist film, legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan plays the lawyer defending the woman. In his trademark baritone, he tells the court that when a woman says “no”, it means no, whether she is drunk, flirtatious or is a sex worker.
Sexual violence is not new to Bollywood films. But it is usually shown with the camera objectifying the victim, lingering over her body and trying to use the scene to arouse, rather than repel, the audience.
Pink’s uncompromising message has made it one of the most talked-about films of the year. India was convulsed by introspection after the 2012 gang rape in Delhi and has since regularly debated why some Indian men treat women so badly. The debate triggered by Pink is a continuation of that self-analysis.
Pink takes a stand. Indian women are free to dress and live as they wish. The three women who live together in a New Delhi apartment are like young women anywhere. The men they meet at a rock concert also seem to be modern but, as the girls soon discover, under this superficial veneer, they harbour a feudal attitude towards women.
Director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury said the daily news of crimes against women used to disturb him.
“It wasn’t just the crimes that made me want to do something. It was also moral policing. A single woman told me that people in her neighbourhood threw her out of her apartment as she used to party and because her boyfriend used to visit her,” Chowdhury says.
Many young women have loved the film. “I just wish my parents had seen this while I was growing up. They would have realised that all those restrictions they imposed on me – no short skirts, no sleeveless tops – were irrelevant. It’s the man’s problem, not mine,” says fashion design student Anoushka Seth.
What impact Pink might have on making young, small town men look at women and the issue of consent differently cannot be predicted. It will take more than one film to chip away at misogyny. Writing for the Indian version of the Huffington Post, Aanchal Arora described watching the film in a cinema in Allahabad, a small town, which was packed with young men.
She said they cheered the men in Pink when they talked of “teaching girls a lesson” and jeered at Bachchan in all the scenes where he defended women’s freedom of choice.
“I strongly believe that the men in the theatre do not have the mental acumen to engage with such movies. The male ego is way too strong for most men to give space to any other gender in their heads,’ Arora wrote.
Coming at the film from a different perspective, Seema Mustafa, editor and found of the website The Citizen, said the film was let down by Bachchan playing the man who “saved” the women from the trouble they were in.
“Pink does not carry a message of empowering women. It justifies the status quo while trying not to, and makes the women appendages in a system where only the man can save them,” Mustafa says.
Audiences have been flocking to see the film and it has won widespread critical acclaim.
“Nothing can be more socially relevant to India right now, and to me and my friends, than the message of this film,” Seth says.