@writish @SrBachchan @ShoojitSircar Aniruddha Chowdhury, Tapasee Pannu deliver one of India’s most powerful films, #PinkTheFilm

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I wasn’t going to see this movie because I’ve seen too many movies dealing with sexual assault portray graphic violence to the extent it becomes either cartoonish and stylistic losing the soul-crushing devastation of the crime  or it becomes voyeuristic, even titillating, sexualizing a crime that has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power and savagery.

But “Pink” did none of this.

It was a thriller that hit home the message with little graphic violence and a lot of heart. By not showing the most graphic parts and concentrating on the aftermath of one of the crimes, the team of producer Shoojit Sircar (director of “Piku” and “Vicky Donor”), director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, and screenwriter Ritesh Shah brought home the message of this movie without the audience ever having to emotionally remove itself, as in “Bandit Queen” or “Damini.” To say this is one of Amitabh Bachchan’s most powerful roles is saying a lot for a legendary actor who has dozens of films which could qualify. The entire film had that intangible perfect melding of elements from behind and in front of the camera that is elusive but signals a hit.

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Amitabh Bachchan goofing around on set with (from left): Andrea Taring, Taapsee Paanu, Kirti Kulhari

Though film is collaborative, the script is the foundation off which every other talent can either shine more or get tarnished. Screenwriter Ritesh Shah is the master storyteller behind this hit. In such an explosive issue, he made the powerful, and ultimately winning choice of revolving the movie around another crime that is not a sexual assault, rather it’s an attempt. This made the women’s situation one which is relatable to millions of people around the world. The subsequent harassment is also one that millions of women can identify with. In fact, most campus assaults are often followed by harassment here in the United States.

Mr. Shah weaved the story such that it slammed home the message while it still foremost remained a thriller with deft writing skills, a growing sense of despair and fear for those at stake, and, at times, humor but never sentimentality, moralizing, or histrionics. The audience clapped and laughed on several occasions. Between Mr. Shah’s story and Mr. Chowdhury’s direction, this intense film nonetheless had a perfect pace that built growing dread with enough room for some stress release.

SIDE NOTE: Before I read the Mr. Shah’s own explanation on the title, “Pink,” that it dealt with the forced association of something on a woman to define her, like the color pink, I read that “pink” is also urban slang for “vagina that is bought, such as with violence, e.g., “I’m gonna go get me some pink.” Coincidentally, that same definition could apply to this movie with its repeated insistence that the female characters in this story “sold themselves.” Yet, it is not urban slang in India, though it is in many countries.

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Screenwriter Ritesh Shah makes a cameo in the movie as Falki’s boss

This is a movie for its time. Earlier, such a screenplay would not have been greenlit, the audience would not have been ready to receive its messages, the actors — none of the female leads are film industry daughters or Bollywood stars — would never have been cast, and the entire production value and direction would’ve been unheard of.

This movie could only be released now. And it’s become a box office hit.  That’s progress. For cinema and for society — both of which are in a tango. (Pink’s team is amazing, gender aside, but soon, hopefully very soon, there will be at least one woman behind the scenes in the writer, director, and/or producer’s chairs!)

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The talented (and given the subject matter, surprisingly, all male) team behind “Pink”

However, this is not only a movie given the subject matter and viewed as an outreach film, did it succeed?

Yes and no. If such films are reflections of society, the mirror needs to not be clouded by already existing, unexamined prejudice. This review by Aanchal Arora in the Huffington Post reflects that sentiment the best on why this movie is, in her words, a “failure” from an outreach perspective.  Those who watch it already know the lessons it teaches and those who need to get those lessons, won’t be getting them:

The reason is directly related to the particular audience with whom I shared my movie-watching experience—the semi-educated youngsters of a tier-2 city. The hall was half-filled, and around 70% of the audience comprised men/boys who were compulsively making fun of all the designed-to-be empathetic situations shown in the movie. To give you a glimpse, if the men who molested the girls in the movie said, “We need to teach these girls a lesson,” the audience in the theatre would go, “Haan bey, behen***d kuch zyaada udti hai ladkiyan aajkal (Oh yeah sister—r, girls these days are losing sight of their limits).”

it is yet another film that is unwittingly increasing the gap between the intellectual haves and have-nots. The movie was based on three metro-city women who were victimized because of patriarchal men subscribing to a feudal mindset. I still consider these men as the intellectual haves of our society. As one penetrates the tier-2 and -3 cities and villages of India, one realizes how the possibility of a dialogue or a court case does not even occur in such incidents.

I travel to remote locations and I interact enough to know that concepts like “consent” and “marital rape” are alien to most of the households in India…leave alone the concept of women living alone or going out to drink or party.

My brothers, father, and others who are reading this already think like Amitabh’s character in the movie. What’s needed is for the same message, and essence, to settle indelibly into the kind of audience that needs it. We need to devise ways of taking this message to the streets.

Whereas I agree with this reviewer overall, I think she misses the point. This movie was never meant to be the type to appeal to the tier-2 city movie halls or the men in remote locations. That segment of the population often has extreme poverty, social immobility, lack of access to education, caste murders, child marriage, dowry — the list of their own injustices, for both genders, is sadly unfathomable.

Neither the men nor the women in those segments of the population could hope to aim for the kinds of lives depicted in this movie. To change India at that level, to change India from one in which a woman, of any age, of any socio-economic condition, is being harassed and molested on the street daily will take much more than a movie. Of course. It will take education, it will take families changing their attitude towards the genders, towards sexuality and marriage, and most important, legal and judicial reform so there are consequences and proper investigation. We can barely hope for that even in America, where the average woman in a city faces dozens of catcalls and harassments* and 1 in 5 women will be subject to sexual assault. Even in America, rapists are easily acquitted or given light sentences — 97% of rapists charged go free — that is if the victim actually speaks out.

Rape culture is neither Indian nor American. Rape culture permeates every culture in varying degrees. In the movie, the arguments made by the prosecution are the same ones made in every court of the world. The argument in favor of men because “a rape conviction, even a charge, will ruin their lives” was just made in the infamous Brock Turner case in California just a few months ago (he got out in three months). The men of the world may perpetually be at war but one thing they can agree on is the subjugation of women at some level.

But in India, the stats are worse, the harassment and lack of consequence for perpetrators a given, and the consequences for a girl who’s gone public is deadly at times. The harassment of India’s women is constant and unrelenting with innumerable restrictions on women, whether you are a schoolgirl biking to school, a working woman in a meeting with peers, or a doctor treating a male patient. Everyone is up for harassment and the justice system is unreliable for everyone. For all of America’s judicial roadblocks, and the #blacklivesmatter movement, most Americans trust in the legal system and at the least, trust their police officers. It will several generations before India can hit even America’s statistics, as sad as they are, or trust their law enforcement.

Yet.

This movie has become a box office success in a way most indie films do not in India. That is a huge win for the outreach. What the reviewer in the Huffington Post misses is that this movie was not meant for the men who act like the perpetrators of this movie — this movie was meant for the women. Whether they are college educated, working, independent or not, this movie showed that all women are in this together. The majority of the women in India cannot even aspire to the lives of the women in the movie yet it gives solace to those women, who really have nowhere to turn, where no sudden star lawyer is going to show up, for whom no parents will give them shelter and no friends to offer emotional or logistical support — most women have nowhere to go and yet, they are in the same boat as their wealthier, educated counterparts.

This movie was for those women, like the police officer at the end of the movie who in her one line of “Thank you” to Amitabh Bachchan’s character revealed the plight of almost every woman in India. That is who has made this movie a hit.

This is the powerful poem that cut through my marrow spoken by Mr. B at the end. The audience who were all leaving, stopped in one bated breath to hear it. Truly, Amitabh Bachchan could recite the phone book and leave us mesmerized.

The poem, “Tu Chal” by Tanveer Ghazi, composition by Santanu Moitra, shows whom this movie is really dedicated to: the women of India. Progress is slow but you are not alone.

TRANSLATION:

Tu khud ki khoj mein nikal
Tu kis liye hataash hai
Tu chal, tere vajood ki
samay ko bhi talaash hai.
Samay ko bhi talaash hai.

Start a journey towards yourself
Why have you become despondent?
Come, start walking,
even time is looking for your existence.
Time is also searching. (samay= time; talash=search; vajood/wajood = existence)

Jo tujh se lipti bediyaan,
samajh na inko vastra tu.
Ye bediyaan pighaal ke
bana le inko shastra tu.
Bana le inko shastra tu.

The chains that cuff you,
don’t think of them as your clothes.
Melt these chains,
and make them your weapon.
Make them into your weapon. [shashtra=weapon]

Tu khud ki khoj mein nikal.
Tu kis liye hataash hai?
Tu chal, tere vajood ki
samay ko bhi talaash hai.

Charitra jab pavitra hai,
to kyun hai ye dasha teri ?
Yeh paapiyon ko haq nahi
ke lein pareeksha teri

When your character is pure,
why are you in such a state?
These sinners have no right
to test (question) you.

Tu khud ki khoj mein nikal.
Tu kis liye hataash hai?
Tu chal tere vajood ki,
samay ko bhi talaash hai.

Jalaa ke bhasm kar use
jo kroorta ka jaal hai.
Tu aarti ki lau nahi,
tu krodh ki mashaal hai

Burn and incinerate
the web of atrocity around you.
You aren’t the holy flame of worship,
you are an inferno of anger. [mashaal = torch]

tu khud ki khoj mein nikal
tu kis liye hataash hai
tu chal tere wajood ki
samay ko bhi talaash hai

Chunar uda ke dhwaj bana,
gagan bhi kapkapaayega.
Agar teri chunar giri
to ek bhukamp aayega.

Fly your scarf like a flag,
even the sky will quake with fear.
If your scarf falls,
an earthquake will come.

Tu khud ki khoj mein nikal.
Tu kis liye hataash hai?
Tu chal, tere wajood ki
samay ko bhi talaash hai.

[*In 2016, ActionAid conducted a survey on street harassment in a number of countries. They found that 79% of women living in cities in India, 86% in Thailand, and 89% in Brazil have been subjected to harassment or violence in public, as had 75% of women in London, UK.]

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