Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Movie Review: Pink Is Colorless Trite Male Feminism

Pink  is a movie that tries, really hard, to "empower women". And like that empty vacuous phrase, it's nothing more than a shell. Right from the get go, with a name like that, it practically shouts at you: "look at me, I'm talking about WOMEN!" and so it goes. It harangues women, portrays them as weak, silly, and prone to putting themselves in dangerous situations. But seeing as they are all women, what can you expect them to do on their own, hai na?             Patriarchy:1, Women: 0

Enter: the knight in shining armor, the right honorable Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Because as we all know, women, however progressive they may be, need to fall back on men for help and support!

A major part of the movie is a courtroom drama centred around the prosecution of a woman, Meenal. She has hit a man in self defense, causing him head injuries. The man happens to have political connections. Result: he manages to turn the tables on her and get her arrested. She ends up having to spend a horrific time in a police lock up. The performances of the three lead women, specially Meenal played by Tapsee Pannu,  and Kirti Kulhari as Falak Ali, are pitch perfect. Most of the cast does an excellent job, too. 

Enter: Meenal's lawyer, Mr Sehgal, played by Amitabh Bachchan.  For reasons best known to him, he has been creepily watching the women closely. The film treats this as perfectly normal behavior. 

In a scene that made me gag, Mr Sehgal puts Meenal on the stand and asks her pointed, personal questions about her sex life. At this point I almost walked off, unable to take the violence of the language. Someone please tell the director Aniruddha Roy Choudhury that women are used to being insulted, having their character and sexual lives discussed threadbare and then having it used as stick to beat us with. You don't need to spell out the horrors of our lives to us! 

In a more shocking sequence, the culprits kidnap Meenal, and drive around, while apparently assaulting her. The men talk gleefully of raping her, and from all appearances they do. Yet, shockingly, in the rest of the movie, there's no mention of it. More than half the movie occurs in a courtroom. While the lawyers slug it out and police loiter about, the entire horrific incident is swept under the rug. Why is there no mention of it in the rest of the movie? Why aren't the perps brought to justice? 

Another aspect that bothered me was the role of Mamata Shankar. The entire sub-plot with her and her apparent romance (?) with Mr Sehgal was lost on me. What exactly was their relationship is not made clear. Other than to portray one more woman as weak, frail and dependent, and Mr Sehagal as savior, I couldn't fathom the reason for the introduction of the character.

The movie seems to try to reach out to the bollywood watching janata about concepts like consent, and we are supposed to be grateful for the smallest of mercies. "No means no" repeats Mr Sehgal in varying tones of voice, like the audience is hard of hearing. Or maybe a little dense. When talking to women you can never be sure! 

The biggest giveaway to how badly women need rescuing by big, strong, smart men is at the end close of the court case. As Sehgal walks away, victorious, the policewoman on duty looks up at him adoringly and salutes. In case you had any doubts, they made it clear who the hero is. FML, I murmured to myself.

Anti-women attitudes of our society are held up to scrutiny: is it immoral for a woman to drink? Does a woman who laughs and talks with a man, while having a drink and a conversation, send out signals that she's sexually available? To be fair, these conversations around consent are important to have, no doubt. It's the manner in which it is done that leaves you wanting to bash your own head in, rather than sit through this cruel joke.

I've heard people say that this movie plays out like a thriller, it didn't to me. Only if you are skeptical of the women's motives or don't take their word for it, like most of society does. The last sequence of the depiction of the assault as it happened, the events that trigger off the whole drama, from where the movie begins boggles the mind. It's captured in slow-motion, slimy, sneaky smiles of the men intact, making it look like a sneak peak video- voyeurism of misogyny celebrated. 

Alas, asking the right questions does not a feminist movie make. Even though it passes the bechdel test  it's attempts at feminism fail. The depictions of women are cringe worthy. It has the token "north eastern" girl, etched in painful stereotype. It panders to men's fears regarding young, independent women. The discomfort with assertive women and their ownership of their sexuality is moot; it's portrayal left open ended, pandering to the male gaze, safe only under a paternal custody. While the public discourse around sexual assault has grown over the years and Bollywood still seems not geared for it. 

How would this movie have looked with a Nawazuddin or even an Irrfan Khan, in the role of the lawyer Sehgal, I wondered time and again. For reasons best known to the producers and director they chose not have a woman lawyer in a movie about women's emancipation at its core. This reinforces my view that this is about empty, soulless posturing.

The weight of Mr Bachchan's presence is a burden for this movie and causes it to fall quite flat on its face, under the weight of unmanageable aspirations. Surely there are better way to pass on a message, than have Mr Bachchan ham his way through an entire movie. 

Just prior  to the release of Pink, Mr Bachchan had written a letter to his granddaughters talking of "women's empowerment". Take all that paternalism  in the PR stunt, multiply it many times over and you have this movie. It's colourless and full of cliches. Its male director and lead actor in the excitement to do feminism, don the familiar savior complex. They aren't willing to put women centre stage or to listen to them. Instead, their condescension is apparent. 

All of which left me feeling let down. Here was an opportunity to create a sensitive, powerful film, showing strong women take charge of their lives, despite patriarchy. Instead we get a patronizing, preaching piece, putting women right back into their slots, delivered from a male point of view!

In conclusion: dear men, quit the half assed attempts at feminism, will you, because you're spectacularly failing at it!


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  2. Thanks for your time and feedback. Do watch it. :)