The first few minutes of Pink, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu and Kirti Kulhari, keep us interested, keep us guessing. In an early scene, we see a young man, blood gushing out of his eye, being taken to a hospital by his friends. In the next, we see three girls visibly disturbed and shocked, consoling each other. The guy, Rajveer (Angad Bedi), is getting treated at the hospital; the girl, Minal (Pannu), is removing spots of blood from her neck. These girls share a flat in Delhi; in a few days, their landlord receives an anonymous phone call and is told to evict them out of his house. When he refuses to do anything about it, he’s threatened in person. In a few other scenes, an old man (Bachchan), wearing a breathing mask, stares at the girls from the balcony of his house. We know that these scenes are related somehow but not exactly how.
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, the director of Pink, knows what makes a good thriller: trusting the audiences to connect the dots, slowly letting them inside the story, controlling what plot points to reveal and when. As a result, the first half of Pink is fairly engaging. We eventually understand the basic set up: Minal (Pannu), Falak (Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Tariang) met Rajveer Singh, and his two friends, at a rock concert. They accepted their invitation for a dinner in a Surajkund resort. That meeting ended in Minal smashing a bottle on Rajveer’s head. Later, Minal accuses Rajveer of molesting her, while he accuses the former and her friends of being prostitutes and, through his political contacts, gets Minal jailed.
Minal, facing a trial for attempt to murder, is represented by the renowned lawyer Deepak Sehgal (Bachchan), who, prior to this case, had retired because of his deteriorating mental health. By now, we know nearly all the major characters; we know the stakes involved in the story. We also have some idea about what happened that night but the motives remain and we expect the court case to clear things up.
And then, like most Hindi films, Pink, at a fairly high dramatic point, breaks for an interval. Post-interval, the film introduces a new character, Prashant (Piyush Mishra), a lawyer representing Rajveer and his friends. Mishra, it seems, is present in the film for one sole reason: to make it worse. Right from his first scene, with an oscillating head, delivering lines with such gusto that it borders on singing rather than talking, Mishra manages to effortlessly embarrass himself in the movie. And like Happy Bhag Jayegi, Pink, too, has Mishra fixated on, for reasons only known to himself, parodying himself. The unintentional buffoonery of his character, and the fact that even the film treats him as a laughing stock, slowly starts taking away the sheen from Pink.
It also starts to become a different kind of a film. As the various details of the case start coming to the fore, indicating that the three girls may have been falsely implicated, we see someone else starting to drive the film: Bachchan. Quite early in the case, when Prashant tries hard to prove that the accused girls are prostitutes (using outlandish reasons such as “They were always in the need of money”, “had male friends visiting their place”, “went out drinking with strangers”), Bachchan’s Sehgal starts formulating something called “Safety Guidelines for Women”. “Rule number 1,” he says, and you’ve a faint idea how this will end. Throughout the case, as Prashant keeps humiliating himself by expounding regressive, patriarchal views on gender, choice and consent, Sehgal keeps countering him, adding new rules to the guidelines.
No one in their right minds will deny the importance of what Sehgal is saying. He touches upon something crucial and essential: the hypocrisy of Indian society — the fact that a girl smiling, behaving friendly, drinking, accepting an invitation for dinner doesn’t, in any way, equate to her giving consent for a sexual intercourse. These points have been made numerous times on social media, primetime shows, in opinion and reported pieces, and yet sexual crimes against women in the country — in cities, small towns, villages — haven’t reduced.
But here’s the thing: a noble, well-intentioned message doesn’t necessarily make for good cinema.
And it’s precisely where Pink begins to falters, for it soon starts seeing itself as an ‘important film’ as opposed to being an intelligent drama — one that primarily tells a compelling story and, through it, drives home an important and crucial social message. In its bid to be socially conscious and project Bachchan’s Sehgal as some sort of a messiah, the film starts becoming one-note. Mishra’s character, Rajveer and his friends — the ones who embody regressive Indian society — are easy targets for Sehgal, who often chides them with his wry and at times even absurd, sense of humour, which, although quite enjoyable, hardly adds anything to the drama.
It also doesn’t help that the film’s tone vastly changes from the first half to the second (it transforms from being a thriller to a courtroom drama), and some of the crucial points of the case ultimately remain unexplained and unresolved. At some point in Pink’s second half, we know exactly how the film is going to end and what it is going to say, leaving us nothing to be surprised about.
But even at the level of being socially conscious, Pink doesn’t add anything new to the prevailing discourse on sexual violence in our country. So for someone well versed with the conversation, it comes across as a film that merely scratches the surface. After a point, watching Pink feels like reading an essay with an overly familiar content. In contrast, the Radhika Apte-starrer Phobia, although suffering from some of its own limitations, skillfully showed how a director could smartly blend the aesthetics of film-making with a powerful message.
Post-interval, Pink shows that kind of confidence just once. At one point, Sehgal and Minal are jogging in a park and, on seeing her, two boys refer to her as the girl in the “Surajkund kaand [scandal]”. On hearing this, Minal covers her head with her sweatshirt’s hood. Sehgal turns towards her and removes the hood, uncovering her face, as if saying she shouldn’t be ashamed, for she’s got nothing to hide, nothing to be afraid of. That one small quiet scene, lasting for a few seconds, is more powerful than Pink’s entire second half. Good cinema doesn’t necessarily need a hammer, the noise of dialogues; sometimes, a gesture is more than enough.