3 min read.Updated: 17 Sep 2016, 12:29 AM ISTUday Bhatia
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury's film is low on nuance, high on moral certitude
The most memorable image in Pink is that of Deepak (Amitabh Bachchan) walking from his Delhi home to a nearby park, wearing a gas mask and breathing heavily. As Darth Vader imitations go, it’s a commendable 6/10. Yet, as a repeated detail, it’s also empty, an impressive-looking trick that signifies nothing. This is the only bit of compulsive behaviour—if that’s what this is—that Deepak displays. There are brief mentions of mental health problems, but wandering around Delhi with a gas mask is hardly an indication of an unstable mind.
This isn’t the only story strand that Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink introduces and then forgets about. Minal (Taapsee Pannu) is abducted and sexually assaulted by men who want to teach her a lesson for injuring their friend and speaking to the police. Whether the film needed this incident at all is debatable, but once it happens, one would expect it to be at least a minor part of the ensuing narrative. This, however, doesn’t happen. I wouldn’t want to suggest that rape—like Deepak’s mental health, or his dying wife—is being used as colourful detail, but it certainly feels that way.
This is unfortunate, because Pink is earnestly, vocally in the corner of its female characters. The film begins with Minal and her roommates, Falak (Kirti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Tariang), in a cab, panicked and desperate to reach home. In another cab, Rajveer (Angad Bedi) holds a bloodied cloth over his eye while his friends assure him that they won’t let “those women" get away with it. We find out that it was Minal who’d hit Rajveer with a bottle after he wouldn’t stop touching her. It also transpires that he’s the nephew of a powerful politician—a cliché, really, given he’s the bad guy in a Delhi-set Hindi film.
Rajveer’s friends stalk and threaten the women, who live in a rented South Delhi flat and don’t have anyone to turn to. After Minal’s abduction and assault, they register a case with the police, upon which Rajveer files counter charges, including attempt to murder. It’s at this point that Deepak, who’s been glowering and acting weird on the edges of the narrative, is revealed to be an attorney. He agrees to take on Minal’s case, though why her roommates, even in their desperate state, would think that a retired lawyer with mental health issues would be a good bet is less than clear.
After the pregnant pauses, careful framing and unbearably tasteful background music—all of which suggest a Bengali film that happens to be unfolding in Delhi—of the first half, it’s a relief when Pink morphs into a charged courtroom drama. It’s not that the proceedings aren’t gimmicky; Deepak begins his arguments with single-word phrases like “superwoman" and “no", and his attacking his own client on the stand is so transparent a strategy that the makers put it in the trailer. But at least the film begins to execute what seems to have been its plan from the start: to have Bachchan lecture viewers on how the dice is always loaded against women in India. There’s a bit of moral greyness introduced towards the end, but on the whole, Pink has all the righteousness and simplicity of a PSA.
Pannu, in her first worthwhile role in a Hindi film (most of her work has been in Telugu and Tamil cinema), manages to suggest someone who’s been drained of everything but a small sliver of resistance. Her unwavering determination is the moral centre of the film, even though it was Bachchan’s bluster that the audience I saw the film with responded to. Pink has its heart in the right place, but there’s very little joy to be derived from its sermons. In Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder, James Stewart comes out of retirement to defend a man whose wife has been raped. It’s one of the least sanctimonious, most absorbing courtroom films ever. I don’t know if Bachchan’s Deepak Sehgal is a tribute to Stewart’s Paul Biegler, but Pink could definitely have done with a dose of Preminger subtlety.