Pink: Feminism Undermined

A little before Pink’s release, the cast appeared on television, being interviewed by NDTV. Towards the end of the interview, Amitabh Bachchan was asked about his relationship with feminism, and his response was just mind-blowing—something to this effect: I’m a feminist, and let me tell you why. When I die, I’m going to leave my son and daughter equal parts of my fortune. Wow. Unfortunately, this highly incomplete idea of what feminism is, also happens to drive the film.

Pink follows the lives of three women in South Delhi who are recovering from an incident of sexual violation by a group of men they were hanging out with one night, during which Minal, one of the women, struck at the man attempting to rape her, severely injuring him. In the weeks that follow, they are repeatedly harassed and stalked by the men, and Minal is finally kidnapped, raped, and then arrested for assaulting her attacker. In the legal trial that follows, they are represented by Bachchan’s character Mr. Sehgal, an elderly lawyer who lives in their neighbourhood and, we are given to understand, suffers from manic depression. The film is about the trauma of rape, and of being a woman in a society that erases, ignores, and exploits one’s lived experience, but primarily is about the importance of consent.

It would be normal to go into one’s Pink experience expecting mixed feelings. After all, how often is it that a piece of mainstream media succeeds in distilling the many nuanced and complicated tenets of feminism (which itself is evolving constantly, as we speak) into its narrative?

Expectedly, there are problems with the movie, like its unproductive depiction of mental illness (how does it matter to the movement of the plot whether or not Bachchan’s character suffers from depression, and why was he assigned the role of neighbourhood creep for the first half of the movie?), its digestible depiction of the women as urbane and upper-middle class, and its bizarre attempt to assert that the lives and bodies of sex workers do, in fact, matter. However, the manner in which it dealt with its three female protagonists—placed successively on the stand, and each succumbing to the violence of the bullying prosecution lawyer, as well as of their situations as victims—was what actively worked against the film’s agenda.

We don’t need more narratives of female victimhood, or of women crying in courts while being interrogated by male lawyers, or of women finding that their voices have mysteriously left them just when they’re supposed to testify against the men who have assaulted them, or of benevolent males who explain to us how important it is that we change how we’ve been taught to think about womanhood, feminism, sex, and sexual assault. Women have been explaining this stuff to us for centuries. The problem isn’t that this is a story that isn’t told, it’s that we’re not willing to listen because of our ideas of whose voices are to be respected, and why.

Pink’s only strong moment comes at its very last minute, when the clear message of “no means no” is articulated without any of the convolutedness of the rest of the movie. Aside from this moment, it’s hard to parse through the Bollywoodization of the script to really arrive at the points the movie makes, and this is perhaps, because the script itself is unsure of the enormity of the topic it seeks to address, and therefore is rendered full of loopholes. This is seen in how Minal’s kidnapping and rape—the most brutal instance of sexual assault in the film—was not once brought up in the trial, aside from a flippant mention by Mr. Sehgal.

That brings me to this: Pink addresses a critical problem, that of consent. However, the way in which it seeks to educate its viewer only further perpetuates the issues that lie underneath—the issues that have created the disregard for consent in the first place: patriarchy, the centuries-deep invisibilization of the work and ideas of women, the normalization of thrusting women to the side while a man does the explaining and talking—even if what he is talking about is a woman’s experience, a woman’s trauma, or a woman’s body. For centuries women have been denied the right or ability to design their own narratives, and Pink succumbs to this exact trope.

The producer of the movie said that Amitabh Bachchan would be a good promotional material, that his presence would help sell the movie more successfully. There is, however, a translation of this need for Mr. Bachchan for the movie’s success into the plot of the movie itself—the idea of the importance of consent, the movie seems to imply, is best sold by a male voice that is already respected.

There is a history of the victimization of minority and vulnerable communities in narratives of “social justice” espoused by the privileged, and this history has led to the marginalization of already suppressed voices. This phenomenon reveals itself starkly when media is controlled and constructed by the privileged about the lives of the marginalized. Pink, whose script was written by men, didn’t quite challenge patriarchal conservatism. It merely took the variables already at hand—those of male centrism and sexism—and used them to make its story digestible to a conservative public.

Pink would have been stronger if its script had allowed for the women to speak at their trials. It would have really challenged the ways in which we’re taught to think about sex and gender, especially if the women had had a female lawyer representing them. It would have made us think more about whose bodies matter and whose don’t in our society, if the women had been more representative of the demographic that is most vulnerable to sexual assault—poor, non-English speaking, marginalized women. It would have been a harder film (and idea) to sell, but how else do you undo the normalization of sexism and patriarchy?

It’s important to note Pink’s attempt at sending an important message. Consent is important, and Bollywood has been telling us otherwise for decades. “No means no” is an essential message, and only good can come from further beating it into the heads of the general public. But I find it difficult to call anything that reiterates the image of a woman reduced to nothing but a bystander as her own fate is determined in front of her eyes, revolutionary.


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Lavanya Nott Written by:

One Comment

  1. October 20, 2016

    A very well-argued piece, extremely incisive, and so free of pomo jargon!!!

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