At the outset let me applaud Shoojit Sircar and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury for attempting to send a very crucial and rarely conveyed message through Pink. It was about time Bollywood audiences were told that when a woman says no, it means no, whether that woman is a prostitute, or your wife. In the midst of movies that depict stalking and repeatedly harassing a woman as ways of wooing her, this film stands out like a diamond in a heap of coal. And for that alone this film should be commended.
Having said that, I am more overwhelmed by the response the film is getting and less with the film itself. The decision to choose, as the primary characters, three modern-day working professionals who may not fit the traditional definition of “decent” women but have all the requisite qualities of the newly emerging definition among the urban elite of what is acceptable seems to dilute the film’s message. Some decades ago, the newly acceptable woman of Bollywood was the one who wore Western clothes but was Indian at heart. She did talk to men, but she fell in love with only one man. She did go against her parent’s wishes and decide to marry a man of her choice, but she never had sex with him before marriage. This was a great improvement on the previous avatar of the virtuous woman of Bollywood , who never wore Western clothes, mostly stayed indoors and only spoke to men when they spoke to her.
The problem with Pink was that although the message at the end was that any woman, whether she was a sex worker or a woman of ill repute, needed to give consent before anyone can be physically intimate with her, what the film ended up doing was creating a new Bollywood heroine – an independent working woman who has loved more than once, has had sex with the men she has loved, drinks alcohol occasionally and wears short skirts and tight clothes when she goes partying (and only when she goes partying). In using a woman who would be considered of questionable character by a more traditional society but not by today’s urban elite, and by the characterisation of the men involved as those having a feudal mindset, Pink unconsciously points a finger at only certain kind of men – those who have never seen their sisters or wives wear a short skirt and who think that women shouldn’t work or go to parties or drink alcohol.
Please note that the boy who allegedly did not have this feudal mindset was let off by the judge.
Unfortunately, these feudal men are not the only ones who cannot take no for an answer. The so-called more modern men who have seen a woman in short skirts or drink and party may not think that her character is defined by the length of her clothes or the hour that she returns home. But they have their own yardsticks to measure her decency.
Making judgements about a person’s character especially based upon his/her clothes is part of human nature and maybe is even necessary for survival. It is why we dress differently when we go for an interview or on a date. And if for those of a more feudal mindset a woman’s character is defined by the length of her skirt, for a more modern man (or woman, for that matter) it may be the transparency of your clothes, or the fact that you do not wear a bra. It’s not just men – women too make judgements about men if they wear floral shirts or if their wardrobe has too much pink.
So, if you replace an old judgement by a new one of what is acceptable behaviour in a woman, one isn’t really changing anything, and the message that no means no is always applicable, gets diluted.
Some years ago, Rakhi Sawant was forcibly kissed by rapper Mika Singh. Pictures and videos in which Sawant clearly looked like she was trying to push him away were all over the news. Tabloids had a field day. Sawant even lodged a complaint against Singh. However, not a single word was spoken against the man. It was simply a matter to be laughed off.
Most of us even today, even as we walk out of a screening of Pink, would not have supported Sawant. It is for this reason that it was important that this movie feature women who were unlikeable, maybe even tacky and deliberately lascivious and licentious, women whose lifestyle and life choices could be considered high-risk even by the most liberal minds, because finally the point here is not to create an acceptance for a new kind of woman, but to say that even if you disagree with their way of life, no still means no.
In 1988, Jodie Foster played a working woman of “questionable character” in the movie The Accused. In that movie, Foster walks into a pub completely drunk and literally falls all over a guy she supposedly finds cute. Her clothes are almost falling off her and after close dancing with him for a few minutes and even kissing him a little, she refuses when he tries to have sex with her right there in the pub. He, of course, forces himself on her in the presence of several witnesses at the bar who cheer him on. However, it is only when we see this promiscuous, flirtatious, drunken woman say no and understand that even then, no means no is the point driven home.
When we spend half the film portraying our victims as “normal working women”, somewhere the message gets lost in translation.