That the word ‘pink’ is a slang term for a woman’s vagina is perhaps lost on many who have seen and applauded Indian director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s movie—Pink (Hindi). As the story revolves around an attempt to rape, the title seems apt.
The movie opens with a crime; a man is seen bleeding from his head—his friends in a hurry to get him to hospital—and as the story progresses, it winds its way through the culture of male entitlement that pervades India in a big way. The night turns into a nightmare for three young girls in New Delhi, as they flee a resort after one of them hits her attacker with a bottle that nearly takes his eye. Despite being stalked by the attacker’s friends and harassed by the police, they gather the courage to fight a patriarchal system—hell-bent on “showing women their place”—with the help of an elderly man. Amitabh Bachchan breathes grimness and intensity into lawyer Deepak Sehgal, who decides to stand with the girls as they struggle against the trauma of molestation and an apathetic society that questions their independence and spunk.
Pink dives into a world that constantly humiliates women by judging them for everything—from how they dress to what they drink and the time they come home from work. As Minal Arora (Taapsee Pannu) struggles to defend herself in court, we sense that the prosecution’s queries are meant to make it look like “she asked for it”. Right from choosing to go to a disco to drinking and laughing with men, everything seems to “give the wrong signals”. There is a constant attempt at presenting the girls as prostitutes, particularly because they are independent and love a peg or two.
Apart from highlighting how young men with outdated mindsets could prove dangerous to the modern Indian woman, the movie touches on one aspect I find particularly liberating—the issue of consent. Towards the end, when Minal’s friend Falak Ali (Kirti Kulhari) turns the case on its head, it is obvious that she has stopped caring about what others might think or say about her. Her only aim then is to help the judge understand that no man has the right to touch her regardless of who she is to him. And Sehgal’s closing argument drives the point home. “It doesn’t matter what she is—an acquaintance, a friend, girlfriend, sex worker, or wife—no simply means no,” states Sehgal.
The steel in Sehgal’s eyes conveys a strong message to a country that is yet to criminalize marital rape. A 2014 report by researcher Aashish Gupta of the Rice institute found that women are 40 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by their husband than a stranger. Gupta concluded that fewer than 1 percent of sexual assaults within marriage are reported to the police. Marital rape counsellor and lawyer Monica has rightly blamed India’s patriarchal conditioning for such crimes. She also cites lack of awareness among women regarding their rights. She says—in a 2016 story on NDTV this year—that men think marriage is a licence for sex. She stresses that men don’t even realise they need to ask for consent.
Besides, the notion that “no means yes” or that women “secretly enjoy” being touched against their will still remain. The inability of many Indian men to befriend women for the people they are—to not judge them for the kind of clothes they wear or how open-minded they are—is starkly obvious in this movie. Men like Sehgal stand as the only hope for the ignorant Indian male. Sehgal bitterly reminds the court that the safety manual of an Indian woman has many rules, including never to befriend men or spend time with them, thus widening the rift between the sexes in a male-dominated society.
Pink forcefully underlines the need for women to own their sexuality and for men to understand that a friendly girl isn’t a slut, a girl who drinks isn’t “asking for it”, and that sex with a woman involves two very important elements—her choice and her consent.