Movie Review: Pink (2016)

pink3 Stars (out of 4)

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Pink is a clear, convincing skewering of the double standards women are held to regarding their sexuality, and an indictment of the way those standards enable violence against women.

Two vehicles speed toward Delhi late one night. One car carries three male friends, one of whom bleeds profusely from a head wound. A cab ferries three somber women, the only indicator that something is wrong being Minal’s (Taapsee Pannu) smudged lipstick.

We can guess what happened. The bleeding man, Rajveer (Angad Bedi), forced himself on Minal, who defended herself with a glass bottle. She and her roommates Andrea (Andrea Tariang) and Falak (Kirti Kulhari) hope that the guys — Rajveer, Dumpy (Raashul Tandon), and Minal’s schoolmate Vishwa (Tushar Pandey) — will leave things be.

The men seem willing to until another friend, Ankit (Vijay Verma), whips them into a frenzy of wounded male pride. They harass and torment the women, hoping to drive them out of town. When the women file a police report, the men use the political clout of Rajveer’s family to file a counter charge of attempted murder against Minal.

All of this occurs under the watchful eye of the women’s odd neighbor, Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan). He walks the neighborhood wearing a black mask and stares intimidatingly at the women’s apartment. Yet the former attorney reveals himself to be an ally, emerging from retirement to defend Minal in court.

One important note for international viewers is that the English subtitles leave much to be desired, and not just because of spoken English dialogue that doesn’t match the captioning. I understand enough Hindi to tell when translated subtitles don’t quite capture what is being said, sacrificing content for brevity, and that happens a lot in Pink.

Poor subtitling may explain why I found some parts of the story confusing. It’s unclear precisely what mental illness forced Sehgal to retire, or why he comes across as sinister early in the film. Bad translating may also be to blame for a perplexing scene late in the film featuring Falak on the witness stand.

Where director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and writer Ritesh Shah excel is in the film’s structure. They start with the aftermath of the instigating event and proceed from there, without flashbacks or man-on-the-street reactions (thank heavens). Cases of rape are almost always “he said, she said,” so the audience is limited to the same kind of evidence that a jury might have. Only during the closing credits do we actually see the events that led up to Minal braining Rajveer with the bottle.

Pannu, Kulhari, and Tariang give nuanced performances that portray the range of emotions the women experience in a realistic way. Minal is the “strong” one, but there are limits to what even she can endure. Falak’s instinct to agree to whatever terms will make their problems disappear most quickly is understandable.

Likewise, the actors playing the perpetrators portray their characters as generally normal guys who bring out the worst in each other. Vishwa is reasonable and even a little sympathetic when he’s not with his friends, though he’s clearly not strong enough to stand up to them. Rajveer isn’t a cartoon villain, but rather an entitled bully. He’s gets what he wants because no one stops him.

The morality tale exacted by the younger characters is distilled into tidy lessons by Bachchan’s character during the courtroom scenes. I’m not sure if lawyers in real Indian courtrooms are allowed to monologue as long as Sehgal does, but his words are impactful.

The movie proceeds at a cautious pace to make sure that the audience has time to absorb the moral message being doled out. For those already versed in feminism and issues of violence against women, the pacing feels slow. But Pink is a movie made to change minds, and hiring a legend like Amitabh Bachchan to deliver the message is a smart way to ensure that people listen.

[Update: Thanks to @karansingh9008 and @Djimitunchained for letting me know via Twitter that Sehgal’s illness wasn’t explained in the Hindi dialogue either.]

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