By Rahul Desai
Director: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
In order to write about Pink, I’m going to have to take a closer look at Amitabh Bachchan’s character – an enigmatic lawyer named Deepak Sehgal, who comes out of retirement to fight a case.
The case is more of a whydunit than a whodunit: An angry girl smashes in a guy’s eye on a shady night that has various versions of why this happened. She claims molestation. He claims prostitution. Unfortunately, his friends are vehement ‘No One Killed Jessica’ brats. We aren’t conditioned to side with them. And this is Delhi.
A Delhi that Mr Sehgal has grown silently disillusioned with. He isn’t quite in the pink of mental health either. It isn’t necessary to be specific about what he has; let’s just say he has the license to be deliberately vague and eccentric. You could say that about most Amitabh Bachchan roles nowadays. Most of these films showboat this septuagenarian senility.
When he argues later in court, one notices how he is almost listening to himself as he speaks – stilted, as if trying to put together jumbled thoughts to sound coherent, constructing sentences newly, relearning the process of logic, reacting more than acting, to quickly channel his cascading intelligence. It was perhaps this intelligence that led to this heightened state of diminishment. And it is his horror that leads him to re-organize this gift. This burden.
His old wife has been fading in the hospital. She worries for him. Where is his purpose? What is his purpose after her? He withers as she does. You can sense he was the emotionally dependent one. My grandfather’s Alzheimer’s worsened considerably after his wife of 60 years passed away. She knows it’s coming.
He wears a breathing device to counter pollution, an attempt to physically compensate for his ailing mind. He doesn’t have much of a reason to interact with humans anymore. He doesn’t have the motivation for niceties and communication.
And maybe this is the most important thing about this film: he is a loner, a cinematic one at that, which automatically grants him immunity from social conformation, from conditioning, Twitter and Facebook and herd mentality and trends and wanting to behave a certain manner. It gives him the freedom to sound surprisingly pragmatic, even when he isn’t supposed to. It gives him the independence to go from hazy to crystal clear and back in seconds, to embrace — and engage — through inconsistency.
Though he looks like a brooding ghost to the three girls that live opposite, he has spent his time observing people. Observing the world. Observing the changing times. Continuing his default setting. In a way, he has quietly lamented the death of innocence, the decay of feminism, the epidemic of misogyny and the collective loss of conscience.
He was never quiet earlier; he couldn’t afford to be. He is not a fan of human nature. He has processed everything and stored it at the back of his mind. He has probably made mistakes too, but he has been mute long enough to be reborn as a blank slate.
A look at his bedridden wife makes him forget how wise he is. It makes him forget that he has a little more to offer. If he could write, he would. If he could air his opinion, he wouldn’t. Unless…it’s a matter of life. Meenal Arora’s (Taapsee Pannu) life. Falak Ali’s (Kirti Kulhari) life. Andrea’s (Andrea Tariang) life. Those three girls. Those three working girls, as we are repeatedly reminded.
It is the director’s intention to show that his wife recognizes how he has regained some purpose through them, through their fight, through their muddy muddled situation. Which is why we see clumsy inserts of the three girls gently entering his life, meeting his wife at night, lighting candles et al – as if they belong to a different film, a distinct dream, a separate mood amidst the theatricality of the courtroom. One can imagine the producers devising these ways for us to hurriedly empathise with these personas.
When he argues for them in court, mostly sarcastically and sardonically, like only a man who has quietly been disgusted about humanity can, he seems to be struggling to come to terms with how he is surrounded by utter idiocy. He seems to be struggling to accept how he was asleep for so long. He is patronising and insightful, mostly for himself. But there is never a feeling that he has just spent the night being observed by his wife and the three girls. Or that they’ve had a glimpse of the man behind the mask. They have, apparently. It all feels a bit disjoint, like an afterthought, as if to prove that genius is a condition and not a consequence.
Sehgal — Bachchan, actually — becomes the face of the film he inhabits – responsible, saying the right things, inciting the correct emotions, but often digressing, unable to process how he has been forced to become the mirror to ugliness. There is a feeling that the makers are keenly aware of how they cannot go wrong with their words. There is a feeling that they know they have us, which is why laziness seeps in once it is clear how much more can be done.
Bachchan’s voice, his booming baritone, his pauses and moments of lunacy are all very predictable in their unpredictability, establishing the ground for importance. We hear him more than what he says. We recognize him more than the world he mourns. We sympathize with him more than the souls he represents.
And this isn’t the best thing, because what he says is good, it makes complete sense – his views on sexism, on women in Indian society and the male gaze – as is indicated by the senior judge’s (Dhritiman Chatterjee) equally shaken demeanor. It is ironic that this man finds himself as a judge in a case that is precisely about the ills of judging. But he is a sympathetic man too, bound by the chains of professionalism and rationality.
The opposing counsel (Piyush Mishra; from caricature to flesh) exists solely to make him look sane; this chap is the guy who drinks too much at farmhouse parties, has a funny way of speaking, but is brutally unpretentious. They are the results of their job, and may have perhaps led a completely different and hypocritical life away from court. You wonder how they manage to keep a straight face while watching the girls (and actresses) pour their hearts out. But then again, it’s their job. The two senior men seem to be the ones mourning a nation. They are probably the ones who go “youngsters these days” at family gatherings, and don’t want to be right about it. They are also the ones who distinguish old-fashioned morality from modern liberalism. But today, it is upon them to be sensible. At the twilight of their lives, there is little to lose.
Quite often through the trial, I found myself judging the girls one by one – by their tattoos, choices, clothes, sobs, fickleness, affairs and language. The flaws. The truth and lies. I’d wonder if they were being honest at all. If there were shades of grey, as there should be. Wrong doesn’t always mean bad. Right doesn’t always mean true. Though there is this Bollywood-ish tendency of choosing dodgy-looking male perpetrators, who are already guilty by (North Indian) appearance. I’d spot little things, like an annoying permanent smirk on one of the boys (Vishwa, his name is) watching proceedings – apparently the only innocent and sympathetic one out of the four, who clearly wasn’t informed by the filmmakers about his backstory when these court scenes were shot beforehand.
But it doesn’t matter, because this isn’t really a thriller or a procedural drama. It also doesn’t matter because, despite not being shown what really happened that night (a smart decision), we’re not quite the jury.
I’d then see the older men’s faces. Sehgal convincing the judge, yes, but if viewed from a different prism, also two broken-hearted fossils exchanging glances and discussing today’s generation at the end of a long day. The only difference is, they aren’t at a party. They mean it, because they’ve likely been part of the problem. As have the filmmakers. And they’re coming clean. A little too hard. A little too obviously. Bachchan’s voice throttles on in PSA tone even during the end credits.
For it’s likely that, like the rich and myopic chauvinists in question, we don’t understand soft anymore. And maybe we’d rather be told what is right than being merely presented with facts or fiction. Maybe we prefer the lines being blurred between a medium of art and a statement of sincerity.