A month after the disastrous Rustom (which went on to become a big commercial hit nevertheless) comes another film that spends its first half setting up a case and its second showing us how the case was fought in court. Only this time, the story is completely fictional, although it could well be real. Also, it isn't comically tacky, although not for lack of trying.
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, the Bengali filmmaker who made the National-Award-winning Anuranan (2006) and Antaheen (2009), collaborates with Shoojit Sircar (as producer) for the second time since 2012's Aparajita Tumi. However, he seemed to have been markedly absent from the promotions of this film — the posters say 'Shoojit Sircar's Pink' and the Piku (2015) director has also been hogging most of the limelight in interviews. Did someone say 'ghost-directed'? Who knows, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised. Pink has the quality of a muddled product, as though people who were thinking of entirely different films took over the reigns at various points.
The result is a mess that's sometimes laughably bad, but with enough strong, impactful moments to trick you into believing that it is a good film. It's a story about three young women rooming together in posh south Delhi. It begins well, with a silent opening credits sequence that eventually lets us listen to snatches of a conversation between what seems like a group of youngsters having a good time. This cuts to a scenario where we see that they have split up. Three girls, nervous and agitated, are getting home in terrified silence. A group of four young men, on the other hand, are escorting their friend, Rajveer (Angad Bedi), to a hospital; he appears to be bleeding profusely from his left eye. Clearly, this party didn't end well. Commendably, the film takes its time to reveal what actually happened.
The interactions between the three girls make for interesting viewing. Minal (Taapsee Pannu) is their natural leader, a professional dancer (not that the movie shows us much of that) who was the one who attacked Rajveer. Falak (Kirti Kulhari) is a more conservative character, the kind who believes that the best offence is a good defence — at least until things get to her. She says nothing when asked to leave from her Rs 40,000-a-month-salaried job simply because her boss found (badly Photoshopped) pictorial evidence online that suggests she may be a call girl (one of many contrived moments — wouldn't someone who really needs the job, as the film suggests, fight harder?), but stands up for Minal when Rajveer, in a phone call, abuses her verbally (a scene that loses its edge thanks to the inane dialogue replacements dictated by our dear Censor Board).
Meanwhile, the third is Andrea (Andrea Tariang), a timid girl from Meghalaya who assumes the role of frightened only child trapped between two warring parents. These dynamics are established early on thanks to the easy chemistry between the three. This is despite Bodhaditya Banerjee's frenetic editing, which seems to be in a hurry to get to the courtroom drama part of it, rather than letting the story unfold naturally. The makers seem to be so impatient to cram their film with events rather than moments that we barely get to see how this ordeal is actually affecting the girls.
It helps, however, that the girls are consistently watchable, despite their sketchy characterisations. Pannu, in particular, stands out — she uses her Delhi background to full advantage here in an impressively internalised performance.
It doesn't help that Bachchan seems to have decided that actual acting is an unnecessary effort at his age, when simply turning up on set and employing that legendary baritone is enough to do the job.
The men, on the other hand, are portrayed as typically loutish, privileged Delhi youths, with patriarchal attitudes and political connections (Rajveer is an MLA's nephew). Amongst them, Ankit (Vijay Varma) is the fire-starter. Despite not having been around when the incident occurred, he takes it upon himself to exact revenge upon the girls for injuring his friend. Later, they manage to use their influence to slap multiple charges on the girls, including alleging that they were prostitutes. Varma's competent performance is wasted as the film goes on to relegate him to the sidelines. Bizarrely, in the end, he as well as another guy nicknamed 'Dumpy', get away lightly, despite having arguably done worse things than what Rajveer has done. It's like the makers forgot about them.
The movie's main problems lie with the sketchy, larger-than-life character named Deepak Sahgal (Amitabh Bachchan), a grizzled old man who seems to emerge from the shadows the way mechanical monsters do at 'haunted' theme park rides. The movie informs us that he used to be a prominent lawyer before bipolar disorder (?) got to him and he lives opposite the girls' house; yet, for some reason, the girls don't know who he is and constantly act like he's an inconvenient ghostly apparition they've only just discovered.
This worsens as the film progresses, with Sahgal going very conveniently from 'pollution-mask-wearing creepy uncle' to the lawyer who ends up fighting the girl's case, delivering Feminism 101 sermons in court to a haggard judge (Dhritiman Chatterjee), who looks like he'd rather be at home in bed. Screenwriter Ritesh Shah succumbs to the temptation of turning a character played by Bachchan into a 'Bachchan character' — a watered-down angry old man who magically gets over a debilitating mental illness during the course of a Case He Truly Believes In and gets to deliver the film's most impactful and entertaining one-liners. Trust him to be the mansplainer in what many are sure to — mistakenly — call a 'feminist film' (i.e. one that all but forgets its female characters once the courtroom scenes begin).
It doesn't help that Bachchan seems to have decided that actual acting is an unnecessary effort at his age, when simply turning up on set and employing that legendary baritone is enough to do the job. This is a wildly patchy and inconsistent turn from the Hindi cinema legend, with his demeanour and dialogue delivery shifting from scene to scene, as though he'd momentarily forgotten whether he was shooting for this film, Wazir or TE3N. I'd call this his worst performance in years but the truth is there isn't much to choose from anymore.
Also, a word about Piyush Mishra, who plays Rajveer's ruthless counsel: no. Nope, nope, nope. There may be films that benefit from his unbearable hamming and annoyingly breathless dialogue delivery, but Pink isn't one of them. As bad as Bachchan is, he is no match for Mishra, who would've single-handedly torpedoed this movie even if everything else had been perfect.
Pink will likely be dubbed an 'important' movie, because it is. Its underlying themes of slut-shaming, consent, and societal double standards are impactful enough, despite the consistent lack of subtlety, and are rarely discussed with such openness in Hindi cinema. However, none of this excuses the fact that the end product is a middling, slapdash drama that goes out of its way to dumb itself down and manipulate the audience.
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