A couple of months after the December 2012 gang-rape in Delhi (probably the watershed for discussions of gender justice and consent in India) I was travelling in the general compartment of a reasonably crowded metro. I was standing near a row of seats occupied at one end by two middle aged women, most likely returning home from work. A feet from me, stood a young couple, holding hands and making calf eyes at each other. Adequately repulsed by their PDA (as prudish young women are wont to) I proceeded to eavesdrop on the middle aged women. Apparently they didn’t approve of the PDA either, going on to assert that ‘these’ (referring to the female half of the couple) are the kind of young women who first ‘make’ young men fall in love with them and then cry rape.
From a neutral perspective, Pink is an above-average movie. The first half is crafted like a thriller, and in spite of all the stomach churning scenes (and as a woman in Delhi, your stomach is bound to churn), it holds your interest. The second half however is unrelentingly preachy with Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone doing everything to convince you that no means no. From the perspective of a person with vested interest however (that is, an average urban woman facing close mindedness from aunties in the metro, neighbourhood uncles, family friends and relatives), the second half of Pink is like a well-made pamphlet for propaganda of the feminist cause.
And you have to admit that this is a reason for some happiness. After all, as late as 1980, the same Amitabh Bachchan was lecturing Zeenat Aman to wear more clothes to the beach as a solution to avoid others’ lechery. He helpfully tells her, “aise kapdo mein aapko seetiyan nahi sunayi degi toh kya mandir ki ghantiya sunayi degi”. Did I mention he was a cop?
Then in 1990, in Ghar ho toh aisa, Anil Kapoor harasses his secretary into changing out of her modern clothes into “decent” ones. Of course he may have been commenting on her fashion sense (the dress was truly hideous, see pic below), but his elation at seeing her wear a sari later (“inn kapdo mein tum shareef ghar ki ladki lag rahi ho”) puts an end to such hopes. And I am not even going to go into the numerous successful attempts by Jeetendra to stalk, molest and generally harass Sridevi into dating him.
The most egregious failure to understand matters of consent was of course Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, an all-time favourite for many young people.
Waking up after a night of drinking, Raj convinces Simran that the two of them had sex the previous night. Simran does not remember anything about the night and quite justifiably, freaks out. Raj tries to calm her down and admits he was joking. And then he tells her that he knows she is Indian, and therefore understands the importance of her virtue. The point about the ‘bad boy’ not being evil could have been equally well made if he had pointed out that Indian or not, if he had had sex with a girl too drunk to have given her consent, it would be rape. But maybe that wouldn’t have had the NRIs cheering…
In Raaja Ayegi Baraat, Rani Mukherjee marries her rapist (apparently not an uncommon outcome of the great justice system’s working in India) and makes nice with him even as the rest of the family plots to off her. But even in the better made, YRF sanctioned Ishaqzaade, Arjun Kapoor has sex with Parineeti Chopra under false pretences (still rape). Not only does she forgive him, but by the end of the movie they are a pair of star crossed lovers killed by their feuding families.
In fact the only time at the movies when I felt satisfied with the consequences faced by men when they treated women badly, was Chak de India.
At a visceral level, this was more satisfying than the favourable court verdict in Pink, which I know reflects quite poorly on me. Of course a court mandated punishment is better for democracy than a public lynching. Yet this scene allows its women to vent their frustration that Indian women (or at least I) feel on a daily basis and cannot express, while also doing justice to the characters (watch how Bindiya trips one of the goons while continuing to sit with a certain amount of detachment).
There is a second non-cinematic, illogical reason why Pink did not make me rave. At one point, Falak points out that even if they were sex workers but withdrew their consent at any point, it would still be assault. For that moment, I suddenly wished that that had been the storyline. I thought back to an episode of the serial Sidhhant, a courtroom drama that used to play on Star One while I was still in school. I only have vague memories of it (and I can’t find a link online) but that had been my introduction to the issues of consent. And if a television serial could tackle that a decade earlier, there is no reason why a movie with that many resources at its disposal could not be slightly bolder.