I recently had the chance to watch Anirudhha Roy Chowdhury’s gritty film Pink. The movie was a breath of fresh air as it dealt with very important issues relating to consent and sexual assaults on women. The beauty of this movie lies in the fact that Chowdhury does not make a half-baked effort at storytelling. She does not use euphemisms and she does not hide behind analogies or metaphors. Instead, she grabs the issues by their neck and throws them into the spotlight. The women speak for themselves; they confess their desires, ‘sins’ and assert control over their own bodies.
Pink chronicles the trials and tribulations that three girls (Minal, Andrea and Falak) face. Minal has been sexually assaulted at a dinner party by a rich and influential man, Rajvir Singh. Minal retaliates, wounding him severely with a glass bottle. Rajvir retaliates by lodging a false FIR against the trio, labelling them as prostitutes, with the help of his powerful contacts. Following a series of harrowing events, Minal is eventually represented in court by an ageing lawyer, Deepak Sehgal (brilliantly played by Amitabh Bachchan). What ensues is a gripping legal drama filled with hard truths.
Here are three of the most pertinent issues raised by this film.
1. We still judge a woman’s character by location, attire and time.
One of the most striking parts of Pink was the countless number of times the antagonists attempted to malign the characters of the three girls. Why? Simply because they had stayed out past midnight, worn skimpy clothes and hung out at a resort with some male friends – all while drinking alcohol. Hence, they were all branded as ‘loose’, ‘immoral’ and ‘sluts’. These acts separately and collectively were all interpreted as the trio of girls being ‘easy’.
2. Consent is still very much misunderstood.
Rajvir stands in court and testifies that Minal had smiled at him, touched him casually, drank alcohol while she was with him and had told him a dirty joke. He then announces that all of these actions meant that she was automatically consenting to his sexual advances (because, you know, women from good backgrounds don’t crack dirty jokes). According to Rajvir, the fact that she had entered his room while he was alone further signalled to him that she was interested in sleeping with him.
Rajvir is not alone in this respect. I have personally seen and also heard many disturbing stories about some men who rant about how “women are never straightforward” and how men have to “read between the lines” because “women don’t know what they want”, and that “when a woman says no, it means yes”. It is really appalling how much twisting and turning of words and manipulation some men are willing to do in order not to hear the dreaded NO.
And if we really want to hold on the stereotype that women are fickle and do not know what they want, perhaps three general rules of thumb could be: “NO always means NO”, “Yes could also mean NO” and “Silence isn’t consent”.
3. It all begins at home.
Deepak Sehgal: Do women in your family drink alcohol?
Rajvir: Only the men drink.
Deepak Sehgal: Your mother, your sister? Do they drink?
Rajvir: Women from good families don’t.
Deepak Sehgal: Do they go to parties?
Rajvir: They go to family gatherings. Not parties.
Deepak Sehgal: Therefore, girls who go to parties and especially those who drink are easy meat? The women from your family don’t drink – which makes them decent. And since Minal and her friends drink, they are easy.
Boys become teenage boys and teenage boys become men.
Through this growing up process, they internalise any rhetoric that they hear at home and form judgements about what a ‘good’ woman is and what happens to ‘bad’ women. Every time you tell a female child that wearing that outfit makes her look like a hooker, that she is making herself a target of rape when she drinks and that staying out after midnight makes her immoral, you are also telling the boys in your home that any woman who does any of these deserves to be treated in an undignified manner, that women who behave in this manner are craving such ‘attention’.
Some boys gain new knowledge on their path to manhood and unlearn these things. But some others do not and they step into a confusing world with warped ideas in their heads. The truth is that while you are trying to ‘control’ and ‘safeguard’ your female offspring, you are endangering another female somewhere. Deepak Sehgal says it best:
“We should save our boys, not our girls … because if we save our boys then our girls will be safe.”