Spoiler alert! This is not a film review.
Cinema has always remained an extremely powerful medium of social change. Over the years, many Indian films have explored sensitive social issues in an effort to spread awareness, influence and shape the mass psyche.
Shoojit Sircar’s ‘Pink’ is a laudable effort in this direction. The film is extremely relevant in the modern Indian society that is still grappling with its feudal stereotypes of women, while trying to adapt to the inevitable changes that education, awareness and rising global consciousness bring.
The story is simple: three working girls residing as flat-mates in Delhi go to a rock show on an evening, and accept a dinner invitation from some boys whom they had befriended there. Within the course of the evening, things take an ugly turn as the boys start acting in a lewd manner, forcing themselves upon the girls and trying to molest them. One of the girls, enraged by these attempts, hits a boy with a broken glass bottle, thus severely injuring him. Terrified by the events and the foreseeable consequences, the girls flee from the scene. What begins then is a chain of events to accost, intimidate and coerce the girls to force them into the dictum of a rotting patriarchal society – a world that is still latent within our urban and modern existence.
The film unequivocally emblazons an issue that still plagues the deep recesses of our collective unconscious – the patriarchal Male Gaze and misogyny that women still suffer from; and the sense of shame that society tries to inflict upon women – if you’ve been harassed, molested or even raped, then you must have asked for it!
It raises questions that are brutally honest and relevant – why must women be stigmatised as an object of indiscriminatory and non-consensual sexual usage if they behave in a way that is extremely common and socially acceptable amongst their male counterparts? And why will they be denied the right to say ‘No!’ – the most basic expression of self-preservation?
I was deeply moved by the discourses in the film (as a woman, it is only too up close and personal! I mean, show me a woman who hasn’t experienced any form of non-consensual sexual advances at least once in their lifetime, and I’ll show you a pink elephant! Yes, let’s face it – it is THAT prevalent in all social strata), and was wondering as to what gave rise to the formulaic conception of Virtuous Women that has been deliberately created and exploited over the ages in gender, social and even devotional politics.
It is true that the natural tendency of human brain is to identify patterns, and typecast all experiences into those set and predefined patterns. But how did the ‘sati’ female stereotype get caste in the collective Indian psyche?
Probably the roots of this phenomenon can be traced back to the advent of agriculture, a discovery that changed the face of society by introducing the construct of private property into sexuality. When the question of inheritance came into being, men wanted to make sure that they are passing on their accumulated wealth/property to successors that are biologically theirs, and therefore needed social and emotional constructs like virtue and chastity, to bind women – who possess the unique ability of producing offspring – into monogamous relationships. A concept which is more relevant in India, which is a primarily agrarian civilization. In fact, I found it interesting to note that the king ‘Janak’ found ‘Sita’ – a stereotype representing virtue, unconditional devotion to husband and martyrdom – while tilling the land, and that she is the daughter of Mother Earth – a symbolism relevant to this theory of containing fertility by means of attributing the characteristics of chastity and morality.
Given that India has come a long way in relation to economic and technological advancement, the normative model for womanhood and resultant gender dichotomies have remained remarkably consistent. Fuelled by the popular media, these images of ‘being a woman’ have been deeply imprinted upon the mass perception.
Advertising is a huge contributor of this phenomenon where women are frequently depicted either as sexual objects, or as domestic caregivers – images that paint an extremely two-dimensional version of femininity. Film and television too largely endorse this sex stereotype – ‘good’ women are docile and submissive, with their primary role being that of a devoted wife and mother, and ‘bad’ women are open about their sexuality and of a nature that is perceived to be more suited to the stereotypical male.
‘Pink’ is not groundbreaking cinema. But it does challenge some very dominant constructs and deep hypocrisies that afflict modern India. My heartfelt congratulations to Shoojit Sircar for exploring such a pertinent issue in an honest and non-obfuscatory manner. Not sure whether this will make a social difference, but his efforts demand an ovation.
Photo courtesy: Sita’s Ramayan – Samhita Arni & Moyna Chitrakar; Shakuntala – sanskritika.blogspot.com; Kunti – www.kolkataarthouse.com.
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