You Didn’t Even Notice the Real Hero in #PinkTheFilm

<Spoilers ahead>

It’s been exactly a week since I watched #PinkTheFilm. It crushed me. I am still recovering from it. Scratch that. I never want to recover from it. That would beat the point of the film.

This was my first reaction after stepping out of the theatre:

As I was leaving the theatre in Noida — that crucible of North Indian male chauvinism— I saw scores of other men staring at the end credits with dazed expressions. Perhaps they too were crushed by the nightmare that befell Minal (Taapsee Pannu), Andrea (Andrea Tariang), and Falak (Kirti Kulhari).

For a fleeting second I thought wow, all these men — myself included — will never use maa behen ki gaali ever again. The single men in the audience will never again harass women who are not interested in them. The married men — like me — will never again shove customs and traditions down their protesting wives' throats. No one will ever again be subjected to sexist jokes on WhatsApp from any of us present in that hall.

Many years ago when I was a literature student, I had studied an artistic genre called the theatre of cruelty. Roughly, the aim of this genre is to portray shocking cruelty so that the audience loses its complacency and develops a revulsion for cruelty and violence in real life. Pink was theatre of cruelty at its best. Right there, in the darkness of the theatre, it seemed to have reformed 100-odd men.

Minal, Andrea, and Falak’s sacrifices weren’t wasted after all.

Now, whether you like Pink or not, whether you think it can really reform callous menfolk or not, you cannot deny that it has stoked a vigorous conversation on sexism and cruelty towards women like few contemporary, mainstream Bollywood movies have. And the credit for it has been heaped on those three girls: Minal, Andrea, and Falak, with all their vulnerability and their dogged, breathtaking, utterly heroic fightback.

Except this reading of Pink is flawed. The real hero in the movie isn’t Minal or Andrea or Falak. That glory ought to belong to a girl who remains nameless in the film. In fact she never even appears in the film — save through a solitary, blurry photograph, for all of 10-odd seconds.

The three women protagonists of Pink have won over audiences with their resistance, but they are not the biggest heroes in the story. That glory belongs to a woman who never appears in the film, save for 10-odd seconds, as a photograph. (Image courtesy: http://www.newsfultoncounty.com/)

I am talking about the villain Rajveer’s (Angad Bedi) sister. Remember her? She is the character on whom rests the film’s entire denouement. Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan) cunningly invokes her liberal lifestyle — her booze-drinking, party-going ways — to expose Rajveer’s diabolical hypocrisy and seal his indictment. Till she (I mean her photograph) appears on the scene, Rajveer is menacing, oozing arrogance and a brute disdain for his interrogator. But the moment Sehgal whips out her photograph — his trump card and Rajveer’s raw nerve — the facade crumbles.

“So you think women from good homes don’t party?” Sehgal challenges Rajveer, photo in hand. “What about your sister? She parties. She drinks. Is she also a bad girl?”

Rajveer can only utter a few animal grunts. Something to the effect of “my sister isn’t like that”. He convulses with rage, ugly, less than human, showing who he really is, what he really can do to “women like that”. And in that moment his fate is decided. We clap for Sehgal. We clap for Minal. We clap for Andrea. We clap for Falak.

Rajveer’s sister remains in the shadows, anonymous, forgotten, unmentioned in the hundred glowing reviews. A mute plot device, no more, even though to me she is the real star. She partied, drank, lived a liberated second life right under the nose of a bigoted, sexist brother, and possibly a suffocating, bigoted, sexist family. Women in India get killed for a lot less.

She reminded me of a girl I know who escaped her upper-class but bigoted family and is living her dream as an entrepreneur in America.

Another girl who is caring for her toxic, oppressive family while making a name as the writer of beautiful, inspiring stories.

Another girl who was body-shamed by her family and has frequent, debilitating panic attacks but is battling it all by building a solid career in journalism.

Another girl, and another girl, and another girl.

Minal, Andrea, and Falak won against a random bad guy they didn’t know, against an abstraction called “the system”. But the phantom girl who cocked a snook at her boorish brother showed that for women, the path to all victories big and small must begin at home, against the world’s most daunting adversaries we call family.

With her stunning defiance the unnamed girl won Minal, Andrea, and Falak’s freedom.

She will always be my hero.

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