An online film journal for Indian Cinema
Stylistically and structurally Pink is a fairly parochial work. Where it resonates is in the ideological mode of address, polemicizing contemporaneous gender politics in which the norms of gender behaviour are regulated by a regressive culture of misogyny, corruption and privilege. Amitabh Bachchan has often functioned as a mediating figure and certainly in this respect he amplifies the sexual harassment suffered by three lower middle class Indian women, reminding us that when Amitabh spoke in the 1970s his miraculous baritone voice projected a ferocious anger that resonated with audiences. It still does. There is a terrifying and prescient rage in this film, like a punch in the face, directed towards the lack of dignity, respect and silencing of women in a society that has normalized sexual harassment, rape and violence, having completely forsaken the significance of body politics to the identity of women.
The later half of Pink unfolds in a courtroom, absorbing conventional elements of the courtroom drama. But the significance of allowing gender politics to be contested within the public space of the court transforms the space into a microcosmic site of the Nation. Besides the didactic blackboard politics, there is a gesture in the film that I found acutely communicative of the often-overlooked salience of micro-gestures (Adrian Martin, 2014), resonating with Giorgio Agamben’s (2000) proposition of a gestural cinema. Gestures, non-verbal communication is perfectly suited to the advanced visual literacy of popular Indian cinema yet rarely spoken about in relation to mise-en-scene analysis.
Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan) and Minal Arora (Tapsee Pannu) are together in the park, an interlude that breaks up the courtroom machinations. The sequence actually begins with a master shot of Deepak on a bench, the loose framing extenuating his loneliness but more importantly indicating this public space of the park is a safe one, but perhaps only for men considering what transpires.
Next as Deepak and Minal are walking, two young men walk past heading into the opposite direction, whispering indistinctly. It is obvious they are talking about Minal. Suddenly, what should be a safe public space for both men and women is rendered threatening for Minal who responds instinctively by raising her hood over her head. This act of concealment, a signifier of being shamed in public by a judgemental male gaze, momentarily renders her invisible. Her head down, Minal continues walking, accepting the public space is privileged for men, although she comes here to jog regularly. Deepak looks back hesitantly at the young men who continue walking away freely.
Next comes the gestural trice. Deepak reaches over, his arm entering the shot in which Minal is still walking, and casually flicks back Minal’s hood, undoing the concealment. It is an ideological gesture packed with political significance because by making Minal visible again not only reclaims the space as a public one, shared by both men and women, but lets Minal realise there is an individual ready to validate her identity as a woman and enough to question male privilege. However, much more than gender politics, the micro-gesture is a humanist one, relaying a compassion that Minal needs to see and feel.
This gesture, which I have magnified for the purposes of this brief analysis, tells us everything we need to know about Deepak’s compassionate character. Although he does not have the right to question the men in the park, given we cannot quite hear what is being said, he does challenge Minal’s subjugating act of concealment since to ignore this act is to also become part of the problem of perpetuating and normalising gender attitudes. In response, Minal’s facial expression, although hesitant, exhibits both a surprise and pride that someone respects her for who she is. Furthermore, Minal does not question the gesture, her silence confirms a tacit emotional understanding for Deepak’s intervention.
The gesture of unveiling that which should not be hidden is a political one and resonates with Agamben’s discussions on working towards gestural cinema:
‘Agamben has developed a new theory of gestural cinema, arguing that the element of cinema is gesture and not image…cinema belongs to the realm of ethics and politics, and not aesthetics’ (Noys, 2004).
In this context, Deepak’s flicking of the hood becomes altogether potent as a site of ethical and political contestation, a struggle to reclaim identity. It is a remarkable cinematic gesture, one that has stayed with me. Crucially the sequence ends with Deepak walking alongside Minal, an image of solidarity and elementary in terms of its humanistic intent. Gestures can sometimes realise a break in the narrative, screaming out at us about the complicated psyche of human relations and behaviour. Popular Indian cinema does this more often than we give it credit and perhaps a closer examination of formal elements might point to a subterranean language of gestures. But this calls for a much broader shift, to look at the evolving visual literacy of Indian cinema as a whole and the ways in which it has developed over time.