How Nerkonda Paarvai can take conversation on 'consent' forward that Pink started, in a post #MeToo world
Ajith's Tamil remake of Pink, Nerkonda Parvaai, garnered headlines, especially since it was inspired from its Hindi original, a 2016 blockbuster.
Ajith's take on Amitabh Bachchan's Deepak Sehgal (in Pink) was always a must-watch for many this year. Right from filming to pre-release promotions, Ajith's Tamil remake of Pink, Nerkonda Parvaai, garnered headlines, especially since it was being pitted against its Hindi original, which one could safely bill as a 'pathbreaker' for Bollywood in 2016.
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury got the pulse right in many places throughout the riveting courtroom drama. Questioning Indian society blatantly, Pink began crucial conversations among the masses that consumed the film. Women's rights, the concept of consent, the idea of bodily agency, societal norms for 'the right kind' of women, were all brought forth by writers Shoojit Sircar, Aniruddha, and Ritesh Shah. Not to say that films in and around 2016 did not attempt at similar genres. Imtiaz Ali's Highway (2014) and Anushka Sharma's NH10 (2015) were bold efforts to depict child sexual abuse and honour killings respectively. But what Pink managed to achieve was something completely different.
The film not only raised questions but unabashedly poked at comfortable urban middle-class living rooms with the questions, forcing audiences to ask themselves if education has really changed the way women are treated in urban India. The three women protagonists Meenal (Tapsee Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari), and Andrea (Andrea Tairang), are depicted in an unapologetic light, whether it was while they were harrowed and slut-shamed in a packed courtroom, or whether they were leading their common day-to-day lives.
The three are, for all means and purposes, independent, emancipated women with respectable jobs. They exercise their agency in daily life as much as any second man would, but when it comes to sexual consent, their negation is perceived as disdain. Rajveer Singh (Angad Bedi) is the prime antagonist in Pink. He flails about with a dedicated band of cronies, his political links insuring him against any possible harm.
With such powerful forces against them, the three innocent yet scared protagonists then step into the crowded courtroom, only to have their characters assassinated and claims of demanding money for sex thrown at their faces. They endure it all, but of course, not without the scathing replies from their advocate Deepak Sehgal (Bachchan). The Bollywood veteran storms through his sedate performance, and brings up the main issue of consent.
The Indian film industry, often incorrectly synonymous to Bollywood, has more often than not, depicted sexual violence, within a certain formula. In many such films, viewers may feel alienated from the violated woman's horrific experiences owing to the multiple boundaries such as birth (class and caste), and more importantly, the stringent moral code that is unnecessarily imposed on these women. The most seminal of works in this subject, Pink breaks out of this box.
Both Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women (2003), a saga showcasing sexual cruelty with respect to unhindered female foeticide and Bawandar (2000), (a film which was based on the gang rape of Bhanwari Devi, the case after which Indian laws of sexual harassment at workplaces was formulated) have rural protagonists. The other two notable films, Lajja (2001) and Damini (1993), have women championing the cause of other lower-caste women. But their problem lies in the forced happy endings, where all is quickly forgiven and the sacrosanct family unit is intact.
But where all these on-screen victims falter, is in the fact that all of them possess celebrated virtues in Indian society but are still raped. So automatically, there is a kind of heroism in championing their cause.
With Pink, makers put out a crucial set piece in the film by placing viewers in a moral quandary — how does someone reconcile the love of virtue with the self-evident right over one’s own body, or more dangerously — where does one draw the line? This is answered plainly by Bachchan's Sehgal, when he says all conversation and expectations should stop at the woman's "No", that the term is not a phrase but a complete sentence in itself.
Many films have dealt with sexual brutalities, and the consequences women face after the unfortunate occurring. What Pink chose to highlight was the circumstances leading up to the harassment, and how two mutually amiable persons can also end up in dangerous scenarios, owing to the deep-seated entitlement harboured by any one partner (in this case, Rajveer). And not to mention, a little bit of male patriarchy only bolsters such a scenario.
Released at a time when India was yet to face the 2018 maelstrom of #MeToo, Pink was a film ahead of its times. It managed to champion women's causes and once and for all, abolish the highly problematic Bollywood concept of "Uske naa mein bhi toh haan hai" (There is a 'yes' even when she says 'no').
Nerkonda Parvaai comes in post the movement, and hence adds meaning and relatability to the narrative. What will be interesting to see is if Ajith's remake is able to take forward the conversations started by Pink.
(All images from Twitter)
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