DECONSTRUCTING THE COURTROOM DRAMA

Ritesh Shah, one of the writers of Pink, reveals that he consulted both real life events and his imagination while dealing with the film’s tense legal complexities

We’re no strangers to the workings of a courthouse, thanks to some vivid recreations in our movies, whether it’s satire-laden films like Jolly LLB, or hard-hitting dramas like Damini. Often critiqued for showcasing over-the-top legal scenarios, Hindi cinema is gradually moving towards a more realistic presentation, albeit with a hint of histrionics to drive the point home. Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s maiden Hindi film Pink achieves that aim by shining the light on the complicated debate surrounding sexual consent. The tense second half, set almost entirely in the courtroom, manages to make the legal system a thrilling one to deconstruct.

Writer Ritesh Shah, known for his work on Kahaani and D-Day, had previously scripted a 45-minute episode set in court for a TV show named Kagaar. During the course of writing that show, he observed many trials in the Mumbai Sessions Court, primarily dealing with narcotics and the like.

But for much of Shah’s work on Pink, he had to rely on imagination. “It was more a working of the existing cases and the testimonies, the arguments that are there, and the rest is filling in with bits of imagination…the debate (in Pink) itself is nuanced differently. So you need legal counsel rather than film references,” he says, further revealing that a lawyer was present on set to judge the authenticity of the plot.

 

Shah with the rest the Pink team. Shah, Shoojit Sircar and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury were mindful while conceiving the story that they didn't cross the line
Shah (third from left, in blue) with the rest of the Pink team. Shah, Shoojit Sircar and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury were mindful while conceiving the story that they didn’t cross the line

Shah’s main focus was to stay as close to real life as possible. “The biggest challenge was to get it right in terms of both legality, as well as ethics and morals. Because you are dealing with something very sensitive, with a lot of rhetoric, it should not go wrong. Also, there’s a cumbersome legal process involved in the cases in the film…how to get it through smoothly, without boring the audience to death, was the other challenge,” he says.

What was equally important was to ensure that the simple message of ‘No means no’ was communicated with clarity and sensitivity. “We were all aware that being three men (Shah, Sircar and Chowdhury), there’s a thin line involved, and that line can unfortunately be crossed anytime. Also we are the creators, not the players. It also rests in the body language and speech patterns of the players. So they could have also have made missteps,” he says.

As it turns out, Shah had nothing to worry about. Pink is a critical smash with praises pouring in for its performances, especially Amitabh Bachchan as the defence lawyer. “The sort of communication we sought has been achieved and maybe we’re not that appreciative (of him), because we already believed he would do it…it’s a combination of voice, texturing, pitching, expression, feeling – there’s a whole brigade of enhancement that players like him have.”

"The challenge with Pink was to get the legality, the ethics and morality right," says Ritesh Shah
“The challenge with Pink was to get the legality, the ethics and morality right,” says Ritesh Shah

Shah’s just as pleased with the naturalistic performances by Taapsee Pannu and Kirti Kulhari, as well as debutante Andrea Tariang. He makes a special mention of Angad Bedi, who played the remorseless antagonist Rajveer, saying, “To stand up against Mr Bachchan and do a 20-minute take without fumbling, but modulating, feeling, reaching a point of anger – if somebody tells you acting can’t be improved upon, you should not believe them.”

While in films like Damini and Aitraaz, a gripping interrogation becomes the climax, Shah chose a more sedate finale for Pink. He reserved the edge-of-the-seat moments for the scene where one of the three women is interrogated by her lawyer.

Unflinchingly opening with the line ‘Are you a virgin, Miss Arora?’ the scene lays bare the central argument of the film. For Shah, it was the toughest scene to write. He says, “In the case, which essentially began with a lot questions where the victim’s character was called into question, why not take the bull by its horns? Our theme is that regardless of your history, you have a right to your body.”

While much of the debate around Pink also questions whether the film would have a different impact if Amitabh Bachchan’s role was essayed by a woman, Shah is of the opinion that gender was immaterial to their cause. “He (Amitabh Bachchan) has the voice, the charm, and the love and affection of the people. So we went to him for that…so we were not even looking at gender.” Shah elaborates, “The biggest thing is that the person, in his heart of hearts, has to somehow believe in that philosophy or school of thought because it can’t be faked. If he’s faking it, it’ll show. If any one of us is faking it, it’ll show.” Case closed, indeed.

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