BOOK EXCERPT

‘Pink’ revisited: The anatomy of the ‘No means no’ scene, and the original ending

Excerpts from a book about the making of the acclaimed legal drama, directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, produced by Shoojit Sircar and written by Ritesh Shah.

On the first day, Avik Mukhopadhyay placed four cameras which captured nearly the entire set and almost every actor, from the principal cast to the extras, from one axis or the other. Most of the sequences were okayed in a single take thanks to the intense rehearsing that preceded filming. The presence of multiple cameras ensured that the reactions to the lines were more organic. As the shooting of this sequence proceeded, Sircar also increased the number of cameras, going up to six and even eight on occasions. ‘The thing is that no one knows where the camera is or what the magnification is,’ says Sircar, which ensured every actor was physically and emotionally committed the entire time the cameras were rolling.

Sircar wanted a brief but unscripted reaction from Bachchan at the end to bring the relationship between Deepak Sehgal and the three women, specifically Minal, full circle. He told Taapsee Pannu to hold Amitabh Bachchan’s hand when he sits down after his closing lines but did not inform Bachchan, keeping only Pannu and Mukhopadhyay in the know. ‘I told her, “See what you can do,” and even though Mr Bachchan didn’t know, he went with the flow,’ recalls Sircar. He feels the gesture emotionally drained Bachchan, who had kept Sehgal’s inner momentum pent up till the very end.

One of the major reasons for such a catharsis for the characters as well as the actors portraying them could be Deepak Sehgal’s final lines that not only summed up the case but also the film. It is this portion that contains the line, ‘No means no’, which became the simple yet effective message that would eventually resonate with the audiences. The line, however, nearly did not make it to the film. Once the long ‘interrogation’ scene with Taapsee Pannu was filmed, Amitabh Bachchan felt no need to make a long speech for his closing statements. Shah remembers the actor telling him, ‘Bhai, sab kuch to main bol chuka hoon (I have already said everything). He said, “I will just say “No” and sit down.”’ This was also the draft with which the crew went to shoot the scene, but Shah had something else in mind. ‘Someone had sent me an image on Facebook of a coffee mug that had the line “No is a complete sentence” written on it,’ says Shah. Intrigued by it, he remembers saving the image on his mobile phone. As the climax of the courtroom was approaching, Shah visited the set and, mentioning the image, told Sircar, Roy Chowdhury and Bachchan that he wanted to write six or eight lines around the theme. ‘The only concern that Mr Bachchan had was whether the lines would be as effective in Hindi but I said let me try,’ says Shah. Both Sircar and Roy Chowdhury liked the lines that Shah had written and even Bachchan agreed that it made sense to say them. ‘Being the gracious actor that he is, Mr Bachchan never said, “I won’t say it because I had decided that main nahin boloonga…”, says Shah and adds, ‘Sometimes things happen by pure chance and the desire for expression.’

Shah has since thanked many people for sending him the image that inspired him, including writer Anuradha Tiwari, but no one has claimed ownership of the line yet. For Sircar, this was the dialogue that packed it all in and he was happy to see the reaction that came his way from the lawyers that he consulted. ‘They said, “Yaar, bol do! Hum thak gaye bol bol ke (Just say it! We are tired of saying it again and again).”’

This is also where, for Roy Chowdhury, Bachchan’s prowess as an actor and a star made itself felt most strongly. Roy Chowdhury credits him for breaking down the concept of consent to its simplest form for the benefit of male viewers, most of whom, unfortunately, do not comprehend it. Some critics and commentators would later question the way in which the film addressed consent but Roy Chowdhury remembers how some of his friends’ children, specifically boys, called him up to say that they learnt something. ‘I knew people would love it,’ says Roy Chowdhury and reiterates, ‘we shouldn’t deny that words like “Na sirf ek shabd nahi, apne aap mein ek poora vakya hai (no is not just a word, but a full sentence in and of itself)” can spread like wildfire when someone like Mr Bachchan delivers it.’

Play
Pink (2016).

Originally, the ending of the film had the judgment going in favour of Rajvir, being in sync with real-life outcomes in similar cases. Sircar also believed that for the film to be authentic, the judgment going against the women would make people introspect, which was his intended goal. But, as the principal photography wrapped up, he began to wonder whether the statement he was hoping Pink would make about women empowerment would be diluted if in the end Rajvir, in a sense, walked away.

Just before the shooting began, there was a reading session at Amitabh Bachchan’s house where Shah recalls it was unanimously agreed that what could happen in a real court would be different from the typical ‘filmy’ scenario where an Amitabh Bachchan comes and wins the case. ‘In a real court, it could swing either way,’ says Shah and asserts that it’s the strength of the argument as well as the evidence that impact the outcome. When Shah left for Delhi, he asked his wife, Saba, to give the draft a read as he wanted an opinion. ‘Even Shoojit said there needed to be a female perspective apart from the cast.’ Saba called Shah in Delhi almost immediately and without mincing words told her husband to tell Sircar that he was making a very big mistake with the ending. ‘She would call me every three or four days and ask, “What is the ending?”

’ Shah updated Sircar and Roy Chowdhury with Saba’s feedback, which essentially suggested that the narrative provides a sense of elation as the three women fight insurmountable odds, but the end was like throwing a bucket of ice cold water on the audience. By the time Shah returned from Delhi, the seed of doubt had been firmly planted in his mind and when Saba told him that, as a viewer, she felt as much for Deepak Sehgal’s struggle as she did for Minal, Falak and Andrea’s trials, he knew that it was time to reconsider the finale. Sircar continued to feel that even if they lost the case, it would instill a sense of optimism and sought the opinions of others. Like Sircar, Roy Chowdhury, too, was fine with retaining the original ending as it was somewhat philosophical and he liked the way it was written. Most of the cast, including Amitabh Bachchan, was okay with the original ending but Sircar could not get himself to commit either way. He felt that Pink, with its realistic ending, would be a strong indictment of everything that was wrong in our society’s response to violence against women, in keeping with real-life instances where women are forced into leading a silent, often stigmatized, life after pursuing legal action. At the same time, the visual depiction of three women standing by each other no matter what would also leave a strong impression.

It was towards the very end of the filming of the courtroom scenes that Sircar finally convinced himself that a ruling in the women’s favour might make a stronger statement. ‘I changed it on the day of the shoot,’ says Sircar, deciding to leave the judgment open but against the perpetrators. He told Shah, ‘Let’s not make it a big victory but it should be positive … optimistic.’

Excerpted with permission from PINK The Inside Story, Gautam Chintamani, HarperCollins India.

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