CASE OF THE COP-OUT CLIMAX
Sudhir Mishra's Inkaar is a tough film to defend. Not the least because of its confused climax and an inconsistent performance by lead actress Chitrangada Singh. But it's also difficult to dismiss it on these counts alone, for there is much the screenplay packs in by way of the discord caused by women’s presence in the upper echelons of corporate life rather than working in secretarial positions or as subordinates to male bosses. There were, of course, issues of gender tension even in earlier times as portrayed in the middle cinema of the '70s, notably Basu Bhattacharya's Griha Pravesh and B R Chopra's Pati Patni Aur Woh in which male bosses develop an attraction for their female subordinates resulting in a domestic crisis. The gaze was male then, and it is so even now.
Sexual tension between men and women is considered unavoidable. And patriarchal prejudices about women's role in society are too deep-rooted to be erased over a generation or two. So that when an ambitious woman makes headway in her career, questions about her methods are always in order. In the modern world where interaction between the sexes is freer and more casual, the line between what constitutes harmless banter, flirting and harassment is fuzzy. Yet, as the social worker Mrs Kamdar played by Deepti Naval in Inkaar says, if a woman feels she has been violated, it must be considered harassment.
But what if the said woman was flirting with the man at an earlier point and entered into a physical relationship with him? And what if the man happened to be her boss and mentor? (Sadly, the film doesn't dwell on the inherently exploitative nature of this premise) How does the physical chemistry between such a couple and their possible emotional involvement with each other reconcile with professional ambition and the demands of high-pressure jobs? And what of office politics, gossip and insinuation? And the role the organisation plays in pitting people against each other to create rival power centres?
Inkaar raises these questions quite effectively. Different members of the audience are likely to judge either character's motives, actions and guilt differently, based on their gender. A woman may feel that Maya's (Chitrangada Singh) allegations are totally justified and that Rahul (Arjun Rampal) did, in fact, not only harass her, but also tried to undermine her as every point on account of his own anxiety about his protégée and former lover taking over his position.
Several times in the two-day hearing of the enquiry committee constituted by the advertising agency where both work, to examine and evaluate Maya's allegation, he gloats over his role in mentoring her and preparing her for the glorious career she now enjoys. He claims she would be nothing without him. More importantly he alleges she is using this case to usurp his position and further her career. It is possible to infer from the evidence at hand that Maya was nothing more than a casual fling for him, that his methods for teaching her the ropes of survival were harsh and that he too believes that she may have used her charms to get ahead after they moved away from each other.
Rahul’s own conduct is hardly above board and consistently arrogant. When Maya gets insecure about a model visiting his house, instead of clarifying the situation he claims she has no right to question him. He keeps their relationship on tenterhooks rather than speaking his mind. Their approach to the affair too is different. Rahul enjoys the flirting and the sex, while Maya, who is younger and in awe of him, falls in love quite easily. It’s harder for her then, to disengage and move on, or so it seems. This is a specific example of the film’s male perspective––his casualness versus her clinginess/jealousy, as if women are always the ones who get emotionally tangled and men can let go of relationships easily––a stereotype one would expect from a lesser director like Madhur Bhandarkar.
What happens around them impacts their wavering relationship. The fact that neither of them leaves the agency to seek work elsewhere means that old wounds keep festering and manifest in their professional transactions which get increasingly bitter as they engage in a dangerous game of one-upmanship. Maya’s newfound status as the agency’s National Creative Director makes her employ rigid methods to stay on top while her increasing influence with the agency’s bosses makes Rahul resort to underhand tactics.
And then there are their co-workers, taking sides, passing judgment, making snide remarks or just having a good laugh at their expense. All of this adds up to a situation set for disastrous consequences regardless of who does what to whom. But Maya alleges that Rahul not only undermined her professionally and heckled her at meetings etc., he also pushed himself on her while they were out of town on a business trip.
The director replays that particular exchange thrice, in a Rashomon-like ploy to make us judge the situation based on evidence presented.
Like Mrs Kamdar, we are confused and unable to give a clear verdict. This would have been a perfect place to end the film. But in his attempt to tie it up neatly, Mishra destroys his screenplay with a climax that suddenly has the warring duo falling over each other in a declaration of love. This too could have been made palatable if Singh weren’t such an incompetent actress. Much of the narrative tension hinges on the chemistry between the two characters and although both stars look distractingly gorgeous in every frame, their inability to deliver natural performances (although Rampal fares much better than his co-star) dilutes the authenticity of the screenplay.
Moreover, by forcing a neat denouement the filmmaker compromises Maya’s character irrevocably. There are many things she could have done even in the face of dogged resistance from the male order at work, who only appear to humour her like indulgent fathers rather than actually believing that she has just cause. Walking out is an option. Taking Rahul and the firm to court is another. Anything that reaffirms her faith in her righteousness would have done––as a woman spectator one is inclined to give her the benefit of doubt because from what one sees on screen, there isn’t much going for Rahul by way of moral redemption––rather than having a prominent woman lawyer telling her to employ ‘other’ means, as if to suggest that ultimately the woman has not choice but to use her body.
The film also suffers on detailing––the ad campaigns that the duo are shown working on at different points are totally unimaginative. Which in turn impacts your emotional involvement with the protagonists. After all, if this is the kind of work they produce, of what value is their professional position and why should we care if their careers are jeopardised because of their personal differences?
Moreover, Inkaar isn’t a cinematic film, even granting that much of the action must per force take place in the conference room where the hearing is being conducted. Shantanu Moitra’s music however, is a definite plus and manages to express the longing and misgivings that the lead pair can’t project through their performances.
Sudhir Mishra has the depth and the skill to tackle complex issues with sensitivity and without being judgmental. With Inkaar he had an opportunity to make a definitive film about modern day corporate life and the toll it takes on human beings and their relationships. Sadly, what one can ultimately say is he managed to raise several issues, but couldn’t resolve them to satisfaction within the framework of his screenplay.