Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Laying a trap

(Published in The New Sunday Express, January 20, 2013)

Cast: Arjun Rampal, Chitrangada Singh, Deepti Naval, Vipin Sharma, Kanwaljit Singh and others
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Rating: 3.5 stars
When a woman in the top rungs of a corporate ladder accuses a man in the rung above of sexual harassment, we know it can’t end well. And if the two were in a relationship at some point, we aren’t sure whom to believe. Do men in positions of power exploit women who want to make it big? Do women who claim positions of power sleep their ways to their ranks? Are the women who’ve made it on merit given the credit for it? Does every small-town girl wanting to carve out a life for herself in a big city need a mentor? And if she does have a mentor, how much does she owe him? These are uncomfortable questions, and Sudhir Mishra teases our minds into thinking of answers.
Inkaar explores the relationship between Rahul Verma (Arjun Rampal) and Maya Luthra (Chitrangada Singh), as their careers – and ambitions – grow over seven years. We see significant events in flashback, from the site of an internal inquest headed by social worker Mrs Kamdar (Deepti Naval). Maya has filed a sexual harassment case against her boss, Rahul. The debate over the line between ‘consensual flirting’ and ‘sexual harassment’ echoes the infamous case that hit a major publishing company in 2010. We’re reminded through boardroom deliberations that the case isn’t simply about the careers of these two, but also the reputation of the ad agency they work for.
The film begins in a manner that balances our inclination to go with the purported victim’s account – by showing us the accused when he was a little boy, crying after being bullied. The scene comes back to us as the story unfolds, making us wonder whether bullying can only come from the stronger party. The child from Saharanpur has now grown into Rahul, advertising powerhouse, with a posh home in a big city, and an ailing father (Kanwaljit Singh) to care for. We are introduced to Maya as the sort of woman who would say confidently, “Don’t worry, I’m a professional. Tum Rahul ko sambhal lo”, before heading off to a meeting with clients, at which the man she has accused of sexual harassment will be present. She isn’t the type who’d wear conservative clothes to the hearing to win pity points, because she believes she doesn’t need props to sell her pitch. You figure out something of her psyche when you hear her mother say to her, with a smile, “Ladka achha hai. Lekin tujhse shaadi nahin karega.”
The film is layered with moments that place a tremendous burden on the cast. Arjun Rampal, who’s played consistently more challenging roles, is up to the task. He looks the part of an Indian Don Draper, the sort of man who would justify flirting in office on the grounds that ad agencies are filled with hundreds of men and women, thinking up lines to sell condoms, lingerie, and sanitary pads, for up to twenty hours a day. His delivery of provocative lines, and his comic timing, serve to make his role convincing. Chitrangada Singh, while she struggles with the subtler moments, has far less to do, and carries her role off by simply looking the part.
Unfortunately, the film takes the easy way out at the end, leaving us feeling somewhat unsatisfied.
The Verdict: Filled with the grey shades Sudhir Mishra delights in, the film’s punchy enough to make up for the end.

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