WITH THE current re-examination of our culture for evidence of innate misogyny and patriarchy, one would expect that a film on gender politics by Sudhir Mishra would show that there is still hope. After all, in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, he proved that it was possible for the industry to make a film about as complex an issue as Naxalism without turning it into a tired cliché. In Inkaar, he turns his sights towards the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace, not in the form of a simple hero-villain narrative, but exploring the ambiguity of what constitutes harassment and the reactions of men to a woman in power.
The film is presented in the form of an internal hearing at an ad agency after the national creative director (Singh) has filed a complaint against the CEO (Rampal). Told through a series of flashbacks, as an impartial arbiter (Naval) tries to piece together the story, it is the sordid tale of an affair between mentor and protégée gone wrong, followed by professional jealousy as the protégée builds her career on her own. Already facing resentment from her colleagues after her rapid rise, she then has to deal with a churlish boss throwing tantrums that can be construed as harassment, though he oddly passes it off as innocent flirting.
Mishra’s failings in the film, however, come in an unlikely area: his characters. Unlike Disclosure and its Indian remake Aitraaz, this isn’t a black-and-white case of a manipulative woman gaming the system, but the shades of grey are not filled in, as they should, by fleshing out the characters. Though he tries to create an atypical relationship between the two protagonists, based on professional jealousy rather than personal differences, he does so merely by having Rampal reiterate every 15 minutes that he made Singh’s career. In fact, almost every substantial piece of dialogue is repeated many times. The others, meanwhile, are simply one-toned, shallow stereotypes: the lecherous foreigner, the patriarchal male manager, the starry-eyed female employee. Naval, for one, is hamstrung by some atrocious lines (“We must get to the bottom of this” is my favourite).
The ending is an utter cop out, undermining the very exercise the film sets out to conduct. Inkaar is a well-shot film with a decent plot and good direction. It’s a pity it could not be more.
Ajachi Chakrabarti is a Correspondent with Tehelka.