I already put up my no spoilers review, this is the review with spoilers, assuming you have already seen the movie. Or can’t quite bring yourself to watch it but still kind of want to know what happens. In that case, I am here for you!
The opening and closing are brilliant. That alone is enough to make the film stand out. We open after the incident happens, with two cars, one with three boys and one with three girls. One of the boys has a massive eye injury, the other two are freaking out and hurrying to the hospital. Meanwhile, in the other car, one of the women is leaning on the other while she comforts her, the third is just looking into space. They are also fighting a little, saying “I said we should leave! I said we should get out of there!” The car swerves, and the woman sitting by herself volunteers to sit up front and talk to the driver to keep him awake. While the boys are sitting in the hospital waiting to learn if their friend will lose his eye, the women arrive back home, go into their apartment, and immediately go to their separate rooms.
Now, from the promotions we already know more or less what happened. Heck, even without the promotions, we could put it together from just common sense! 3 guys, 3 girls, somebody went to far, and one of the girls slugged him in the eye. Looking at the aftermath, three girls going home with no injuries, while the boy is almost losing an eye, and the doctor says he could have died if the bottle he was hit with hadn’t shattered, it looks pretty cut and dried. One of these people is the injured party, and one isn’t. What could possibly justify that kind of an injury?
(Different version of 3 guys and 3 girls)
And then the film goes on. We see the girls and boys in the succeeding days. The girls’ reaction is to want to forget about it, to snap at each other and be grim, but otherwise move on with their lives. The boys are the ones who want revenge. This is what I talked about in my non-spoiler review, with the way that bullying can come from the ones who already have all the power. Because they get off on wielding that power. While those who are already down below are used to just shutting up and taking the abuse.
Not that everyone is exactly the same. There are 4 distinctive personalities from the boys’ side, and 3 from the girls’. The injured party is the most powerful one, the nephew of a politician. He almost never speaks, just assumes everyone else will figure things out and do for him before he has to do for himself. He has two friends, “Dumpy” in glasses who is always getting bossed around, driving for them, and so on. He’s a Beta, not able to come up with plans or make decisions on his own. But there’s a little smile, you can see he enjoys being around all these people who enable him to do all the terrible things he wouldn’t be brave enough to do on his own. His other friend seems a little unsure, he’s face is always unhappy whenever the camera catches it. He isn’t strong enough to speak up and loudly object, or to pull out of his association with the others, but it makes him unhappy. And then there’s the third friend. The one who wasn’t even there that night. Who suddenly shows up for the first time when they are hiding out in a hotel room and someone has to pick up the phone and talk to the uncle. He takes the phone and reassures that he will handle things. And he does, he controls the plans and the harassment for the next sequence. He is smarter than the politician’s nephew, and better at seeing the possibilities and the next steps. And, seemingly, a little more vicious. He really enjoys using his power by association to destroy others.
On the girls side, there is Taapsee, clearly the strongest one. Her reaction to threatening phone calls is to ask them to come get her. And Andrea, the weakest one, the one who needed to be comforted that night, she reacts by seeming sad and scared and talking to her boyfriend for support. And then there’s Kirti (my favorite!), who reacts by constantly looking for the compromise. She talks to the unsure friend on the boys’ side, they both want this to just be over.
And what is “this”, exactly? It starts out with lowlevel stuff that you feel like you can ignore, you can’t call the police on, maybe it will just blow over. The first move is to call their landlord, late at night, and tell him that he is renting to prostitutes and it would be better if he kicked them out. And this is also the first time the film zigged when I thought it would zag. I was all set for their old man landlord to throw them out immediately. But no, he reacts by going to talk to them and checking to make sure no one has been harassing them. He reacts like a kind and intelligent person, aware of how the world works, not like a reactionary blindly believing anything anyone tells him.
That’s the brilliance of the film, start to finish, people don’t react like evil villains. They react as kindly as possible, those who know the girls believe them, and those who don’t, or have some reason for gaining an advantage, don’t believe them. Even Amitabh, who isn’t the kindly landlord or anyone else in their lives. He is just their neighbor, their kind of odd neighbor who goes for long walks in his oxygen training mask in the mornings while they jog. And who sometimes seems to be watching them while he stands on his balcony at night. But he believes them, not for any big grand reason, but just because, well, why wouldn’t he?
Also believing them are Taapsee’s boss, who takes her to a personal contact in the police who believes her as well. Andrea and Kirti’s boyfriends’ believe them as well, but also don’t offer to ride in and rescue them, instead just providing a little advice and support but otherwise leaving them alone. And the thing is, they don’t want or need advice and support. Because they have that in each other. Kirti and Andrea especially, we later find out, have no one else to rely on. Kirti’s father is dead or gone and she is the primary support for her mother and younger brother. Andrea is from the Northeast and clearly has no relatives living nearby in Delhi. Whether their situation made them strong, or they landed in this situation because they were already the strongest ones, either way, they are not the type to be interested in the usual male-female relationship. They don’t want a boyfriend who is into every part of their life, who swoops in to rescue them when things go wrong. They want someone who will stay nicely segregated in his own little space in their world.
(So, not this. No big fantasy that overwhelms them until they ignore everything else in life. And in the end, forgive their sister’s killer because they loooooove him.)
It’s the girls themselves who are the ones to share their whole lives, to have each others backs, to be the ones who know everything and are always there. It doesn’t come through clearly in the first scene, I was actually kind of mad about that, the way they went to separate corners as soon as they got home. But then the film continues, and it was really showing how the shock of the initial event served to drive them apart. But then, as the outside attacks continued, they came ever closer and closer. The turning point is after all 3 of them have been fighting their separate battles for a while. Their landlord was threatened, not just over the phone but in person. The boys kept calling and calling on each of their cell phones. Taapsee tried to file a police report, without talking to the other two, and was turned off by the police’s usual “Well, are you sure that’s what you want? It will be hard, I’m just saying this for your own good” attitude towards sexual assault complaints. And then tried again, more successfully, with the support of her boss. Andrea was followed while she was with her boyfriend, getting away by ducking down an alley. And then, finally, they are all sitting together and Kirti declares that they are ending this right now, calling and apologizing, compromising. Like I said in my other review, Kirti is really the leader of the group. She declares this, Taapsee objects but goes along.
And then on the phone call, while Kirti keeps apologizing and apologizing and talking about compromise, the “leader” of the boys, the one who has controlled this whole campaign, keeps demanding in increasingly abusive language to talk directly to Taapsee, to get her to apologize. And that is when Kirti finally snaps, telling him he can’t talk about Taapsee like that and they have nothing to apologize for! And from that moment on, all 3 girls are committed to each other and on the same page.
(no real song sequences in the movie, this seems as good a point as any to drop in this promotional video)
Which is good, because that’s when the boys up their campaign. First, they abduct Taapsee. Which is also when Amitabh gets involved for the first time. Not as a big hero, but as a regular decent person. He sees Taapsee be taken, and then calls the police, and calls again, and again, when he can sense that there is no response. And then calls his higher up connections, trying to get something to happen. And when Taapsee is returned, after being threatened by the “leader” and molested by Dumpy, Amitabh watches her go safely back into her apartment. He could have chased after the truck, he could have rushed over to see her when she arrived, he could have done a lot of things. I mean, not really, not an old man who can barely walk through the park. But the scriptwriters could have made him do those things, made him been a real “hero”. But instead, he didn’t even get the license plate of the car. It’s the girls who go above and beyond. Taapsee comes home, and they put her in a shower, comfort her, take care of her. Kirti sets aside her own concerns, her loss of her job, and focuses on taking care of Taapsee.
And they stay focused on her, when the police arrive the next day to arrest her for attempted murder, a case filed by the politician’s nephew. It is the girls who wait all day to see her, the girls who find a lawyer, the girls who try to raise bail. And when Amitabh finally meets them, he just tells them what they need to know, asking to see the arrest papers and letting them know they do have the right to bail, even for a “non-bailable offense” if it is a female accused. Everything else is still up to them, they have the right to take care of themselves. That’s really what Amitabh’s whole defense rests on. Because, of course he takes up their case!
After they beg him to, after they have researched him and found that he is a former superstar lawyer who took leave to treat his manic-depression. Which is the reason I mentioned in my non-spoiler review for his deadened affect. His personal power and charisma slowed and tamped down. Not because of the disease, but the treatment. He is taking his pills every night, we see that, and presumably they are doing their job of keeping his swings under control. Amitabh has been beaten down by life, he is down at the bottom with the 3 girls, trying to fight back against overwhelming unfair odds just like them.
But, even with all of that, he is still Amitabh. There is a moment, when he spends the night at the bedside of his sick wife, and the sun rises and he turns his head and you know he has made his decision to help them, and, I don’t know, just looking at the back of his head, suddenly I got choked up! Because, you know, it’s Amitabh! Coming in and giving an amazing performance in an amazing movie at the end of his career because he wants to help these girls. Not the characters in the film, but the women in real life, who are struggling with all of society being against them, judging them, never believing them, never offering a hand or anything approaching human decency. And here’s Amitabh, taking this last phase of his career to be their champion.
(No idea what this is saying, but doesn’t it send chills down your spine?)
And the second half of the film shows how he is their champion, their true champion who never blames them for anything and keeps his eye clearly on the salient moral points, not letting himself be blinded by flotsam and jetsum set to confuse the issues. The boys say that they filed a case right away. That the girls are prostitutes who beat them when they refused to pay. That the police had been watching them and it was clearly a conspiracy. Amitabh disproves some of it, but some of it he doesn’t even bother with. Yes, the girls met them at a rock concert. Yes, the girls live alone not with their families. Yes, the girls have jobs and boyfriends and lives. Yes, they had a drink. Yes, they went back to the hotel rooms. He doesn’t bother to deny any of it.
You know how in movies, the heroine always has to get drunk before she does the sexy song? Because otherwise it would be “wrong”? That’s what Amitabh is fighting back against here. It’s never wrong! They did nothing wrong! You can be sexual and happy and free without being punished, because you are doing nothing wrong! He even forces Taapsee, on the stand, to admit she isn’t a virgin. That she had slept with a few men, in fact. And that, possibly, one of the boys knew that, the one who seemed the most unhappy with what they were doing, he was her old friend from school and might have heard rumors. And you know what? The world doesn’t end! Taapsee doesn’t die of shame or try to kill herself. It can all continue, just like before. Even when Kirti breaks on the stand and gives in to the prosecution’s badgering and says “Fine! We asked for money!”, even that doesn’t matter. These things only matter if we believe they matter.
That’s the point of the last scene of the film before the coda. The girls have won their case. The boys are going to jail. But, they have had their reputations smeared and their dirty laundry aired. They should be sad, right? But no. We get just a quick glimpse of the 3 of them, standing on their balcony, smiling in the sunlight. Because none of that really matters. They have each other, they have their freedom, they don’t need anything else.
That’s what bothered me so much about, for instance, Drishyam. The idea that girls are ruined as soon as someone spreads a dirty picture of them online or a rumor or anything else. Why are they ruined? Just because they can’t marry some guy who would care about something like that? Or work for someone who would care? Or visit family who care? Why would you want to be with any of those people anyway? And, more importantly, this is the kind of thinking that leads people to just give up instead of fighting back. Say “yes, this is who I am and this is what I did and if you have a problem, that is your problem, not mine” and you will be so much happier! That’s what this movie is showing, that these girls are happy in the end, because they have fought through all the shame and blame and trials society has thrown at them and come out the other side happier and stronger for it.
And then there’s the coda. Which Amitabh tweeted I should stay for, so I did. All through the trial we were hearing different versions of what happened. Even the girls weren’t really clear, there was something about Andrea needing a restroom, so “Dumpy” took her to another room (where he molested her), and then Kirti went aside for fresh air with the school friend, and then something happened, the politician’s nephew “grabbed” Taapsee or “touched” her, or something, she keeps using different phrases in her testimony. And she was a little drunk and maybe overreacted and she hit him with a bottle. We only see the aftermath all along, going all the way back to the opening with the three guys rushing to the hospital and the three girls rushing home. And as time passes, everyone is very unclear about what exactly happens, it gets very confused. We know they boys are evil, that they overreacted, that the girls aren’t prostitutes and they didn’t set out to attack the boys. But the actual evening in question, it feels like maybe it just got exaggerated, like Taapsee lost control of her temper, like there could have been another way to get out of it.
And then after all of that, after the tricks our minds always play when we hear these stories, thinking that it couldn’t have really been that bad, we see it all play out, silently, in little snapshots, over the end credits. The girls getting uncomfortable and trying to leave, the boys exchanging glances and clearly working out a plan, and then Taapsee alone in the room, trying to leave, being grabbed, being shoved against a wall, being yanked about, trying to pull away, trying to hit back, and it just goes on and on! The snapshot effect is brilliant too, because it lets us really study each moment as it happens, no hiding from it, no saying “oh, I’m sure there was another way.” There wasn’t any other way, she was about to be raped, she was fighting as hard as she could, and she wasn’t going to win. And by the time she grabs the bottle and hits him, you are desperate for it to just be over, for her to get out of there anyway she can.
That’s what the movie wants you to leave with. That all of this talk and aftermath and discussion is nothing, is worth it. That Taapsee did the right thing and we should all be glad she did, that she did whatever she needed in the moment. And we should trust her judgement in that moment, she should have trusted her own judgement, her friends should have trusted her judgement, and there should never have been a question of “why did she do it, did she have to do it, this is what she should have done.” She was a grown woman with a mind and judgement of her own, and she was the one who was actually there! We should give her support and encouragement and faith. And that’s why this part came right at the end. We, the audience, had to be in the same position as everyone else for the rest of the film, taking it on faith alone. No easy out of seeing it happen on camera. If you can believe a character in a movie just because she says so, why can’t we believe people in real life?