Thinky Post: Mindy Kaling’s Late Night and Amitabh Bachchan’s Pink, Accepting the Accusation But Rejecting the Judgement

My Mom made me watch Late Night last night, which I have been avoiding not because I thought it looked bad, but because I thought it looked so good I would be stressed. And I was! Stressed, that is. But also really intrigued by what Mindy is arguing about woman in the workforce.

How can I say this right? I guess I’ll start with the nepotism example. Nepotism has become a bad word just in the past few years in Hindi film. And the first instinct of defense is to say “no! My favorite actor doesn’t do that, my favorite actress didn’t benefit from that” etc. etc. Because it is a Bad Thing. But my policy has been, start to finish, “They do do that, and I do not accept that it is a Bad Thing”. Rather than fighting the line of denial, fight the line of acceptance but reject the judgement.

Ashok Kumar desperately didn't want Kishore Kumar to become a singer.  Here's why | Bollywood pictures, Kishore kumar, Bollywood cinema
It was Ashok Kumar’s birthday yesterday. He and his brothers only made it in Hindi film thanks to Nepotism. So, stop listening to and enjoying Kishore Kumar songs, if you believe nepotism to be a Bad Thing.

That’s what Mindy Kaling is doing in Late Night, and it is FASCINATING. It’s also a clever well-written pleasant watch (as is everything Mindy Kaling does). I recommend it just as a nice watch with good performers and so on. But I REALLY recommend it for what it says about a competitive work environment.

Late Night is about the writers room at a comedy show, which is one of those work places that you can sort of fall into sideways, and then it ends up being the start of an incredible career. Mindy Kaling started in a writers room herself, then was thrown into the show (The Office) for a couple of small bits, then her character expanded and expanded, and she was writing more and more and developed a distinctive voice, and then she was offered her own show, and then a movie, and then another show, and so on. Meanwhile, other people in that same writers room probably just stayed as writers on the shows of others, or were fired and moved on to be managers of Pizza Huts or something.

My point is, this is the kind of situation where the first big break is random chance and luck, and definitely not “fair”. But what you make out of it, that’s the difference. And that’s what Mindy shows, very subtly, in this movie. She has three characters that are slowly established as extremely talented, smart, and worthy of success. One of them is herself, who was absolutely hired because she was a woman of color. The other is Emma Thompson’s character who is eventually established as a woman who benefitted by having a powerful older man fall in love with her and mentor her when she was a young woman (and leaving his wife for her). And the third is BJ Novak’s character, who got the job because of his family connections. It’s not about fighting whether or not you were a “token” hire, or whether or not the man who loved you helped your career, or whether or not your father got you the job, it’s about saying “yep, that happened, and I’m not gonna deny it because it’s the truth. And so what?”

Late Night | Amazon Studios

On the micro level, this is about accepting that everyone has a job advantage and that’s kind of just life. I am comfortable accepting that. A truly fair world is impossible, so the best we can do is just give people different kinds of advantages. I think that’s what Mindy is saying as well in this film, without quite saying it. These three people “cheated” to get their first shot, but then they proved themselves once they were there. That’s fine.

On the macro level, this is saying “I’m not going to fight the battle you want me to fight, I am going to leave the denials behind and move on to saying it is true and make you prove why it matters”. And that’s what reminds me of Pink.

If you haven’t seen Pink, it’s a well done he said-she said rape court case movie. What makes it really something special is late in the film when one of our heroines cracks under aggressive cross-examination and says “Fine! Okay! I will say I am a prostitute!” She isn’t though. Our three heroines are young urban woman with sex lives and boyfriends, like a lot of young urban woman. But their lifestyle was twisted and twisted until it turned into arguments that they were prostitutes. In most movies, our heroines wouldn’t be sexually active to begin with. Or, after this accusation, the rest of the film would be about “redeeming” them. But what this film says is “okay, we will accept that thing you say and move on to asking why does it matter?” Their lawyer, Amitabh, accepts that his clients are prostitutes but points out that in a rape case, that does not matter. This thing that is supposed to be so important, so heinous, simply does not matter. Does not matter to the degree that they won’t even bother trying to deny it when it is false.

Pink 2016 Hindi 400MB DVDScr 480p | Pink full movie, Pink movies, Pink  hindi movie

That’s what I keep waiting for in so many of these news stories, for someone to stand up and say “yeah it’s true, and also, so what?” And it does happen sometimes. Kareena and Saif very casually let it be known that they were living together and vacationing together and sharing their lives before marriage. They didn’t announce it, because that would make it seem like they accepted the premise that it was a big deal. And they also didn’t deny it. It just wasn’t worth discussing or considering. Arbaaz Khan on Koffee With Karan was similarly casual about his separation and then divorce from Malaika. He laughed about it, it wasn’t some horrible secret tragic sin, it was just what happened.

So long as you are denying, excusing, explaining, you are playing their game. Just accept it, accept this thing that other people are telling you is terrible, and then challenge them to explain why it matters.

10 thoughts on “Thinky Post: Mindy Kaling’s Late Night and Amitabh Bachchan’s Pink, Accepting the Accusation But Rejecting the Judgement

  1. As an audience member, I want to see something on screen to add value to my life at that moment in some way. Unless I’m a fan of the actors or the industry, I’m not really concerned with who is delivering me that added value.

    But as s fellow worker in this world, I do want more of a meritocracy for all workers. I can acknowledge that these systems exist, and simultaneously lament all the people who fell by the wayside due to not benefiting from said systems. Especially when it comes to creative careers, far too many people have the talent & drive but not the connections.

    I think a large thriving middle class is best achieved either by a meritocracy or a family apprenticeship system. The former has more risks but the latter doesn’t offer choice. But I feel like the global rightward shift is in part due to a shrinking middle class. So I’m all for striving for meritocracy.

    India’s parallel cinema movement felt like a move toward meritocracy, and I believe that was part of its allure to its target audience. SRK rising to superstar status also was not only a stand for meritocracy but also paralleled India’s own move into the global workforce based at least partially on merit.

    The current streaming content feels like a second wholesale shift toward meritocracy. Unfortunately there is a tendency by producers to want to reinvent the star system for its profit incentive, thinking that we want to see familiar faces in our content, when in fact when it comes to streaming, the content is the star, so discovering fresh faces in every movie is part of the allure. There are a couple of standouts that keep getting recast to signal “quality” or “prestige” as the brand – pankaj tripathi being the most obvious example. But if they keep using the same actors over and over again I’ll probably get bored of streaming.

    To your point though it’s true of every industry. In her younger days, USA’s Dem VP candidate Kamala Harris was best known locally for dating Willie Brown, who was ~30 yrs her senior, and he was either San Francisco mayor or Speaker of California legislature at the time. But I want her to be exactly where she is now, and she is the sum of all her parts, and the product of all her experiences, so there is that.

    Like

    • I’m California born and originally from the Bay Area so I will say that Kamala Harris is known to have dated Willie Brown when he was, as you said, 30 years older. However, that is not what she is known for. She is known for being the city and then state DA, and threatening Mr. Brown with action if he even thought about jaywalking (he isn’t her fan now). She has so surpassed Brown, that while detractors will dwell on their relationship, for the rest of us, she represents something greater than the parts.

      Like

      • Just to jump in, first Reflects on Life is also a Bay Area person (not sure if that was clear), and I think she did mention that this was when Kamal was younger, as in, for a brief period years ago but now grown past it. At least, that’s how I read the comment.

        And of course, No Politics (my own fault, I should have replied to the first comment sooner with a reminder. But I was busy watching Ginny Weds Sunny with friends, Not a Great Movie!!!)

        On Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 8:48 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

        >

        Like

        • Margaret my comment wasn’t meant to be political. I was merely pointing out an equivalent very current analogy to Emma Thompson character from another industry, to show that it might be how anyone’s career gets a start.

          Like

    • I agree that streaming is intended to be a shift towards meritocracy, and that there seems to be a general shift with the liberalization of the economy. But what bothers me is that the intended meritocracy appears to me, at least in the film industry where I pay attention to things, to have turned into a class barrier. You prove “merit” through degrees and certificates that are only available to richer people, or through unpaid audition processes only available to people with private means, and those class barriers remain and harden while at the same time you can maintain a pretense of “everyone is equal”.

      Right now (and this is obviously the kind of opinion that shifts your whole life), I am landing on “true meritocracy is impossible, the best we can do is make everyone advantaged in different ways”. So, affirmative action. That’s where I am at now. Any attempt at an “equal” system ends up benefiting the people who are already in charge and able to create a system that benefits them.

      On Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 3:46 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

      • The challenge of access to training transcends the film industry. It’s true of every industry where some level of training or apprenticeship is a prereq… which means every job except low skilled labor. At least in the film industry, prior experience – like theater and commercials – counts as much if not more than degrees. I think that’s true of both BW & HW. IMO a meritocracy is best supported by free (or affordable), plentiful, and accessible educational and apprenticeship opportunities. Ironically the caste system offered this because it’s your own family that was training you. Maybe our global year long crash course in video conferencing will democratize the opportunities for new actors further by letting them audition from a distance. After all, you get a better look at how they’d appear on camera than if they audition in studio.

        Like

  2. I really liked Late Night…and as you said Mindy’s take on Nepotism/Tokenism is very interesting!!
    To give a counter-point, I want to say it doesn’t matter how you got the job if you are good at the job….so it doesn’t matter how Kishore Kumar got his break or subsequent movies…he is a great actor/singer and we are better off it nepotism made it happen….but it does matter how you got the job if you are not up to the mark…and that’s what people are angry about when they rail against nepotism…these mediocre actors should have been weeded out after a few films…but nepotism keeps giving them movies over and over again hurting other actors who could have landed those roles…

    Like

    • I agree about “it doesn’t matter how you got here, if you prove yourself”. And I think that’s what the point of this movie was, you can’t cancel out all the later achievements just based on how they got the first chance.

      But I am increasingly seeing blowback to the nepotism argument in support of people who HAVE proved themselves and are still getting trolled and attacked for their first break. There’s the flipside, you can get angry at people who have chance after chance after chance. But you also have to be fair and give them a chance to begin with! I liked Ananya and Sara in their movies, I think they were as good as any other young actress would be in their roles, and I think they have earned future roles. Which is a subjective opinion of course, and also part of the problem, who gets to make the decision about if they have earned future jobs? Since we no longer trust the people actually hiring them for those jobs?

      Anyway, the starting point is just saying “yeah their first break was because of who they knew, but that doesn’t actually matter, everyone’s first break is because of some random chance. What did they do after?” That alone is moving the argument forward, I think. Stop fighting the “Alia was cast in SOTY because of innate talent” battle, say “she was cast because of who her father is, but every movie since then she earned on merit”.

      On Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 6:08 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  3. There is one thing which bothered me about the whole nepotism debate-not accepting public’s mistake in passive consumption.Sadak2 might end up with more dislikes than the views on Mee Raqsam trailer.Something that deserves to be obscure turns notorious-what is the point?Why blame “them” for our,the audience’s faults?Yes,some actors do get more chances.Then criticise them and move on,or criticise the casting director and why an actor didn’t work.I don’t care for romcoms much so why even bother what Varun or Ananya are doing(or even Shetty with his arguably shetty movies)?There were movies like SOTY,Love Aaj Kal 2,PPAW that were criticised for Nepotism.But the question is-would we like to see good actors in such movies that were very mainstream,commercial and age really bad?What would Nawazuddin gain if he starred as protagonist in a Baaghi,or any look-good-and-dance-a-bit romcom?People blamed Kalank for nepotism,bless the outsiders they escaped that mess of a movie.Or even SLB-why would anyone want to work with him for a long shooting period,be overworked to exhaustion with retakes and physical trainings and other stuff,without having a plan B(remember how much unnecessary hate Shahid faced for Padmaavat?Imagine a newcomer with the same trashy characterisation,and people blaming him for the mess of the director).The best option-DON’T watch that stuff.I don’t mean it in a condescending tone,but a well intentioned tone as I do the same thing.I totally ignore the Masala action stuff of 80s,and if I watch it,it is only a time pass.Parallel cinema flourished not because people decided to boycott the mainstream,but because they could relate to the simplicity of art house films more and then everyone was happy.We got stars AND powerhouse actors from that same era.That is how constructive changes occur.Even in hating a thing so much,we give unnecessary attention to it.It is like screaming “Boycott China” while wearing a Manyavar Kurta-a decidedly capitalist brand.Instead of Boycott China if the focus were more on going out,buying fabric from retail shops(not just huge brands with the label of “Indian”festive wear),getting the clothes tailored from a local independent tailor so that the workers are paid directly,the narrative would make more sense.People get short sighted at times.
    By the way,I don’t think directly getting a chance in a movie without a bit of experience is a great thing.Most offscreen crew work as past apprentices,and similarly actors in India do start off as models,theatre actors,TV actors or in recent times,from limited experimental webseries(Jitendra,the other guy from SMZS started his career from a small web series in 2015.Before that he was an IITian,he just managed to make it work in weird ways from outside).While we might think that it is unfair that not everyone can get a chance with meritocracy,to be fair I don’t think I deserve to be on the same place as someone with either past credentials or experience.There is the bit about getting “started”-the film industry is BIG,and there are many actors who might have worked as camera assistants or director apprentices.Making it big is different thing,but getting in does require a bit more make-it-work approach.
    At the end of the day it is all about how it looks on screen.Ranveer has a degree,but a lot of his roles have a quirkiness that is very improvised,not trained theatre acting.Or Varun Dhawan,despite getting quite a bit of training as a director assistant,would be the last person I would trust with a camera(even his Instagram pics look,ugly?).Or Sara,who has a somewhat “vapid”public persona.But when she had to actually act vapid in LAJ2 it failed,while she shone as a vivacious effervescent girl in Kedarnath.It is all about what translates on screen-Rekha,a South Indian,played a Muslim Tawaif Umrao Jaan and an ancient Indian Nagarvadhu Vasantsena with equal ease.Look for actors,all is good.Look for stars and why they are in a particular movie,the discourse is bound to turn toxic.I can’t name a single movie in recent times blamed for nepotism where I felt that the movie was good enough in the first place that to make me want to see a better actor in the role.Why would I want to see my favourite in a role that is purely for the bucks and offers no longevity or variety to his/her filmography?It is a different thing if Karan casts Ananya in Raazi-that would be harakiri on his part,as a producer.But mainstream,come watch it to enjoy stuff,no serious actor would care.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.