Sexual harassment in the workplace isn’t the kind of premise that Hindi cinema tackles every other day. In that respect, Sudhir Mishra’s Inkaar is anything but an average Mumbai film. For the most part, it steers clear of the convenient certitudes that underpin popular movie narratives.
Inkaar does not dabble either in ‘yes’ and ‘no’, or in black and white. ‘May be’ and ‘perhaps’, in other words a whole lot of grays, underline the conclusions that it seeks to draw from what is obviously a complex thematic proposition.
Much of the film’s strength, for whatever it is worth, stems from its unbending and ambitious career woman-protagonist who stands up to the tyranny of Alpha males in a high-profile corporate set-up where the glass ceiling is an everyday, if only subliminal, reality. It is in the motivational detailing of this character that Inkaar goes off-track.
For a film that is remarkable in many significant ways, it ultimately disappoints because, despite showing the nerve to deal squarely with a demanding subject, it eventually chickens out of the prospect of going the whole distance to a coherent and radical conclusion.
The two principal figures in this intense gender politics drama are ad industry stars with small-town moorings. The girl is from Solan, the man from Saharanpur. Both are fiercely independent and the Mars-Venus divide proves difficult to bridge.
While these broad background brushstrokes revealed in passing are convincing enough, neither the power-puff girl nor her domineering boss appears to subsequently act in a manner that could be deemed consistent with their no-nonsense upbringing and approach to life.
A smug, suave CEO of a thriving ad agency, Rahul Verma (Arjun Rampal), is accused of sexually harassing a pushy protégée, Maya Luthra (Chitrangda Singh), a copywriter who has risen through the ranks to the position of National Creative Director and board member.
The film moves back and forth in time as an internal inquest presided over by an independent social worker, Mrs Kamdar (Deepti Naval), unfolds in the form of flashbacks into the many flash points between the two antagonists.
The events alluded to in the rapidly inter-cut depositions are necessarily interpreted differently by the defendant and the alleged victim, besides co-workers who are occasionally summoned as witnesses.
Sparks begin fly from the very moment that Rahul and Maya first meet at an advertising festival in Goa.
Rahul poaches Maya from a rival ad agency, takes her under his wings, grooms her for the rigours of the job, and guides her through the difficult patches of the early learning curve.
Maya is quick on the uptake. Returning from a stint in the New York office of the ad agency’s American partner, she takes off on a different tangent. She quickly emerges as a threat to her mentor and usurps two of the latter’s plum accounts.
It becomes apparent that this simply cannot be an open-and-shut case. Involved in it is a tangled web of masculine possessiveness, vaulting ambition, sexual jealousy, intra-office shenanigans and deep emotional complexities that cannot be deconstructed in simple terms.
The lady probing the case, on her part, is unable to make up her mind. The four other members of the inquiry committee, two men and two women, are split down the middle. The screenplay, too, remains non-judgmental. It takes no sides.
Is the man an all-out predator who thinks nothing of using his status to secure sexual favours? Is the woman the manipulative one who exploits her feminine charms to get ahead in a male-dominated, even misogynistic, organisation? Or are both playing dangerous games with each other?
The ambiguity of the details that emerge in the course of the interrogation obviates the possibility of any sort of pat judgement. The film leaves the audience wondering until moments before the climax. And then what happens is a complete letdown.
From a film like Inkaar, one would have expected a drastic denouement – a shock ending with no sanctimonious caveats attached. Sadly, it backs off when it matters the most and opts for a rather tame, contrived and confusing, if not downright regressive, closure.
If Inkaar is still a riveting film until the point it throws it all away, it is principally due to the superb editing. Archit D Rastogi’s crisp cutting lends a crackling rat-a-tat rhythm to what is otherwise a thin storyline.
The Shantanu Moitra-Swanand Kirkire combo doesn't hit the high notes it did in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Khoya Khoya Chand. Yet, the musical score and the lyrics have character – they do not seek to break free from the film. They instead serve as the supplemental spine for the dramatic moments.
On the acting front, barring a couple of the key confrontation scenes, the lead pair is unable to whip up the sort of corrosive energy that two hot-headed and motivated people should have produced in the bubbling cauldron-like setting of an airtight ad agency where, as one of them says, boys and girls work together “20 hours a day” and think up ads for “condoms, sanitary napkins and lingerie”.
Rampal is too bland and Chitrangada too self-absorbed to come across as two severely harried pros on a soul-sapping collision course. Neither conveys the enormous nervous tension that is bound to be inevitable when two aggressive combatants are locked in a life-altering personal clash.
The stray bright spots are provided by Vipin Sharma, who plays the cynical, wise-cracking agent provocateur on the probe committee who makes no bones about his scepticism over the sexual harassment allegation.
So, should you say no to Inkaar? The answer is neither yes nor no. May be would probably be more in order.