Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Jan 19, 2013, 02:14 PM IST
This isn’t a movie on sexual harassment. Or at least not in a way that you would imagine say Disclosure (1994), or its Bollywood knock-off Aitraaz (2004), and similar such. It's a psychological study of the workplace instead. It observes, almost with astounding precision, a set of people, their manners and their thought processes that make for any corporate set-up. You will recognise the characters right away if you’ve ever worked in an Indian urban office space for longer than a few minutes. These are people you would’ve worked with.
Besides the sleazy super-boss (an American who heads the company in this film), there’s the smart-ass, uncle-ji colleague (hilarious Vipin Sharma), who in his years of warming the same seat for so many years believes he’ll always know better. The lower ends of the pyramid comprise bitchy and jealous employees who’re certain that the reason for their own failure is someone else’s unfair success.
There’s the tyrant female boss or "alpha woman”, as the film puts it. While she can’t handle pressure, she picks up the worst traits of a man to replace him at the top of the pyramid. She was an over-ambitious upstart once. She’s no different now. They brought her in to create a parallel power centre in the organisation. No CEO, no matter how benevolent and secure, is likely to take this well.
This is what serious men and women do when they enter a battlefield to make a living. The level of inter-cabin politics makes you wonder how they get any work done at all. They don’t. It’s dog-eat-dog. Everybody’s primary job then becomes to keep and justify their own jobs. Politics is the art of war.
We’re in central Mumbai, in the heart of the advertising industry that helps sell products, among other dreams, to an entire nation. Alternatively at the head of the boardroom table is the agency’s female creative head, and the male CEO. The woman’s filed a sexual harassment case against the man. Around the two on the table is a group of eye-witnesses, and the judge. The film plays in flash-back. We learn more about the case as the story goes back and forth. This is a lot like the Oscar winning film The Social Network (2010). The same incident may occur, but it will seem completely different, depending on whose perspective you’re looking from, as you do in this movie. It’s called the “Roshomon effect”, named after a 1950 Kurosawa film.
The screen bears a sepia tone. There are shorter scenes and quicker cuts, which would instantly appeal to those used to American television dramas. Chitrangada Singh (sensuous, arresting to look at) plays the creative head. She of course made her debut with Sudhir Mishra’s masterpiece Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi. This is possibly Mishra's first film set entirely in the upper middle -lass, urbane India. A trouble with authenticity for a film with such a backdrop can only be in the dialogue. English is the spoken language in these circles. While he coyly avoids the f-word in conversations, the Hindi doesn’t seem odd. Arjun Rampal plays the CEO. Only until few years ago, no one, including himself, would've bet that this actor could pull off a role as brilliantly restrained as this.
The whole film centres on him and the girl. The story of office politics itself would’ve been the same decades before. What’s changed is the dynamic. This is the first Indian generation to see women take up this high a ratio of co-workers in their work place. This level of intermingling naturally raises some complex questions over boundaries between the two sexes. Soon enough, if it hasn't happened already, men will get wholly defined by the way they are around women. This is a fairly new challenge to the urban Indian male, or female for that matter.
In more permissive cultures, you regularly read about top honchos – from the US President to the CIA boss – risking their glorious careers for one slip in the banana peel. Rampal’s character argues that in creative industries such as advertising, the lines of propriety between genders tend to get blurred even further. They depend on exchange of emotional and creative ideas. Comfort levels are intellectual. They're likely to get more easily physical.
There is still no doubt that this boss character’s a dick. He wouldn’t have been this insecure and possessive if his protégé was male. The attractive girl isn’t unmindful of the effect she has on men either. Falling in love with someone at workplace is a terrible idea, only because the cold office can never become a warm backdrop. At some point in the future, both will begin to crave for something beyond love.
In parts thoughtful, engaging and funny, this is a film then about ambition. As for sexual harassment, I would go with the women’s rights activist (Deepti Naval) judging this case: “Flirtation agar woman ko pasand na ho, toh harassment hoti hai.” If I were you, I’d definitely go for this movie too!