Inkaar (2013)

inkaar_13541191097Inkaar is a film that deals with a serious problem – sexual harassment in the workplace. It is also about office romance, and professional jealousy. The film opened in India nearly a year ago, on January 18, 2013, but was never picked up for distribution in the USA. Recently, the streaming service Erosnow.com has made the film available.

Simply, the story is set in a leading ad agency in Mumbai. There’s a battle for the top job between the existing CEO, and his ambitious protegé. Their relationship reaches an ugly boiling point when she files a sexual harassment charge against him.

The CEO, Rahul Verma, is played by Arjun Rampal, and the fast tracked female protegé, Maya Luthra, is played by Chitrangda Singh. What began as innocent banter, flirting, and joking around – called ‘what happens in a fun workplace‘ – changed to a relationship, both personal, and professional. From there, as Maya progressed from junior copywriter, to copywriter, and finally to National Creative Director, the fiber of their relationship changed.

  • Was Maya using Rahul? Was she sleeping her way to a top position? Was she so ambitious that she was after Rahul’s job?
  • Was Rahul taking advantage of a junior staff member? Was he a cad? Was he an out-and-out liar?
  • Or was she the liar?
  • Who benefitted most in the aftermath of when they slept together? Had the workplace changed from a fun environment to a noxious and frightening place of employment?

These are just a few of the questions that the film places before us. Written and directed by Sudhir Mishra, this is a look at a serious problem within a corporate structure. The film’s topic is powerful, but the film’s structure and script is flawed.

The charges by Maya are to be decided by a panel of senior employees (two men and two women all of whom worked in close proximity with case’s principals. A state employed labor/social arbitrator is to have the deciding vote.

We hear ‘the evidence’ which is presented in a Rashomon style meaning that we hear (and see) the events as told by each of the parties. Naturally, their perspectives will differ. But it is far more than just a ‘he said, she said’ type of deal.

The deeper we get into ‘the facts’, the more confused we get. Like the arbitrator, a Mrs. Kamdaar, it becomes increasingly more difficult to separate fact from fiction, to decide what are the lies and what is the truth, and to determine when banter and flirting (so-called fun) are taken to a more pointed and dangerous area within the workplace.

More questions evolve:

  • How do men disengage seemingly so easily? Society allows men to be casual about sex, but does not allow women the same latitude. Are women unable to disengage because they cannot be casual, but are emotionally more ‘needy’ than men?
  • Do women face an uphill battle in male dominated corporate structures? And if they rise, how do office gossip and snide remarks impact the workplace environment?
  • When does flirting and banter become objectionable? What can one do about it?

Yes, it is a quagmire. We the viewers are in the same place as Mrs. Kamdaar. We can’t tell with any kind of certainty, which party to believe. The film is quite clear about maintaining its neutrality. We hear compelling arguments by each side. We, as men and women, cannot help but bring our own experiences into play as we watch – but even with that – a decision is difficult to make.

And this is reflected in the film, not only by the panel, and Mrs. Kamdaar, but we also hear about the reactions at the very uppermost levels of the firm. ‘Kill the bitch’, ‘Offer her a hefty compensation package’ are two suggestions. Then there’s Maya’s attorney who suggested that proving rape is far easier than proving sexual harassment. So, why not beat them at their own game?

So Maya approaches the most senior man in the firm, John. Does he believe her story? Does she sleep with him? What is Rahul’s reaction when he hears that Maya went to John?

While we do get answers to those last three questions involving John, sadly, most of the other questions go without answers. Mishra wraps his film up in a way that is unsatisfying. It is neat and tidy, but you come away feeling a bit let down by how the film ends.

Arjun Rampal is strong as the alpha male. He is a good-looking man, and you can easily see how he rose to become CEO, even with the film not showing us his rise. Chitrangda Singh is a beautiful woman, and I found her to be quite believable in the role. No one else is a standout.

The film is not a great film in terms of its visuals. There’s a business trip to Pattaya in Thailand, but if you don’t watch carefully, you won’t know where they are. Most of the rest of the film is set in the agency’s conference room for the depositions and questions, and the offices, and in hotels rooms and apartments. There’s a decent musical sound track, and thankfully, no one is going to break into a song and dance number.

So this is not a standard Bollywood film. The reviews in the Indian press were mixed. While I believe the film is fairly strong and can be recommended, I believe the ending was weak. The box office receipts in India itself were only middling. But I am not in India. The firm that I worked for had mandatory and compulsory yearly seminars which mainly dealt with the firm’s code of conduct for employees with a strong emphasis on sexual harassment in the workplace.

So with that sort of personal background, I was ready for the film. My rating three-point five out of five.

The trailer:

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