Movie: Gulaab Gang
Director: Soumik Sen
Cast: Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Divya Jagdale, Priyanka Bose
So fine, maybe Madhuri Dixit’s Gulaab Gang has nothing to do with Sampat Pal’s real-life Gulaabi Gang, even if both wear pink saris, and fight for women’s rights in a rural North Indian outpost.
The difference between the two films (and Gulaabi Gang did the smart thing by releasing just ahead of the Bollywood take) is stark: the first, featuring the plain-faced Sampat, is a hard-hitting documentary; Madhuri Dixit’s gang, on the other hand, is as make-believe as make-believe can get. Gulaab Gang is faking it.
Fearless Rajjo (Dixit) runs a sort of a gulabi gurukul in a village named Madhopur, where she teaches little girls their alphabets, and grown-up girls how to wield a lathi. Her “gang” is made up of women wearing bright pink, and the ones closest to her are a “boy-cut” tomboy type (Jagdale), a woman abandoned by her husband (Chatterjee), and a kohl-eyed dusky female (Bose).
These ladies accessorise their pink with oxidised silver, and at least one of them has a very spiffy manicure, as they go about standing up for the meek and the downtrodden, and going up against villainous husbands, cops and politicians.
But from its opening frame, you discover that in its supposed feminist garb, Gulaab Gang is actually the old-style good versus evil story, styled in the tired way these films have been for the longest time.
Its chief baddie is, ta da, a woman. Sumitra Devi (Chawla) is the sort of politician that men have played for ever: hungry for power, will stop at nothing, not even murder and mayhem. She rules with an iron fist and a sneer, and Chawla makes the most of her part, even if all the lip-chewing and narrowing-of-the-eyes doesn’t amount to much.
Dixit doesn’t even rise above her pink sari-and-sickle, though you can see her trying her hardest with all the flying-through-the-air stunts, cleaving bad men’s clavicles, and so on. How can you take a film seriously when each bout of lathi-clashing is interspersed with group dances, with Rajjo-Rani doing the familiar Dixit latkas and jhatkas?
In a deeply offensive scene, Sumitra Devi makes a fellow crawl between her subordinate’s legs: I don’t know who cringed more — me, the viewer, or the two people who were in that scene, the woman who is ordered to spread her legs, and the man who is forced to crawl in between.
How did Chawla stand for it?