Indian movies today are paying special attention to fashion. Never in cinematic history has clothing been discussed and portrayed as it is right now. Clothes as costume have served little purpose than to decorate or titillate. At best, they serve historical accuracy when they maintain a sense of time and trends.
But today, thanks to a large gaggle of stylists and a fashion-savvy audience, costumes are as strong as a character in the script. In The Dirty Picture, Vidya Balan’s wardrobe was intrinsic to her role, her rise and fall as a postulant movie star. In the recent Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela, Anju Modi’s styling was as celebrated as the hero and the heroine (maybe even more so) — Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.
It’s hard not to be surprised then by first-time filmmaker Soumik Sen’s inspiration — a pink sari. A revolution is brought about by a pink sari.
The 20th century was marked by red as a symbol of protest. It is still the chosen hue of the Maoists in India. Yellow symbolises people power in the Philippines. Green speaks for democrats in Iran. In fashion, the “new black” is that which sweeps us off our collective feet. Pink is the colour of hope, as is marked by gay rights activists across the world, or Malala Yusoufzai’s scarf when she addressed the United Nations and made a case for educating the girl child.
Pink is preferred by those seeking femininity, but also those seeking to invoke female strength. As in the case of Gulabi Gang, a 20,000-strong group of vigilante women from Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh, who fight domestic violence in their areas by draping hot-pink saris and beating abusive husbands with bamboo sticks. Gulabi Gang is headed by Sampat Pal Devi, a 40-something mother of five children, who started her pink sorority in 2006. She has been at the centre of a few documentaries, including British filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s Pink Saris in 2010, and a book called Pink Sari Revolution (2013), by Amana Fontanella Khan.
Sen’s film is loosely inspired by Sampat Pal’s movement about an all-woman army dressed in pink. Sen insists his film is an all-out commercial entertainer, a masala film that stars Madhuri Dixit grooving to Saroj Khan’s jhatkas, action sequences and crowd-pleasing dialogue-baazi. His inspirations, he says, were Sholay and The Magnificent Seven. “My idea was to make a Western,” says Sen, 38, ensconced at his suburban flat in Mumbai. “A Western is basically a good guy versus an evil guy in a rural setting. But women don’t matter in traditional Westerns, my idea is to reverse it.”
Sen’s Gulaab Gang is a feminist film in every sense of the term. Every pivotal character is a woman; men only exist in peripheral roles. It stars Dixit, the superstar heroine of 1980s Bollywood, and her close competitor Juhi Chawla. Sen’s houris don’t fight men, but a society that continued…