Gulaab Gang: The Charge of the Pink Brigade

Hmm. A women-oriented theme whose release is cleverly designed to coincide with International Womens’ Day. Ahh, but we are tired of these clever clichés and want a story with meat on its bones.

The film is inspired by real-life Sampat Pal who formed Gulabi Gang in Bundelkhand, but that is another controversy in itself, so let’s stick to this reel-life story which starts off with a little girl who wants to study but is browbeaten by her wicked stepmother (but of course!) into more gharelu kaam-kaaj. Not one to be cowed (pun intended!) into submission, Rajjo (Madhuri Dixit) grows up to be this perpetually pink saree-clad beauty who runs her own village school for little girls. Somewhere along the way, she also collects abused and violated women who don the same pink-coloured saree and hence the name, ‘Gulaab Gang.’

Until the interval, the film runs the gamut from gaoon ke bijli-paani and anaaj issues to slapping around a wife-beater and castrating a rapist. Post the interval, we see the battle of wits between two women: Rajjo and local politician Sumitra Devi (Juhi Chawla) who had initially extended an olive branch to Rajjo which she refused and hence the grounds for rivalry. That Bollywood staple – the Holi festival – forms the climax of the film.

While the bijli-paani scene was cleverly handled, one can’t say the same for when the anaaj trucks were hijacked – Madhuri Dixit leaping through the air in a martial arts stance? Gimme a break! It’s entirely possible the actor did indeed learn some Shaolin Kung Fu or whatever, but these scenes were nothing short of hammed. While on this, what on earth were those cottage industry-style jackets meant to be – homespun bullet proof vests?!

Why does Sumitra Devi constantly chew on her lip – is this some signal for us, the audience, to sit up straighter and pay heed to the proceedings? She also breaks into this irritating drawl when rattling off particularly scathing dialogues. Besides, I’ve got a beef with the scene where Sumitra Devi makes Pawan babu crawl between her female secretary’s legs – this makes no sense whatsoever and I hope our homegrown Didi’s and Amma’s are not inspired to such ludicrity and coarseness.

The songs were quite redundant and one wishes more Indian directors would grow up and realise when a song is going to detract from what could have been an otherwise compelling storyline. I say “could have been” because the movie is simply too cluttered with all the wrong-doings towards women. It’s like an on-going documentary that has a glamour quotient added to it in the form of the lead actors.

The director (Soumik Sen) and/or the producer (Anubhav Sinha) are clearly besotted by Madhuri Dixit! She is the main protagonist and each frame lovingly captures her perfectly made-up face down to the supposed mandatory tattooed dots on her face, while artfully arranged tendrils of hair swinging wildly denote her ‘perturbation.’ And this is supposed to be a village woman! Even her legendary jhatak-mataks somehow wend their way into the storyline; Saroj Khan has been coaxed out of hibernation to choreograph for her favourite protégée.

Almost left to fend for herself then, Juhi Chawla has done an outstanding job in a villainous role and the dark horse gallops away with the glory. That sweet, innocent face is at stark variance with the pithy dialogues and harsh behaviour. This role certainly opens up new possibilities in the actor’s career apart from the eternal cutie-pie (not that one is complaining; she performed those with aplomb too.) She has lost weight and looks fit. Her make-up is minimal and her look of crisp, starched sarees is in keeping with her character.

Special mention must be made of Divya Jagdale, Priyanka Bose and Tanisstha Chatterjee. All these actors performed creditably given the scope of the script, although there were many scenes when Jagdale’s character went over-the-top in some caricature of what a tomboy goonda should be like.

Costumes were kinda weird; it’s like someone felt since the audience would be bored seeing all those pink sarees, let’s give the women some neat low-cut blouses for the titillation factor. I have absolutely no idea what the costume director (Eka Lakhani) had in mind while designing for Mahi (Divya Jagdale) and I’d really rather not know. I mean – police style khaki shirt tied under the waist, teamed with a pink saree, with an expanse of bare belly showing. Like, seriously??

As mentioned already, the songs spoiled the narration but by themselves too, neither the lyrics nor the music (SS again) are anything to write home about. Cinematography (Alphonse Roy) is a bit dodgy and has relied heavily on soft filters, methinks. As editor, Cheragh Todiwala should have rung the warning bell sometime ago. Story (AS and SS) screenplay (SS)….one has mentioned before that when a director thinks he’s a whizz-kid and juggles too many hats, something’s gotta give!

Verdict: The Pink Brigade turned pheeka.

*This review is written exclusively for The Film Writers Association of India.

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