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CAST: Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Juhi Chawla, Priyanka Bose, Vinitha Menon, Mahie Gill
CLASSIFICATION: 13 V
RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes
THE documentary Gulabi Gang was released at select screens in India a few weeks ago.
Now Soumik Sen’s Gulaab Gang, about a women’s group who fight injustice towards their sex in India and who are distinguished by the pink saris they wear, is showing at cineplexes after courting controversy.
The cast include Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Juhi Chawla.
The Gulaab Gang members are activists and vigilantes, taking up issues like domestic violence, the dowry system, rape, electricity matters, and education.
Their fierce leader, Rajjo (Dixit-Nene), locks horns with a conniving and shrewd politician, Sumitra (Chawla), who uses people.
Although the film makes a strong statement against years of pain and suffering in a patriarchal society – one could also say it leans towards art house cinema – Sen presents the classic conflict between good and evil like it is any masala film, with high-voltage drama, song-and-dance routines and, of course, action sequences.
The difference, however, is that the protagonist and the antagonist are women.
The story is set in the hinterland and the issues pertain to women. The men are merely peripheral characters.
Also, unlike some films set in the hinterland, Sen refrains from using swearing or colourful language to belittle the oppressors.
The film sheds light on the plight of women in a particular region, but the message resonates beyond the boundaries of where they live.
A couple of nail-biting episodes skilfully highlight the vulnerability of women living in rural India. Their battles with merciless husbands, crooked politicians, government machinery, and conventional and regressive attitudes, are effectively conveyed in episodes that are searingly true to life.
However, one can’t turn a blind eye to the film’s flaws.
One is that in the hour after we meet the pivotal characters, nothing much happens and there is nothing to engage the emotions.
In a film that is essentially a drama, Sen could have avoided the use of songs. Also, the synchronised steps and reference to Ek Do Teen in one of the sequences looks out of place.
Fortunately, after the interval, the film gets back on track.
The simmering tension between Rajjo and Sumitra is captured wonderfully and a couple of dramatic sequences are hard-hitting.
Sumitra’s opportunism and chameleon-like character are arresting in the second hour.
The film never feels contrived, and a big reason for this is the performances by its tremendous cast, especially Madhuri and Juhi.
It’s a pleasure to watch Dixit-Nene’s terrific performance as Rajjo.
She brings great insight to her portrayal of this activist for women’s rights.
In her 30 years in films, Dixit-Nene has worked in virtually all genres, and Gulaab Gang gives her the opportunity to explore not only drama, but action.
Although her role as an unsympathetic character is fresh terrain for Chawla, she also gives a pitch-perfect performance.
Her portrayal of Sumitra is restrained, without resorting to noisy theatrics or trying to overpower her co-star. So convincing is she as the scheming politician that audiences will love to hate her. Other performances are also finely nuanced.
Top of the list is Divya Jagdale, whose performance lingers in the memory long after the film has ended.
Priyanka Bose is first-rate. Tannishtha Chatterjee is wonderful.
On the whole, Gulaab Gang is well-intentioned, with several powerful moments, especially in the second half. The game of power and politics is well captured.
The bravura performances by Dixit-Nene and Chawla add immense weight to the film. Don’t miss it. – bollywoodhungama.com