The much-talked-about, much-in-news, mired in controversy movie hits the screens in India. Finally!
A few weeks ago, a documentary called GULABI GANG released at select screens of India. Now Soumik Sen's GULAAB GANG, which throws light on women dressed in pink saris, fighting against the injustice meted out to women in the heartland of India, opens at cineplexes after courting controversy. What also makes the film interesting is its interesting casting [and on-screen face-off] -- Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Juhi Chawla.
Let's enlighten you about the premise of GULAAB GANG, before I move ahead. Somewhere between vigilante and activist, a group of women takes up varied issues -- domestic violence, dowry, rape, electricity, education, et al. The plot thickens when Rajjo [Madhuri Dixit-Nene], their leader, locks horns with a conniving and shrewd politician Sumitra [Juhi Chawla], who uses everyone to her advantage.
Although GULAAB GANG raises a strong voice against years of patriarchal pain and suffering -- one might assume it tilts towards arthouse cinema -- the fact of the matter is, Soumik presents the classic conflict between good and evil like any other masala film, replete with high-voltage drama, song-and-dance routine and of course, action sequences. This time, the protagonist as well as the antagonist are women, the story is set in the hinterland, the issues they tackle pertain to women... while men are merely peripheral characters here. Also, unlike some films set in the hinterland, Soumik abstains from using cuss words/colorful lingo to belittle the oppressors here.
GULAAB GANG sheds light on the plight of women in a particular region, but the message resonates beyond the boundaries of the region it attempts to illustrate. The screenplay packs a couple of nail-biting episodes, which skilfully highlights the vulnerability of women in rural India. The fight against merciless husbands, crooked politicians and government machinery and the conventional and regressive attitude comes across effectively on varied occasions. In short, a number of sequences sting with honesty!
However, you can't turn a blind eye to the blemishes either. Not much happens in the first hour of GULAAB GANG [the writing lacks meat!], after Soumik introduces us to the pivotal characters. Lack of conflict or face-off is also one of the reasons why the first hour never really impresses. Also, Soumik could've avoided the usage of songs [the synchronized steps and the reference to 'Ek Do Teen' in a sequence look out of place], since the focus in a film like GULAAB GANG is on drama primarily. Fortunately, GULAAB GANG is back on tracks in the post-interval portions. The simmering tension between Madhuri and Juhi is captured wonderfully. Besides, a couple of dramatic sequences leave a hammer-strong impact. In addition, the chameleon-like opportunistic character of Juhi catches your eye in the second hour.
A big reason the film never feels contrived is its tremendous cast, especially Madhuri and Juhi. It's a pleasure to watch Madhuri essay the role of Rajjo with flourish. In her three-decade-long career, the actress has worked in practically all genres of cinema, but GULAAB GANG gives her the platform to explore not just the dramatics, but action too. She enacts the part of a righteous woman with supreme understanding and deserves brownie points for a terrific portrayal. Matching Madhuri with a pitch-perfect portrayal is Juhi, who defiantly ventures into an alley she has never sauntered into in her career earlier. The actress displays the evil side without resorting to loud theatrics or attempting to overpower her co-star. You'd love to hate Juhi here, for she lives up to the character of a shrewd plotter and an acute schemer.
Other performances are finely pitched as well and topping the list is Divya Jagdale, who stays in your memory much after the screening has concluded. Priyanka Bose is first-rate. Tannishtha Chatterjee is wonderful.
On the whole, GULAAB GANG is well-intentioned with several powerful moments, especially towards the second half. The game of power and politics is well captured too. Additionally, the bravura performances of Madhuri and Juhi add immense weightage to the film. Watch it!