Friday, March 7, 2014

Gulaab Gang, Hindi Bollywood film Movie review, Johnson Thomas, Rating: * * 1/2

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Gulaab Gang(Hindi) Rating: *  * ½ An unacknowledged contemporary real life experience is given the traditional bollywood song and dance treatment replete with vitriol spewing dialogues and fiesty exchanges between the two leads.  But for Juhi’s stunning turn and Madhuri’s effective one, this would have been a damp squib all the way! 


Hindi  Film Review
Johnson Thomas
Film Review: Gulaab Gang:
Cast: Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla,
Director: Soumik Sen
Rating: *  * ½

The run-up to this film’s release has been mired in controversies. The biggest being the creative teams’ culpability in brushing aside a contemporary  true life (Sampat Pal and her Gulaabi Gang) inspiration. Giving credit where it is due, has always been Bollywoods’ Achilles heel. We’ve seen borrowed ideas, straight lifts from foreign films, true life impersonations, going a-begging because Bollywood honchos dislike sharing their moolah the most. Sampat Pal of course sought justice and got it(the stay order and subsequent arrangement preceding the release) and deservingly so. No questions can be raised about her behavior but many must be raised about the manner in which film makers and their co-conspirators tend to take the general audience for a ride-and a fantasy bedecked one at that.

If this was Hollywood, Sampat Pal’s crusade would have garnered a befitting tribute it deserved, and with proud acknowledgement too. But in Bollywood , all you can expect is a showy , glitzy reel fantasy cobbled together  as based on a real life  incident - that is what you get here. By spreading the credit around(listing out a number of unknown names whose sacrifices have contributed to women’s empowerment), he seeks to minimize the chances of association. But it’s not a trick that works in his favor. Right from the opening sequence it’s quite clear what this film is all about and who it is inspired from. Several months of publicity and a moniker that colors the dramatics with Sampat Pal’s famed color ‘pink’ makes it impossible to believe otherwise. Anil Kapoor’s voiceover narrates the struggles and turbulences encountered by the protagonist Rajjo(Madhuri Dixit Nene) while seeking to educate herself in Madhavpur, a village where women are expected to be housewives rather than crusaders. The rest of the film is a guts and glory depiction of the  crusader who over the years , has empowered a gang of women in pink sarees, her followers, and who now comes up  against a wily politician 
Sumitra/madam(Juhi Chawla in a career redefining performance) while demolishing stereotypes of gender, caste ,social oppression and some campy politicking with Bijli(electricity) and pani(water). Narrative meanderings into Sub-plots elucidate the raison d’etre for Rajjo’s huge and faithful following. The crux of the film rests on confrontationist dramatics between Rajjo and Sumitra. And that is when the film derives it’s most engaging meat.
Soumik Sen- the storywriter, screenplay writer, music director and director of the film wears one too many hats and it shows in the treatment and depiction. The narrative is unevenly paced, the plot jumps around from song and dance to drama and vice versa without quite managing any attention grab. Madhuri has to justify her presence with dance moves that could well have been done away with. Her lathi and sickle wielding dominance over the men folk was distraction enough. The chief villains here are all women, so it’s not exactly an unequal fight. But the action is as usual superficial. It’s more flight of fancy than real. Madhuri is made to do what Ajay Devgan, Sunjay Dutt and a whole posse of Bollywood heroes engineer in their action avatars. And therefore it’s doubly hard to take her character seriously. It’s in fact an addled spectacle of ritualistic violence heavy on symbolism that belittles the women’s lib movement. 


There’s no doubting that Nishta Jain’s humanistic documentary on the same crusader, titled ‘Gulaabi Gang’ and released a few weeks ago, was far more entrenched in the true traditions of story-telling than this current film under review is. Soumik Sen’s cinematic take is actually akin to creating a plasticine model of the real life ‘hero!’ It goes through all it’s highly exaggerated, copiously romanticized, and fiercely voiced encounters with mechanical precision, fiercely brandishing fake high-points in the main character’s life but without quite touching your heart.
 This film also pits two former A list contemporaries Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit (both semi-retired ) as part of it’s exercise to garner eyeballs for this smartly packaged International women’s day offering. Both actresses were said to be embroiled in a cold war during their heyday and bringing them together in one film could be considered a coup of sorts. Thankfully both actresses are in full form and that’s probably the only reason to see this film. Madhuri, as the protagonist has the lion’s share in terms of screen time but her role is not written with any depth – so her assay suffers despite an all-out effort on her part. On the opposing side, Juhi’s Sumitra Madam, is wonderfully nuanced and rendered with supreme relish. She in fact does more for the character, with an aplomb worthy expressiveness that helps keep you interested and surprised for as long as her role lasts. It’s a fantastic turn- one that is likely to redefine her career in Bollywood.  Divya Jagdale(as Mahi), Priyanka Bose(as Sandhya) and Tanishta Chatterjee also contribute generously to the interest. Cinematography by Alphonse ( Aamir) Roy and background score by John Stewart manage to engineer ritualistic fervor and menace but it’s only skin deep. Unfortunately, the story, screenplay, dialogues, music  and direction don’t allow for any empathetic intimacy with the characters and that is this trifling feminist  outpouring’s biggest deficit!

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