India Insight

Movie Review: Gulaab Gang

March 7, 2014

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Soumik Sen’s “Gulaab Gang” wants to assure us, through its promos and marketing campaigns, that it speaks of women’s empowerment and the power they can wield against a corrupt and insensitive system.

On the contrary, this is a movie that does women’s empowerment a huge disservice — it depicts the protagonists as one-dimensional characters; equates justice with mob violence; and would have you believe that the punishment for a heinous crime is to slice off the perpetrator’s body parts.

There is so much sanctimony stuffed into “Gulaab Gang” that you find it hard to take anything in this 135-minute film seriously. Madhuri Dixit plays Rajjo, the fierce leader of a women’s group that has its own justice system and aims at standing up for victims of domestic violence or those oppressed by the dowry system. She locks up government officials who refuse to provide the village with electricity — and minutes later, breaks into a choreographed dance number.

For someone who opposes violence against women, Rajjo has no hesitation ordering her henchwomen to castrate a man accused of rape or attack with scythes hoarders who pilfer grains meant for the poor. The men, it would seem, are the enemy — weak, corrupt and unable to deal with a strong woman. Yet, the film’s main villain is Sumitra (Juhi Chawla), a caricature of an evil politician if there ever was one.

Sumitra is like the female version of many of Prakash Raj’s villainous characters. She arches her eyebrows, smirks at her minions and is apparently obsessed with Rajjo and her tiny village. The film follows the rivalry between the two women, but their motives are shady at best.

Rajjo wants to contest elections so that she can fund a girl’s school in the village, something she can apparently do only if she comes to power. Sumitra is a powerful politician, it would seem, but expends her energy to make sure Rajjo is vanquished.

There is a never-ending series of incidents (most of them convoluted), some mediocre songs, and dialogue that is unintentionally hilarious — such as Rajjo telling a foreign journalist who comes to interview her, “Rod is God.”

As Rajjo, Dixit is never comfortable, and it is almost as if she wants to get over with the fight sequences (one of which involves her flying through the air with a scythe) so that she can settle down and dance to a song around a bonfire. She never brings the ferocity that a character like Rajjo demands; but that is also because of Sen’s half-baked depiction of her character — he is never sure what his heroine is.

Chawla, on the other hand, at least relishes the over-the-top villainy that the role requires of her, but the rest of the cast — including Tannishtha Chatterjee and Divya Jagdale — are victims of stilted writing, never able to rise above it.

This is one of those films that thinks it achieves a higher purpose and stands for oppressed women everywhere. But it’s the complete opposite. What’s more, it isn’t even entertaining cinema.

RELATED STORY: Delhi High Court clears release of “Gulaab Gang

(Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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