Muslim Reformers

Film Review: Gulaab Gang

VICE calls them India’s Flux of Pink Ladies, a 400,000 strong army of women warriors clad in pink sarees and wielding staffs. They’re a new class of vigilante women in a country that has abandoned feminine sanctity, even though some Hindu gods are indestructibly powerful women.

That sanctity was reclaimed in Gulaab Gang, an Indian film that has the heart and soul of a traditional Indian movie without the often vacuous characters and endless dance sequences.

The visuals are nothing short of fierce. The storyline speaks to a greater theme, the rise of the sacred feminine – the stories of women who have found their voice and in finding their voice, found their strength.

The film received failing reviews since the plot takes on a completely fictional spin from the true story of Sampat, the woman who started the real life “rose gang,” but also partly because the critics may lack imagination enough to see the potential of such a daring script. That’s at least true for about the first half of the film. The film quickly unravels after one of the main characters dies, and by the end it takes imagination to see it through. Still, it’s worth watching through the first half to get a sense of where – at least symbolically – female voices are headed.

A few things to watch for as you watch Gulaab Gang on Netflix:

Notice the difference between the key female leads who symbolize the duality of good vs. evil. Played by the iconic Mahuri Dixit, “Rajjo” is Sampat, hauntingly beautiful, grounded and spiritual in even the smallest gestures. It falls on her to orchestrate a complex landscape populated with corruption. One of those corrupt figures is rival “Sumitra Devi”, played by Juhi Chawla, who executes this role brilliantly despite a career of wide-eyed roles. To say that Devi is manipulative is an understatement, and the scenes with just her (or those that include Rajjo and her) deserve special attention.

Another thing to notice is the strategic use of clothing, including dupattas (they look like hijabs but they’re not hijabs) and niqabs. Notice how both women wield the cloth no differently than they would wield a weapon. It is ultimately a tool.

The film also honors the supporting cast of pink women, who come to life on their own and actually look like Indian women. They’re not the typical Hindi film supporting cast used to glorify the main heroine.

And finally, there are at least two ‘confrontation’ scenes that are beautiful, and I think they are what’s at the heart of this film and the message it tries to get across. It’s about what women are capable off when they cast off modern society, patriarchy and tradition. What you have is feminism in its original form, a combination of “silk and steel” as someone once said of women who no longer play by the rules written for them.


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