Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

March 7, 2014

Sucker punched

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

March 07, 2014

Cast: Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Divya Jagdale, Priyanka Bose

Director: Soumik Sen

In a key scene from Gulaab Gang, Madhuri Dixit’s Rajjo leads a group of women dressed in pink saris and wielding lathis, sickles and axes to descend upon a band of thugs who’re smuggling their village ration. Leaping through the air and pouncing on the men, they slice, stab and knock them out until every one of them has been vanquished.

Much of Gulaab Gang unfolds in the same vein. Rajjo, who runs a school for little girls that alternates as a shelter for battered and abandoned women, is a strong advocate of violence as an instrument of justice. “Rod is God,” she proudly declares, as her avenging angels take on corrupt government officers, abusive husbands, and sleazy rapists.

The plot kicks in when Rajjo takes on Juhi Chawla’s mean-spirited, power-hungry politician Sumitra, who we first meet as she’s ordering the suspension of a police officer who failed to bow before her. Cast against type, Juhi is terrific as the lip-biting, clove-chewing neta, who doesn’t once let her smile slip even while issuing threats and ordering killings. In a chilling scene, when it’s brought to her notice that the young man slated to marry her sister has raped a minor, she offers compensation, turning casually to her secretary and asking: “Aaj kal rape ka kya rate chal raha hai, Sharmaji?”

Madhuri, on the other hand, makes the most of her stunt scenes, but appears trapped under the weight of this predictable script, which in the guise of a feminist film offers no more than your standard good vs evil story. It’s particularly hard to take Rajjo seriously when she breaks into choreographed dance sequences each time the women are taking a break from beating up some offender.

A handful of scenes are nicely shot, like one in a lake, where a local politician’s rapist son finds himself surrounded by a few of Rajjo’s revenge-seeking gang members who emerge dramatically from under the water. There’s another bit where Rajjo and a few of her comrades (Vidya Jagdale and Priyanka Bose deserving special mention) share a light moment, bickering and joking among themselves. But such portions are few and far between in this dull film.

Writer-director Soumik Sen and the film’s producers have insisted that Gulaab Gang is a work of pure fiction, and not based on Sampat Pal and the real Gulabi Gang in Bundelkhand, although the inspiration is too obvious to overlook. For an honest portrait of this vigilante women’s group and the work they do, seek out Nishtha Jain’s excellent documentary Gulabi Gang that released in select cinemas across India only two weeks ago.

And if you must watch this film, watch it for Juhi Chawla’s inspired performance; it’s the only bright spot in Gulaab Gang. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five. Muddled and forgettable.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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