The Social Cut is a column that critically analyses various media shows, movies and documentaries, from an intersectionalist feminist standpoint. In this article, Joanna Chacko analyses the Bollywood movie ‘Gulaab Gang’.
Gulaab Gang is a crime drama film directed by Soumik Sen. The film is centered around the struggle of women in India, and the title throws light on a gang of members who are activists and vigilantes in the North of India. Gulaab, the color pink is attached to the gang because they wear pink sarees and take up issues like widespread domestic abuse and other violence against women.
Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla play the major characters Rajjo and Sumitra Bagrecha respectively. The film has a lot to do with the Gulabi Gang that works under the leadership of Sampat Pal Devi in North India. Rajjo’s character is highly influenced by Sampat Pal Devi’s real-life struggles. She started fighting for the rights of women and the underprivileged, and soon had a clear understanding that she would not get things easily, and needed to use force.
In the film, Rajjo is a fearless woman who runs a gulabi gurukul in the village named Madhopur. She teaches little girls the alphabet and grown- up girls how to wield a ‘lathi’. Her character has three supporting characters who stay with her through thick and thin. This includes a strong female lady noticed for her tomboyish attitude, a woman abandoned by her husband and a kohl-eyed dusky female. Being a Bollywood film, the clothing and accessories play a significant role here and they all are mostly seen wearing bright pink along with oxidized silver accessories.
In opposition to Dixit’s character, Chawla plays the role of Sumitra Devi, the antagonistic character in the film. She is a corrupt politician hungry for power, who is a master puppeteer in the game of politics. She is the widow of a politician and her two main life goals are money and satta, both a reference to power in order to win the elections. She gets so indifferent in this quest for power that in the case of a rape committed by her lust- driven son, she finds out a way out through compensation, paying no heed to what the girl in question must have gone through. She overcomes everything that blocks her way with the money and power she has or wishes to possess.
Rajjo’s character stands as an extreme opposite to Sumitra Devi’s character, the protagonist who is a feisty woman who won’t brook any wrong. As a child, she was beaten and tortured because of her passion for education, and over the years she became a savior for the local women. But this film is so Bollywoodized in a sense that Dixit doesn’t even rise above her pink sari and sickle. She is shown to be trying hard with all the flying air stunts and fighting with men, but the film portrays Rajjo, played by Madhuri Dixit, the dancing legend as a character with each bout of lathi clashing interspersed with group dances, doing “latkas and jathkas.”
The character played by Chawla in the film, is representative to the politicians and the of police, who in real life have been opposing the Gulabi gang and its activities. The gang was founded in response to the lack of police support for victims of domestic violence. Even when parliamentary seats were reserved for women, the Gulabi gang still operated because they saw immediate results in independent working. The Gulabi gang cites that even female politicians such as the likes of Sumitra Devi’s character in the film can be corrupted. Pal explains they are not a gang in the typical sense, but a “gang for social justice.” They always first request the police to take charge, and if and when this fails, the gang takes over.
Although Gulaab Gang, the film is an entirely fictional story according to the creators, it has used the name and representation of the real Gulabi gang. The creators of the film assert that it is just among one of those films that portray female vigilantism in India. The film shows the gang of women who have taken justice into their own hands, finally having their school built in their area thus forwarding their cause of promoting education. And as a whole, the main highlighting characteristic of the film, is the casting of two leading actresses rather than the usual duo of a male and female, which is a stereotypical shift from trademark Bollywood representations of leading characters.
Joanna Chacko is an Editorial Intern at One Future Collective.
Featured image: Roger Ebert
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