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At a moment at which the limelight is turning towards women empowerment and women struggles in the media (see this week's post on celebrating brave women on Indian television), cinema takes part in this offering through documentaries and what this blogger would call "chick flicks with a bang". Whether it is in the form of Kangna Ranaut's layered big screen entertainer Queen, Nishtha Jain's serious documentary Gulabi Gang or it's Bollywood counterpart Gulaab Gang (starring divas Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit), women are at the center of the discussion table as International Women's Day approaches.

Which of these films might be more effective as entertainment while also being socially inspiring? If we had only one film to pick this weekend to celebrate International Women's Day, which would we recommend? Let us briefly gloss through each plot and trailer.

Queen: A Delhi girl (Kangna Ranaut) from a traditional family sets out on a solo honeymoon in Paris and Amsterdam after her marriage gets canceled.

Gulaab Gang: Loosely based on the life of Sampat Pal (see Gulabi Gang synopsis below), Gulaab Gang tells the story of Rajjo, a fearless woman (Madhuri Dixit) who fights social injustice; creating a sanctuary for abused women and battling a crooked female politician (Juhi Chawla).

Gulabi Gang: Bundelkhand in central India, a region notorious for its rebels-turned-armed bandits, is witnessing a new kind of rebellion with an unusual cast of characters. These are the 150,000 pink sari-clad women of the Gulabi Gang, who use words as weapons - demanding their rights, submitting petitions and combatting corrupt officials. Sampat Pal, the group's founder, is a rough-and-tough woman with a commanding personality. The camera follows her closely while defending women against the perpetrators or silent observers of cruelty towards them.

Producer Anubhav Sinha and newcoming director Soumik Sen is releasing Gulaab Gang today in cinemas, which is a sort of tinsel tribute to the UP real-life Gulabi Gang. The film clearly aims to pit against each other two opposing paths towards women empowerment: the right path, portrayed by a socially conscious Madhuri Dixit and the wrong path, incarnated by an out-and-out wicked Juhi Chawla, who effectively surprises the audience by morphing into a heartless politician. 

Originally, upon listening to Gulaab Gang's plot, it made me think of children's fairy tales, such as Snow White or Cinderella. I feared that the character dynamics being so clearly dualistic might be too simplistic. However, one has to give the film maker the benefit of the doubt. Upon viewing, I must sadly say that the plot and various scenes indeed do a disservice to the film's stated purpose. The repeatedly interrupted pace of the story with random choreographies also fail in supporting its plight. Waving the flag of women empowerment and failing to properly convey its message due to excessive sugar-coating or to unnecessary and conflicting messages is in my humble opinion probably worse than not making the film at all. Bollywood's Gulaab Gang unfortunately rings false, despite commendable intentions, performances and stunts, and even more so if compared to Nishtha Jain's Gulabi Gang, which delivers a no-holds-barred account of Sampat Pal and her collaborators' work in a hostile and regressive environment for women. 

Contrarily to the Dixit-Chawla starrer, Nishtha Jain's Gulabi Gang documentary featuring Sampat Pal and her gang in person might not be for the faint-hearted but makes a necessary statement.. It is hence an extremely valuable film that may inspire women who have faced gender-based hostility from their families, society or the authorities. Where Bollywood's Gulaab Gang seems like a runaway tribute to a female village hero, the Gulabi Gang documentary version is capable of reaching deeper into the audience's hearts by skipping any glorification of the heroine and simply stating what reality she and her followers are facing, along with millions of women in rural India. If your idea of socially relevant entertainment that helps spread awareness involves having your comfort zone a bit challenged, I highly recommend you make a point of giving Nishtha Jain's documentary Gulabi Gang a watch and inversely Soumik Sen's Gulaab Gang a possible skip.

Last but not least, for those of you who are looking for feel-good but reflective entertainment this weekend,  Vikas Bahl's Queen, starring a magnificently talented Kangna Ranaut might be just what you were waiting for. At times audiences might get a whiff of the filmic scent of Jab We Met or English Vinglish. Queen will stand out from the lot of this year's releases by delivering what might originally seem as a predictable plot in a rich but subtle package. Rani (Kangna Ranaut) is the ideally traditional wife-to-be who is dumped just before her wedding by an "educated" but exceedingly self-righteous boyfriend. Rani decides to endure a solo honeymoon trip to Paris (how fun is it to watch the city I have lived in through the eyes of an Indian traveling first-timer?). In the process Rani challenges, discovers and embraces herself. A middle class girl learns to fend for herself in a Bollywood fun-loving European tale. While the premise might sound cliched or improbable, it is successful given the director's fine understanding of how to successfully portray a girl's coming of age. Vikas Bahl does a marvelous job of directing a film from a female point of view, striking all the right chords and avoiding tons of expected pitfalls. All this of course could not be achieved without a malleable and incredibly expressive actress. Watch Queen for the applause it will generate within even after the credits have rolled. Enjoy Kangna's acting and her character's transformation along with the message that every woman has the power to set her own self free, ticket to Paris or not.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree with you. I thought Gulaab Gang could have done better especially since it would have got a lot of mainstream audiences.

Hindi CinemaBlog said...

Hi filmimajja!

Yes, it is a pity they did not acknowledge or honor better the hard work of Sampat Pal and her followers... Great to have you come and read this blog. I liked yours but was unable to post a comment. I promise to visit it more often.

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