Bollywood’s latest stab at gritty socio-political drama is said to be based on real-life rural women in the Bundelkhand region of central India who choose to fight back violently at the social injustices they suffer on a daily basis.
‘Gulaab Gang’ opens with a voiceover introducing us to strong-willed Rajjo (Madhuri Dixit) who runs a sanctuary for oppressed women in a village called Madhopur. Rajjo’s dream is to establish a school for girls, but she faces opposition from a corrupt, chauvinist system. Rajjo takes matters into her own hands by resorting to violence and eventually decides to stand at local elections. This leads to a dirty and bloody confrontation with Sumitra Devi (Juhi Chawla), the region’s head honcho and female opposition candidate.
Debut director Soumik Sen attempts to highlight and address serious issues like domestic violence, illiteracy and rape – all of which millions of village women are subjected to everyday in India. It’s a worthy attempt, but there is no depth here. The gangs’ solution to solving every injustice is to reach for their lathis (sticks) and cutlasses and to resort to ‘The Matrix’-style kick-ass violence. The film’s dubious message is that women just need literally to fight back and powerful women are similar to dastardly men.
Dixit and Chawla, once divas of ’90s Bollywood, try their best to inject some spunk into their one-dimensional roles, but it's difficult to take this film seriously when the director appears more focused on choreographing fist fight after fist fight in slow-motion shots designed to showcase the kickboxing skills of his leading lady.
There is an angry film waiting to be made on the current oppression of rural women in India. Sadly, this is sugary, superficial and intent on simplifying complex issues. ‘Gulaab Gang’ would make Gandhi weep.