Straight on, Gulaab Gang’s deepest colour comes from its villain, Madam ji, a politician of supreme ambition and total crassness, played with aplomb by Juhi Chawla. The film’s central protagonist is rural Rajjo (Madhuri), who runs an academy where women wield weapons and weave pink saris. Rajjo’s Gulaab Gang takes on oppressive elements – dowry-demanding husbands, bribe-demanding babus, grain-hoarding traders, the rapist son of the local neta. The gang, led by Rajjo’s merry women including Mahi (Jagdale) and Kajri (Chatterjee), succeeds by winning hearts or breaking bones. But does Rajjo meet her match in unforgiving Madam ji?
Gulaab Gang captures the deep oppression the vulnerable face. Some moments – Rajjo’s face falling when Madam ji, presented with a rape charge against neta Pavanji’s lout son, responds, “Aaj kal balatkaar ka kya rate hai?” – are memorable. The action is crackling and Madhuri looks great, going from dhak-dhak to thak-thak with a big stick. Alongside, Juhi shines with malicious pleasure as Sumitra Madam ji whose ambition – to become raja from patrani – is ferocious. Chawla makes you cringe as she wreaks revenge on anyone who crosses her, the actor getting into her role with lip-licking gusto.
Cast: Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Divya Jagdale
Duration: 2 hours 19 minutes
This Women’s Day get set to ‘think pink’ or ‘go gulabi’ as director Soumik Sen achieves what was once considered impossible, and brings 90s arch rivals Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla together in one film. I must have wished away years hoping that two of my all time favourites would be featured in the same frame. So naturally, I was psyched – the trailers promised confrontational fireworks, high voltage drama and powerhouse performances, but unfortunately after all that hype and build up, I’m afraid to begrudgingly admit, Gulaab Gang left me a little underwhelmed.
It’s not that it hasn’t been made with good intentions. On paper at least, the premise revolving around an actual group of Indian women vigilantes and activists who dress in pink sarees, and fighting against the social injustice in the Bundelkhand region of Central India, must have sounded like cinematic gold. And it’s not like the film doesn’t have potential. It does, but somewhere along the line, Soumik Sen and Anubhav Sinha’s well intentioned but feeble efforts misfire, and they make the grave mistake of relying solely on the super talented leading ladies to see it through. But alas, good performances and good intentions don’t always make a compelling film.
The film revolves around Rajjo (Madhuri), the stoic leader of a women’s ashram – an abode for ostracised women parading essentially as outlaws, and where armed with axes and sickles, they strive to seek justice in a predominantly male dominated society, while making hand-ground spices, hand-woven baskets and sarees.
Their seemingly harmonious existence suddenly comes to an end, when Rajjo comes head to head with a wily and corrupt politician, Sumitra Devi (Juhi), who will do her darnedest to thwart their well intentioned plans and stop the vigilantes dead in their tracks. Unperturbed, Rajjo decides to take on Sumitra Devi head on at the ballot box, which subsequently leads to dire consequences for the women she’s strived to protect all these years.
Gulaab Gang had the potential to be a formidable film. There are glimpses of brilliance in both Soumik Sen’s script and direction, but the commercial director in him lets down the film to a large extent. There are instances when the plot just refuses to move, and as such, the film should have been snipped by at least twenty minutes. The songs majorly hinder the flow of the film and appear completely misplaced, and should have been done away with entirely, or perhaps been relegated to the background.
Some elements didn’t gel with me at all. For example scenes where Rajjo, who’s clearly endured a great deal of hardship, breaks into graceful dances (bearing in mind, she’s a violent outlaw) stick out like a sore thumb. And in a similar vein, the fight sequences are way too far fetched and don’t look authentic at all. It’s not that Madhuri doesn’t give it her all (I mean she nearly always does), it’s just that even an actress of her calibre can’t give these somewhat ridiculous sequences the relevant gravitas to make them believable.
Flaws aside, Gulaab Gang is by no means a bad film. It has its redeeming points and unsurprisingly, these come in the form of the two performances the film’s been largely sold on.
Madhuri gives the role her all, and nails the emotional scenes with her usual aplomb. She’s as graceful as ever giving Rajjo both dignity and wits of steel in equal measure, but at times her character is too one tracked, and as such, your heart doesn’t go out to her as much as it should have. This isn’t so much her fault but probably more down to the way in which her character was conceptualised.
In spite of not having the author backed role, it’s surprisingly Juhi that to an extent, walks away with the film. This isn’t an exaggeration by any means, but this is probably one of the finest performances of her entire career. Be it the quiver of the lips, the arched eyebrows, the relentless scheming and plotting or that evil smirk, she’s simply outstanding. I guess it’s always the bad guys (and gals!) that get to have all the fun, and here Juhi more than proves it.
Unsurprisingly, the confrontational scenes and the ‘dialoguebaazi’ between the two divas is on another level, and it is during these sequences that the film springs to life and leaves you wanting more.
Aside from the two leading ladies, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Divya Jagdale and Priyanka Bose give good accounts of themselves, but besides them, none of the male supporting cast add any value to the film. They’re all clichéd one dimensional, heartless, chauvinistic pigs and at times you struggle to figure out who’s who.
But the dramatic tension simply doesn’t hold. Every time there’s a face-off between Rajjo and Madam ji, a diversion – a song, a character cracking a joke, guns fired – occurs, breaking the build-up. There are too many tangents, navels and nose-rings, diverting focus from Rajjo, the story’s driving force. Instead of knowing how and why she becomes the tigress of Madhavpur, we’re given mellifluous songs, intercut with soon-repetitive scenes of exploitation. Considering the subject’s intense power and the charisma of these stars, the movie’s hesitation with how to proceed stands out.
At one point, Rajjo asks a woman, “Soch soch ke kaahi maarte ho?” That goes for Gulaab Gang too.