It's incredulous that with such a subject in hand, your main draw remains the star-power in the film.
It is truly undignified for the filmmakers to not even acknowledge Sampat Pal, who started Gulabi Gang in Uttar Pradesh (a unique grassroots activist organization known for its members donning pink sarees).
Despite naming the film after her gang, copying their uniform of pink sarees, and showing the gang's unconventional methods in addressing women's issues—the makers claim there is no resemblance. (Incidentally, watch Nishtha Jain's documentary Gulabi Gang on Sampat Pal).
Here, we have Rajjo (Madhuri Dixit), a grassroots activist whose gang addresses local grievances ranging from harassment of women to electricity. Their ways of tackling the issues are unique. In one instance, when requesting does not work, the Gang cuts off electricity in the collector's office and locks him in. In true Bollywood style, the village gets its electricity instantaneously.
Enter politician Sumitra (Juhi Chawla), whose gentle face belies her darkness. A simple lack of bending in salutation before her could get a cop dismissed; calling her by her name has bigger repercussions. Now when these two ladies meet, there's a struggle.
Rajjo wants a girls school and other amenities for the village, while Sumitra wants to cash in on Rajjo's popularity to win the local elections. She wants to keep things quiet till the elections, such that paying off a victim raped by a party official is no big deal.
The film then delves into the rivalry between the two women, leading to a disappointingly weak finale.
One wonders why debut director Soumik Sen chose to over-dramatize the film, often to hilarious effect.
The scene where the women emerge from the water to initiate an attack is outrageous, as is the Bollywood-style fights with sickles. Madhuri even flies in the air to deliver a fatal blow to a couple of baddies. In one scene, I think they make a reference to Goddess Durga (and you thought that cliche was dead). Then there are the embarrassingly incongruous song and dance portions around campfires and such.
The awful background score leaves no room for subtlety, and includes the words Gulabi…gulabi in between.
There are some interesting portions for sure. The husband beating a wife seen through the eyes of a child, and then the same child witnessing the Gulaab Gang hitting the husband is superb. Rajjo's equation with her gang members has some interesting moments. The scene where the offending husband begs his wife, now a Gulaab Gang member, for help is priceless.
All the scenes with Juhi Chawla are delicious. Who'd have thunk this '90s bubbly icon could make for such a chilling villain? Raising her voice at the right time, curbing an ironic laugh when her associate gets beaten by the women, and ready to "give" the village's welfare in turn for Rajjo's popular support - this villain has no idea how dark she is.
One doesn't know whether to call it a flaw, but the film's antagonist is far stronger than its protagonist. The character is superbly etched even if bordering on caricature, has the best dialogue and is incredibly performed by Juhi Chawla. Of course, since she is a politician, every other dialogue begins with Politics mein…. But Chawla makes this character the most entertaining and immersing part of the movie.
Rajjo, on the other hand is pretty ho-hum, and saddled with preachy dialogue. So you have her talk non-stop about the school, we see her (again) walking in slow-mo with her followers behind. If you see the documentary mentioned in the beginning of the review, you'll realize that Sampat Pal of the real Gulabi gang is a charismatic woman with many layers combining wit, humour, tenacity and determination in dealing with the local cases. The reel version is washed out and predictable. Saddled with such a weak take on what-could-have-been a great character, Madhuri Dixit is intermittently impressive.
If you can forgive its sizeable flaws, the film is watchable largely for Juhi Chawla, and the few scenes where her face-off with Madhuri Dixit has sizzle.
Rating: 2.5 stars