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Angry Indian Goddesses: beneath the banter, it's a radical sock-in-the-gut

Rahul Desai | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 11:43 IST
QUICK PILL
  • Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
  • Pan Nalin\'s ensemble piece has seven actresses at the top of their game
  • People\'s Choice Winner at Rome Film Festival, runner-up at Sundance
  • CBFC follies almost ruin the temperamental, topical drama

I can't remember the last time an Indian movie made me feel shy - as if I were eavesdropping on an unfamiliar breed of humans.

We know that Hindi film 'heroines' operate strictly within context of the stories they occupy. They cry, they laugh, they sing, they recite lovely lines - but what about the moments in between?

Au Naturel

Though the screenplay engineers certain personas, conflicts and resolutions for each of the seven women in Pan Nalin's Angry Indian Goddesses, it doesn't enforce a language upon them. Between the beats of their assigned roles, they laugh, rant, snort, smoke, drool, curse, sigh, interrupt one another, debate, discuss and scream.

Now, I've never been to (or gatecrashed) a bachelorette party or a girls-only reunion. But Nalin's carefully assorted group of diverse ladies ensures I know what it feels like. They don't act, and perhaps they don't need to, which is exactly what distinguishes this crowd-pleaser from others.

Also read: Angry Indian Goddesses trailer: If you haven't watched the 'first' filmy gang of girls, watch it right away!

Shaky Beginning

The premise that brings them together, however, is flimsy - almost nervously mainstream. Edvard Grieg's iconic In The Hall of the Mountain King picks up tempo as each stereotype is hastily introduced: Mad (Anushka Manchanda), the singer, is busy warding off obscene men at a concert; Pammi (Pavleen Gujral), the housewife, is busy warding off obscene Delhi men in a gym; Lakshmi (Rajshri Deshpande; standout), the maid, is busy warding off an obscene Goan horn-dog; Frieda (Sarah-Jane), the artist, is busy warding off sexist suits on a fairness-cream photoshoot; Jo (Amrit Maghera), the Anglo Indian actress, is busy warding off an obscene director.

And finally, Su (Sandhya Mridul), the corporate hotshot, is busy breathing fire at daft male employees - after which she storms out, strips off her formals to reveal her bikini, and dives into the office pool. Because that's how she rolls.

The activist lawyer Nargis (Tannishtha) enters later, after these old friends have gathered at Frieda's cozy Goan abode for her upcoming wedding. What follows are seven somewhat connected coming-of-age journeys interspersed with quarter-life crisis epiphanies - something, I suspect, Mr. Nalin gets too greedy with.

Also read: Angry Indian Goddesses received well in rural areas, says director Pan Nalin

Tough Juggling Act

Perhaps five lives would have been sufficient to throw light onto the darkest corners of the gender-bias platform. The problem with so many in the house is that, invariably, Nalin has to quickly skim over some, and resort to convenient character tropes to justify a full-bodied exploration of others.

Unnecessary Evils

One of them is made dreamy and nosy enough to interfere and point out others' shortcomings. Though it's clear that the puzzling presence of Su's little girl is to accelerate the enlightenment process, you worry for her now-scarred childhood.

These conflict-resolution-party cycles become predictable, and are broken only by an abrupt turn of events, tone, genre and overall mood in the final act. Adil Hussain appears here - and shines - in a brief role, where he must represent every smirk, patronizing tone, taunt, judgment, prejudice and disapproving face of every patriarchal male on this planet.

Also read: Angry Indian Goddesses wins at Toronto International Film Festival

Art Imitating Life?

The climax, which unabashedly plays to the gallery, also reflects the nation's growing distrust and impatience with its systems. Since the ghastly Nirbhaya case, cinema has repeatedly resorted to vigilantism and lawlessness as the only means to attain closure. Revenge, it seems, has become the only form of justice - at least on the silver screen.

Damning Damsels In Distress

Make no mistake - this film could only have been about Indian women. It lays bare their inherent battles without being too gimmicky, pretentious or offering immediate solutions.

But labelling this as a female-buddy flick or an Indian Sex And The City would be doing a disservice to what these performers set out to achieve. It is about friendship, in the sense that its attributes are used to shed light on uncomfortable truths. Because at its core is the half-broken heart of an angsty, disruptive, take-no-prisoners crusader.

First published: 4 December 2015, 11:36 IST
 
Rahul Desai @ReelReptile

Rahul Desai is a full-time Federer enthusiast and avid traveller who absolutely must find a way to reach Europe once a year. In his spare time, he reviews films, aspires to own a swimming pool and whines about the lack of palatable food in Mumbai.

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