Angry Indian Goddesses review: The gender equality theme seems forced in this female bonding film
Angry Indian Goddesses is supposed to be more than just a well-intentioned public service campaign
by Tanul Thakur
Quite early in Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses, we see Jo (Amrit Maghera), a half-British Bollywood aspirant, bathing in the courtyard of her cousin’s house in Goa. Jo’s cousin, Frieda (Sarah-Jane Dias), and her friends are amused by this show, wondering what she’s really up to.
A few minutes ago, Jo, while shooting an action scene in a tacky low budget movie, was told by a director that her sole purpose in the film was to look sexy. Insulted, she walked out of that film. And yet when she does look sexy here, doing the quintessential Bollywood rain dance, nothing feels inappropriate about it. It’s not difficult to see why for two reasons: a) willingness (she’s dancing on her own volition), b) audience (the gaze of Jo’s cousin and her friends isn’t intimidating).
It’s a pleasant, playful scene, but Nalin holds it for a little too long, as if telling or, presumably, edifying us on the difficulties of being a woman in Bollywood (or, for that matter, anywhere else in the country).
A few scenes later, the bunch of same girls stares at a handsome bare-chested man washing an ambassador, and they can’t take their eyes of him; they giggle, few of them briefly fantasise about him; Jo looks visibly smitten.
It’s a nice roles reversal of sorts, but then you slowly start seeing a pattern. A few moments later, these girls, after getting drunk at a pub and finding the ladies’ restroom occupied, barge into a men’s toilet, looking to relieve themselves. This bit, too, just like the rest two, is less of a scene and more of a comment: Indian women, just like Indian men, are free spirited, capable of doing whatever they want.
It’s not difficult to see Nalin’s attempts in these portions: playing around with, at times inverting, the social order in which women typically find themselves placed in our country. But these thematic concerns don’t come naturally to Angry Indian Goddesses; they often look constructed and planted, instead of organically emerging from the film’s story. And that’s really the most glaring, and the most obvious, undoing of this film: Nalin’s fixation on shoehorning scenes to accommodate the ‘message’ of the movie.
These choices are especially baffling because Angry Indian Goddesses at one level, particularly till the first half, is quite engaging. Nalin shows flair for filming conversations (via dialogues that play in the background while the actors remain silent); he frequently punctuates scenes with a background score that thrums with purpose and vigour; he understands the ethos of group bonding — that friendship doesn’t really mean staying connected all the time, doesn’t really mean sharing all our darkest and deepest scars. There are implications about not only equality of gender but also equality of class: Freida’s domestic help, Lakshmi (Rajshri Deshpande), is as much a part of the group as the other six more affluent girls, hanging out with them, trying to overcome her loss, protect her desires.
But every few scenes later, Nalin feels burdened with the responsibility of being an activist, and, hence, hatches out conflicts that don’t primarily tell a story but inform the audience about the tribulations of being an Indian woman. And here’s the problem: Nalin isn’t saying anything new; he’s merely using his characters as examples to regurgitate what we already know, what’s already been discussed before, with a considerable amount of depth, something that his film lacks, on social media, in op-eds, blogs, primetime shows.
However, given that gender-related prejudices and crimes in our country refuse to wane, and have existed for ages, no amount of discussion on them can ever be enough. But Angry Indian Goddesses is supposed to be more than just a well-intentioned public service campaign; it’s supposed to be a film, which uses the different resources of the medium to tell a story, and, if the need be, deliver a message, but without sacrificing its art.
Noble intentions don’t automatically translate into enjoyable and compelling cinema. If Nalin-the-filmmaker fails in Angry Indian Goddesses, then he doesn’t fare very well as the nation’s conscience either. The solution that he proposes in the film’s climax, to counter gender violence, is both simplistic and misguided, one that’s shamelessly shocking and crowd-pleasing. Being unable to start a conversation — and making a shoddy movie while being at it — is one thing, diverting it into a completely different, and dangerous, realm is quite the other, which is almost unforgivable.
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