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Film review – Angry Indian Goddesses (Pan Nalin, 2015)

By Divya Sachar

 

 

One is not sure how to address Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses. It claims to be a feminist film, and genuinely seeks to be one at times, but clearly panders to a male audience in a titillating way. It is a call to arms to women, while citing trite misogynist cliches like women being women’s worst enemies. It seeks to be different in terms of genre, in that you don’t come across mainstream films that abound in independent and successful female characters, but it uses aesthetic means straight out of your little handbook of cinematic cliches. As much as the film thinks it’s a rebel, it turns out to be a pile of banalities. Not all is lost though; the performances, at times, can be quite engaging, and there are a few genuinely funny and touching moments.

 

The film begins by introducing all the characters from the ensemble cast, and their travails as women caught in a patriarchal society. The camera is repeatedly made to tilt down to focus only on the women’s breasts and buttocks. This is clearly manipulative, in the same way as rape scenes in ‘80s Bollywood movies, seeking to pontificate on societal ills while titillating the men in the audience. I’m guessing the filmmakers would defend it as the “male point of view”, but it’s difficult to believe that these shots (thankfully restricted only to the early parts of the film) are not supposed to act as bait to lure in a male audience possibly uninterested in watching a so-called feminist film. I’m also sceptical of a shower-dance scene which doesn’t leave much of the actress’s anatomy to the imagination. The other women in the film are entertained by this, but one wonders who the real audience this scene panders to is. To be fair though, this scene is somewhat balanced by giving the eye-candy treatment to a male actor as well.

 

The film is a call to arms to all women, and seeks to give a violent and reductive solution. I don’t have a problem with the solution, really. Not every film is obligated to give the perfect solution, and every artist is well within his or her right to suggest a provocative answer to a malaise holding society in its grip. The problem is, the film tends to reduce and oversimplify practically most of the narrative. Subplots get resolved rather conveniently and character transformations occur rather magically. The film loses a real opportunity when it seeks to show a moral change in Sandhya Mridul’s character. She is the aggressive owner of a mining firm, and at loggerheads with an environmental activist (Tannishtha Chatterjee). Needless to say, all acrimony is suddenly forgotten and a rather hurried and unconvincing resolution takes place which lacks authenticity. Moreover, practically all of the characters are highly self aware. Sure, these women are all victims of an unfair society in some way or another, and they boldly seek to redress that, but don’t these women have any flaws? The film is dialogue heavy, and there’s nothing wrong with a talky film, but a lot of the dialogue is very self aware sermonizing of how things ought to be. Don’t look for subtextual subtleties or nuances here. This is no Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids or a Thelma and Louise.

 

The film seeks to be progressive and politically correct but is often, anything but. If anything, it is terribly classist. It’s not just hip, rich, educated women who face problems, but working class women too, it says. The character of Lakshmi, the maid, too has issues, right from ‘eve teasing’ to a lingering court case. She joins in in the conversations of the rest of the gang, from a distance, but is never really integrated into the fold. She is a loyal little happy camper and gets rewarded for a transgression by two – not even one – slaps by her employer. None of these successful, intelligent, etc, etc, women make much of this, or even censure their employer friend, and the maid is soon won back by a tokenish gesture of affection from the employer.

 

What salvages the film at times is the performance by the actresses. There is palpable chemistry between the performers in some of the scenes which lifts the film, but this too is not consistent. Some of the scenes seem improvised and the director has probably workshopped with the actors. His work with the actors does show, but the performances are not backed up by a good script. Post intermission the performances seem to get weary and the film begins to sag, rescued temporarily by Adil Hussein’s intense screen presence. But the film’s simplistic solutions continue. A six year old shoots perfect pictures of criminals which answers a conundrum and you’re expected to believe that. Ultimately the premise lacks authenticity and there’s only so much a rousing rock music score can do to indicate girl power. And the director’s armchair feminism goes only so far.

 

A note on the censors. Every few seconds words are bleeped out. This happens the most when the girls are all bonding and having fun. Clearly the censor board is uncomfortable with female sexuality, as seen in the countless suggestive thrusts and heaving bosoms in Bollywood films. The board lets go a near naked shower scene, but bleeps out the word ‘rape’. Yes, a rape occurs, and nowhere is the word used. The board is that scared of female sexuality. Suffice to say, clearly the censor board is a bunch of a******* and f***** up c******.

 

 

This review first appeared on the website takhty.in