The screen is awash in a bright hue of pink and the film is populated by a deadly army of rustic termagants who can only see red. Caught between the two shades, Gulaab Gang is a completely colour-blind shot in the dark. 

A documentary on a fight for women’s empowerment would have made infinitely greater impact than what the fictional Gulaab Gang does. 

First-time director Soumik Sen, who has also written the story and screenplay besides composing the music, taps into time-honoured conventions of commercial Hindi cinema to spin a good-versus-evil yarn where both the ‘hero’ and the ‘baddie’ happen to be fire-spewing women. 

The idea outlives its welcome by the time the first half of the film draws to a close and one begins to wonder why rebellion of any kind would appear so drearily mechanical. 

The only point of genuine interest is eventually centred on the Madhuri Dixit-Juhi Chawla face-off. 

As the protagonist, Ms Dixit-Nene, armed with a stick, sickle and scowl, gets to mouth the last word in most exchanges. She can still communicate a thousand thoughts with her eyes and her screen presence is as tremendous as ever. 

Unfortunately, her bucolic crusader act is riddled with inconsistencies and she does not get the Hindi heartland accent right consistently enough to make the character the redemptive lynch-pin of a not-so-steady vehicle.

Juhi Chawla, on her part, has to strain virtually every pore on her face to exude evil. It pays off only occasionally. 

Both the seasoned actresses are compelled to overstretch themselves and it is not a pretty sight.

As for the content of Gulaab Gang, the first half has enough meat to pass muster. 

Rajjo (Madhuri Dixit) and her gang of girls (Divya Jagdale, Priyanka Bose), inmates of an ashram-cum-weaving-centre where the leader doubles up as a teacher in a makeshift school, lose no opportunity to make their presence felt in the village of Madhopur.

They rescue a victim of domestic violence (Tannishtha Chatterjee), fight an abusive husband, terrorize a corrupt and inept collector, and mete out exemplary punishment to a political henchman and his rapist-son.

On and off, Rajjo also takes on a vicious woman politician, Sumitra Bagrecha (Juhi Chawla), who, among other things, robs the poor of their food grains, peddles spurious liquor in the area and indulges in electoral malpractices. 

The second half is a dried-out mish-mash of a film that goes back and forth between Rajjo’s ashram and the neta’s office, where wicked conspiracies are hatched to stop the growing clout of the gulaab gang.

While the figure of the politician has a single dimension and is made to adopt uncluttered methods, the character of Rajjo oscillates between Gandhian restraint and mafia-style brutality.

On one occasion she declares that “rod is God” to defend her violent ways; on another, she reprimands a close aide for gunning down a goon.

Now that the film is in the multiplexes with a legally ordained disclaimer, it is pointless raking up the similarities between Rajjo’s battle for justice and the real-life Sampat Pal’s campaign in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh.

But what is difficult to digest in Gulaab Gang is the suggestion that women must necessarily mimic men and turn into mindless mean machines to wage war on the problems facing them – lack of educational avenues, abuse at home and sexual violence – all of which are alluded to in the film.

The film’s much-touted feminism seems especially counterfeit when a ruffian is forced by members of the gang to drape a sari and perform an impromptu dance, the implication being that, for a man, there can be no humiliation worse than that. 

Women who weave their own pink saris and are determined to put all pigs in their place, even if they are in the make-believe world of Gulaab Gang, should be the last people to enforce a stereotype that Hindi films have perpetuated for decades.

Women, Madhuri and Juhi included, certainly deserve better.

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