Nishtha Jain’s no-nonsense documentary is an unadulterated portrayal of the land where young women are burnt alive and the men keep mum
“You will have to f**k your own mothers and daughters if this keeps happening,” yells a visibly agitated middle-aged man in his thick and rustic Bihari accent upon encountering a situation wherein a young woman is burnt alive by her in-laws, even as the entire village stands united stressing that what happened to the girl in the question was her mere kismet.
It’s a given that the young lady is murdered, in fact she is charred to death and yet the villagers look upon the situation with mind numbing coldness in their eyes. Onlookers are absolutely stoic- certainly not from the shock. A sea of wrinkled faces with cold countenances is the result of the regularity with which such heinous acts are committed in this land called Bundelkhand.
Documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain captures the spine chilling reality of this place where women are abused, harassed and burnt alive. It’s a reality of this dusty and downtrodden locale that evokes no anger, annoyance or even a hint of surprise among its dwellers. Violence against women is the order of the day here.
Enters the real-life hero of the film- Sampat Pal, the feisty founder of the notoriously popular sangathan – Gulabi Gang. Pal heads a group that has lathi-wielding women in pink saris who can be called upon to deal with abusive husbands indulging in domestic violence. But if you think that her arrival will bring along the much needed relief to change the situation dramatically, and for the better instantly, you are certainly wrong.
The feisty lady is respected out of fear for she fights against the system at the grass root level for justice to prevail, but certainly she doesn’t have it easy either. She has to use diplomacy cleverly and employ her blunt-speak when it is absolutely needed. Living in one of the most socially and economically backward parts of the country, Pal deals with some incredible odds on a daily basis. Her motto is to save women from violence in this politically neglected part of the country.
Jain captures the heart wrenching reality of Bundelkhand with conviction and courage without over analysing. She simplifies the saddening reality with the ease with which she employs her camera to leave audiences shell shocked. In a string of interlinking sequences Jain shows how political apathy, negligence from the state, economic incapacity and violence against women go hand in hand to form a vicious cycle where women suffer the most at the hands of men.
There’s no attempt to glorify or even to gloss over the efforts of Sampat Pal. The documentary dosen’t shy away from showing contradictions and confusions among Gulabi Gang’s members. The powerful visuals don’t falsify Pal’s heroism and her grit. The interpretations of this movies could be many, but the fact that Jain allows her viewers the liberty to see Pal as the emergence of a parallel force-to bring about the much needed change- is not purely and necessarily circumstantial, but is indeed thought provoking.
PS: Cinegoers will soon see the fictional version of this tale in Madhuri Dixit Nene and Juhi Chawla starrer in the form of Gulaab Gang that releases on March 7. But before we start romanticising the emergence of women power in the form of Gulabi Gang through the forthcoming Bollywood flick, it would be advisable to see the real picture that Jain has captured through her noble, unadulterated and sincere venture.
Reviewed by Prathamesh Jadhav
**** Very good