Gulabi Gang — the documentary following the story of Sampat Pal and the feisty women of her organisation with the same name, which is fighting gender violence, caste oppression and corruption in the badlands of Bundelkand — was screened at MIFF 2014 on Thursday. Documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain talks about the film
Your documentary Gulabi Gang hits multiplex screens a good two weeks before the Madhuri Dixit-Juhi Chawla starrer Gulaab Gang. Was that strategic?
Of course it was. Now that Gulaab Gang promos are on air, the buzz will only help my film. Their promos will go into over drive just before the film releases. At that time my documentary will be on screen. We think the timing will be a tactical boost for us.
Have either Anubhav Sinha or any of the cast gotten in touch with you to compare notes or share experiences?
No why should they? Bollywood is far too conceited for such gestures. When they didn’t bother to even go and speak to Sampat Pal or her group do you think they would really be interested in talking to me?
But the Gulaab Gang publicity machine is in overdrive claiming painstaking research for the film…
Really? That will come out when the film releases finally. Already there’s a huge problem with the promos on air already. It gives the women, working so hard, the image of goondas. It’ll be truly tragic if the world forms its ideas about Gulabi Gang based on the film. I can see why Sampat and the other women are peeved about the film and its portrayal of them. Already, the men in the area need no excuse to lampoon and caricature them. The film shouldn’t further that.
Did the gang readily cooperate with you when you approached them?
We didn’t face any problems. We had their full support, they want media… They want people to come and see their work in the community. But there’s lot of resistance against Gulabi gang as they’re fighting against corrupt officials, making cases against men who are killing or beating women so they are justified in having their suspicions about people who come from outside. But once they knew where we’re coming from, they were okay.
Weren’t they conscious of the camera?
(Laughs) They were more conscious of the boom mike with its furry cover. It looked huge and would be up there. The camera used on the other hand was a small Sony A3. So initially they would all be looking up while talking.
Were you under any pressure not to show the negative aspects about the gang?
See I was making a documentary according to my own sensibilities. This is my take on the gang and what is going on in the region. It’d be too easy to go and make a propagandist goody-goody simplistic film calling it a revolution. That would perhaps bring me awards and money in droves. But it wouldn’t be real. There is this cyclical process of powerlessness, empowerment and abuse of power which keeps going on in that space. And the movement Gulabi gang is also sees this dynamic manifest. Even when people break away from the gang and criticise it we have included that in the film. After all telling every side of the story was important.
You’ve yourself had an upbringing around Jhansi. Did the ease with the language, culture and nuances help?
Of course. Itis needed to bring to the screen the detailed minutiae of what’s going on in all its complexity. One has to be able to relate and look at it like that. You know just when I began working on the idea, another foreign film-maker came and shot with the gang. I waited for her film to complete and watched it. It made me realise what I definitely did not want to do. Once my Norwegian producers came aboard to fund my effort despite knowing that another documentary had already been made on the gang, it boosted my confidence further.
The documentary took five years to make?
Yes, it took so long because the pre-shoot process and coordination was difficult. This isn’t exactly easy terrain, distances are huge, there’s no cell connectivity and very often one could travel three hours one-way and return empty-handed. Besides we’d roll in real situations. Nothing in the film is engineered. After shooting for five months, it was a challenge to edit. That took a whole year.
Have the Gulabi gang in Bundelkhand watched the film? What’s their reaction?
Yes we did screen it in theatres where we could. But its been a struggle to take the film to interior villages with a projector. Ultimately one wants as many people both from the gang and others to watch it as possible. For that we need support and funding. We’re hoping this chance of getting to screen it at PVR multiplexes will create a buzz and help contribute to what one can only call the Gulabi gang movement.