Juhi Chawla goes rogue, in a negative role, like she’s never done before, in a Bollywood film, inspired by real-life events.
My entry, for this latest Blogathon, I’m taking part in; is a Bollywood film, released last year; for a change.
The Background & A Quick Synopsis
In a rural village, in Bundelkhand (a region now divided between the states of Uttar Pradesh & Madhya Pradesh, in Northern & Central India, respectively), in the UP section, a pink sari brigade known as the ‘Gulabi Gang’ was formed to fight crime against women, by Sampat Pal Devi.
Born in 1960, Sampat Pal Devi, was forced into marriage, at the age of 12. At the age of 16, she took a stance against domestic violence, when she saw a neighbour being abused by her husband. She soon started standing up for justice for women in her village, and once beat up a husband of a village woman. Soon other abused women started to join her. They’ve been the most notorious vigilante group of women, working towards justice for oppressed and abused women, for a long period. Unheard of till recently, they officially came to be known as the ‘Gulabi Gang’, only about a decade ago. Social activist, Jai Prakash Shivharey, happens to be one of rare male supporters of the gang.
The movie, Gulaab Gang (2014), is an out an out fictional take on this famous gang (thus the slight change in name), and set in the modern day, in the badlands of Central India. The politician Sumitra Devi (played by Juhi Chawla) is a character, not based on a specific person. But Madhuri Dixit, who plays the leader of the ‘Gulaab Gang’, named ‘Rajjo’, was no doubt modelled on Sampat Pal Devi.
Juhi Chawla as Sumitra Devi
Politician Sumitra Devi’s character is one of the most conniving, manipulative, uncaring, selfish, indifferent, heartless people ever seen.
When she goes to this particular village, in Bundelkhand, MP (Central India), to campaign, the ‘Gulaab Gang’, headed by Rajjo, are delighted, and wait in anticipation to having a female political leader, who’ll look into injustices towards women, in this remote part of Central India, and work for the betterment of oppressed women. Yet, in general, it’s not always only a case of men oppressing women, but women oppressing women, as well. As seen in many rural areas in India, and it’s neighbouring countries. So here we have a female politician, who doesn’t necessarily care about women’s issues, and has no qualms about suppressing them. In fact Sumitra Devi, isn’t gender biased at all. She treats them all equally, looking down on all, and couldn’t care less, what happens to them. In a way, she’s a modern day, female Rhett Butler, who doesn’t “give a damn”. No pain, no anger, no nothing. In a way, she also a feminist of sorts, who’s managed to rise in Indian politics, which is still to a certain extent, a male oriented workplace. Yet, for Sumitra Devi, it’s all about the self. A power hungry politician. She’s only concerned with her own success, and couldn’t care less, about innocent village folk and their personal problems. In fact she’s the kind of person, who’d use their problems, for her own benefit. Her nonchalant attitude towards women in peril, especially when a rape case concerning a pre-teen girl is brought forward, is appalling.
At the same time, Chawla’s Sumitra Devi, is a very realistic villain. Not the superficial kind, overpowering, with larger than life characteristics, found in many a mainstream films, especially in Hollywood and Bollywood commercial cinema.
When Sumitra Devi, arrives in the village, Rajjo, goes to meet her, letting her know, that a son of a village big shot, had raped an underage girl. To Rajjo’s surprise, Sumitra Devi, sans feeling, coolly puts a price tag on the rape, and asks the big shot, to pay the child victim a lump sum. Of course, Rajjo’s gang, get their back, by castrating the culprit. Seems like a better punishment for rapists, than imprisonment.
Rajjo constantly manages to impresses Sumitra Devi, yet Sumitra Devi doesn’t care less, either way. At the same time, Sumitra Devi is actually in need of the backing of Rajjo and the gang, to win a seat at the elections. Yet, none of their problems seem to concern her. Nothing can touch her, she has no conscience, and never feels pain, until Rajjo cut’s off Sumitra Devi’s right hand, literally. Here though, Sumitra Devi suffers from physical pain, of losing her hand, rather than a psychological one.
Juhi Chawla, is just brilliant, as the vicious politician. It’s astounding, how she has managed to transform herself, into such a villainous character. It’s not just her characteristics; through her walk, talk and attitude, that she portrays; but what’s really amazing is, how she’s managed to turn her adorable beautiful smile, associated with her perky persona, into such a cunning, sly, looking smile, so believably. She didn’t have to say a word, as she made her entry, in her first scene itself, we see her negative shaded smile, which speaks volumes, about the character. Juhi Chawla, who’s appeared in such great movies, and who was at her peak in the 90’s decade, has brought out something really unique here. This no doubt is her best performance till date.
Juhi Chawla’s performance in the film, gained her a lot of praise, by many a critics, as being the best performance of last year. Yet sadly, Chawla lost out on all the awards, she was nominated for, in various award ceremonies.
Juhi Chawla: The Actress
Although; former Beauty Queen (Miss India 1984 for Miss Universe 1984, and winner for ‘Best National Costume’ at the Miss Universe pageant in 1984); Juhi Chawla, who’s been working in films since the mid-80’s, has appeared in a one-off slightly negative shaded character (in Arjun Pandit (1999), which dealt with vengeance, giving her character a reason for being deceptive), this was her very first villainous role. And she was superb in it.
Juhi Chawla’s role as ‘Sumitra Devi’, should be among the most notoriously loved Bollywood baddies, including Pran & Prem Chopra’s many a ‘Gentleman Chor’ (thief in Hindi) roles in various films, from an era of sophisticated cool, Amjad Khan’s iconic ‘Gabbar Singh’ in Sholay (1975), Simi Garewal as ‘Kamini’ in Karz (1980), Aruna Irani as ‘Jwaala’ in Qurbani (1980), Amrish Puri as ‘Mogambo’ in Mr. India (1987), and Shah Rukh Khan, in his various villainous, psychotic, personas, from his films in the 1990’s.
The Film’s Controversy
The real life, Sampat Pal Devi, wasn’t so happy about the movie though. She sued the makers of Gulaab Gang, as the film, loosely based on her life, was made without her permission. She lost the case, and the film was released. Yet, Sampat Pal Devi, needn’t despair, for the film ended up being a flop.
Yet the movie is still a must watch, thanks to the powerful performances by Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit. Especially to see Juhi Chawla handle a villainous role, so perfectly and naturally. One of the rare most realistic villains, to grace the big screen, ever.
Gulaab Gang: The Movie
Gulaab Gang, the movie, isn’t that impressive on it’s own though. If not for the great performances, by the two lead veterans, Chawla & Dixit, the film would have been a total bore. They mange to salvage the film, into being a not-so-bad, average, fare. One of the biggest mistakes of Gulaab Gang, is the input of unnecessary, unmemorable, songs, that’s easy to forget, which just elongates the movie. Director, Soumik Sen, would have been better off, if he made his directorial debut film, as an art-film, sans song & dance, instead of a Bollywood commercial venture. It might still have been a flop, but at least would have gained critical acclaim, and be remembered in the future, among the greatest films ever made. Still Gulaab Gang, won’t be completely forgotten, thanks to the two female leads. And am glad, I got to watch it last year.
The Movie: Gulaab Gang (2014), OK Venture!!! 6/10 !!!
Performance: Juhi Chawla as ‘Sumitra Devi’, Excellent !!!!! 10/10!!!!!
Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense
GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON
The Great Villain Blogathon, was organised by fellow bloggers, Ruth of Silver Screenings, Kristina of Speakeasy & Karen of Shadows & Satin.
Thank you Ruth, Kristina & Karen, for letting me take part in this Blogathon, and for letting me work on Juhi Chawla’s very first villainous role.