The best thing about Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses is that it shines a light on several topical issues. It’s a necessary film. The worst part is that there are way too many issues crammed into one film – like a “greatest hits compilation” of almost every issue that is bothering Indian women today. But in spite of this, the film works to a large extent because of its colorful characters.
The film has been called India’s first female buddy film – a female “Hangover” of sorts, only more serious. Here’s what I loved about the film: The characters, their camaraderie, the emotions, the performances and the discussions they bring (which are not always subtle). Now all this stuff happens in the first 90 minutes. Then, in the last 30 minutes, it becomes something else which I didn’t quite digest.
But before I get to that, let me introduce the film’s characters. There are 7 women: Joanna – a struggling Anglo-Indian, Freida – a photographer, Madhureeta – a singer, Suranjana – a bossy corporate lady, Pam – a trophy wife, Lakshmi – the maid, and finally, Nargis – an activist. These women have taken some time off from their work, hubbies, and boyfriends to gather at Fredia’s family in Goa because she is getting married. To whom, is a secret which I won’t spoil.
These women are colorful characters coming from different backgrounds and having their own special character traits and flaws. Two of them have a past history and at one point it becomes awkward for them to be in the same room. The interactions between these women are authentic. They don’t sound like the Bollywood heroines that you normally see. They sound like real people. I don’t have many female friends but I imagine this is how they talk when they are amongst themselves.
Each one of them has gone through their respective instances of gender bias, misogyny, sexism…you name it. This is India. It’s one of the least ideal countries for a woman to live in – actually, any woman irrespective of her nationality. Now that they are in Freida’s place, they are finally able to be themselves. The funniest of the bunch is Pam or Pamela, a woman stuck in an unhappy marriage. She complains of the lack of physical or emotional chemistry with her husband. She yearns for that real kind of love from a real man.
You begin to feel for her and take some relief in the fact she at least has a good sense of humor which might help her get through her worst days. But then you say, “No, that isn’t enough. You’ve suffered enough. Get a divorce!” And that’s exactly what one of her friends encourages her to do. These are women who once dreamt of being “goddesses”, living in a world where they are celebrated for who they are, but circumstances have relegated them to the landfill of unholy matrimony and withheld opportunities.
There are some genuinely moving moments of female bonding and empowerment along with some moments of unsubtle preaching and venting. Yes, the liberals among us are already aware of all this, but it’s still a cathartic experience, even for us men. We are as angry as the women and ask ourselves, “When will our women be freed from all this bullshit?” It all goes well up until the 90-min mark and the film becomes a depressing revenge drama that feels unnecessarily rushed and ends dismally.
There are stories here to fit 3 or 4 films – the coincidences a little too convenient. As I’ve said earlier, every woman has gone through something and this gives the narrative an unreal feel despite the fact that the characters look and act real. After a certain point, it begins to look like a group therapy session. Maybe the real audience of the film should be the so-called “guardians of culture and decency” that are making life hell for such women. But I don’t think their minds can be changed. I imagine they would get up and walk away, even if they were tied to a chair.
I’ve noticed that some critics – including women – have pointed out some flaws with regard to the girls’ behavior. In one scene, they ogle a shirtless man washing a car, and in another, they barge into the men’s restroom and act crazy. Some have pointed out that this sends all sorts of confusing messages. Those may not have been sensible decisions on the director’s part, I agree, but let’s look at it from a different perspective: It’s possible that the director was trying to convey that women think these thoughts too. It’s just that his translation didn’t come out quite right.