Related Stories

Movie Review ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’: Very irritated Indian audience

Published Dec 5, 2015, 6:29 am IST
Updated Mar 26, 2019, 8:45 pm IST
Angry Indian Goddesses is a poseur — it’s posing to be fun, fearless, feminist

Cast: Sarah Jane Dias, Rajshri Deshpande, Sandhya Mridul, Amrit Maghera, Pavleen Gujral, Anushka Manchanda, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Adil Hussain

Direction: Pan Nalin


Rating: 2.5 stars


Just as all “women oriented” movies and stories from the subcontinent have followed more or less the same dishonour-honour trajectory for centuries, sadly the foreigner/western/NRI perspective is just as formulaic and annoying.  Angry Indian Goddesses need not have been so because its writer-director, Pan Nalin, was born and educated in India, in Gujarat for that matter, but has worked for years in the West. And if you read his rather long biography on IMDB, you’ll see a glow emitting from your computer screen. Pan Nalin, or Nalin Kumar Pandya, is one part Narendra Modi (as a child he sold tea at a railway station, it seems) and one part Buddha (after a “long nomadic existence in Europe he roamed the Himalayas deep and wide — in search of his voice”). His take on Indian women, whom he calls goddesses, should have been illuminating. 


It’s obviously not. It’s actually very annoying. Pan Nalin decided to look at Indian women and their issues from a perspective that’s of and for the West -- the one that sees everything Indian, tanned and tropical as insanely exotic. That patronising streak is evident in the film’s title itself. Angry Indian Goddesses is a poseur — it’s posing to be fun, fearless, feminist.

With the opening credits itself it encases each character in a certain cool, urban aggression. All the women, one by one, exhibit and express rage — rage against the patriarchal world in general, rage against the stupidity of men, the expectation of men, against lecherous men, against the misogyny of men, against the general expectation of how women should be and what they should and shouldn’t do. Two inadvertent things are evident here: The greater the class divide between the aggressor and the aggrieved, the more real the threat of physical assault; the film fetishises female aggression and uses it to titillate the audience.


The story is rather straightforward. Frieda (Sarah Jane Dias) is a photographer, an artist who is lit and nourished by her inner luminosity. She’s gorgeous, slightly levitated from her reality and has invited her four best friends to Goa. There's Suranjana (Sandhya Mridul), a hard-nosed, ball-busting businesswoman with her ignored daughter Maya; a British national Joanna (Amrit Maghera) who is struggling to make it in Bollywood; Pamela (Pavleen Gujral), a brilliant student who is now an ideal housewife; and Madhureeta (Anushka Manchanda), a singer — club, Bollywood, etc. There’s also Laxmi (Rajshri Deshpande), who works for Frieda and has issues of her own with men and their world.  


Frieda’s friends arrive in her quaint, rain-washed old Goan house where everything, including the kitchen, looks like it’s an art director’s dream.And the girls, of course, are very cool. Nicely tanned and toned, lanky and with long, lustrous hair. If there ever existed such a group in any school or college in India, it would be the most hated group ever. These girls have no flaws. Only some flawed choices. Thankfully, they are very dumb. Their collective IQ is lower than what yours and mine was in class five.

Consider this: A friend invites four of her dearest friends to Goa and after the initial screaming, hugging, binge drinking and bak-bak sessions, when they finally get around to asking her why they’ve been summoned, and the friend says nothing, not a single one of them blurts out the first thing any girl and maai ka laal would ask in the subcontinent: “Shaadi kar rahi hai kya?” Not these girls. No.


They are too dumb. In fact, even when a white gown is brought out and worn, and some tears are shed about Daddy not coming for the wedding, you, I and the guy at the popcorn counter will blurt out in unison what the issue is, but not these girls. They need an elaborate game of Dumb Charades to figure it out.  Angry Indian Goddesses is in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara/Dil Chahta Hai mode, but its purpose is higher. It’s not just about giggly girls on a fun holiday — the breeze in their hair clearing their heads and helping them rediscover themselves. It’s about that, yes, but also about some very serious stuff. 


Suicide, depression, loveless marriages, pressures of motherhood, divorce, pressure to have children, Section 377 All these and more boxes get ticked. There’s even, with the entry of Nargis (Tannishtha Chatterjee), an activist carrying a heavy moral burden, resolution to the issue of greedy corporates grabbing land.  The film has some fun and powerful girl bonding moments. Though contrived and exploitative, many of them work. 

But it’s only towards the end, when a cop (played by Adil Hussain) arrives that the film rises from its artificial prettiness and becomes scarily real. It’s a brief scene, and not much is said, but in the clash of the cool, urban India that you and I inhabit, and the real, sarkari India, we see a glimpse of how sharply and quickly our existence, our choices come under moral, judging scrutiny. 


In these few minutes, Pan Nalin shows that the very patriarchy and misogyny that women are struggling and raging against, are victims of, is the one that’s in charge everywhere. The men we turn to for help, in thanas, for example, are no different from the ones who have wronged/assaulted us. Though the rage he stages at the end made me very ill, these few minutes of Angry Indian Goddesses were troubling and brilliant.  The interesting thing about Angry Indian Goddesses is that there’s delicious irony between the story it tells and the way it tells it.  For example, while the film “sees” the character often invisible in other Bollywood films, like Lakshmi the maid, it can’t help but make her “cute” and different from the other women in a way that is incredibly patronising and class conscious. 


Also, while the film makes a valid point about how Indians treat “outsiders”, it reserves erotic dreams and the film’s eventual brutality for the “outsider”. The problem with the NRI view is that in its “vacationer’s gaze" everything becomes exotic. It sees depth and spirituality in dark skinned, khol-eyed girls, attributing to them a touch of divine, therefore the patronizing and very annoying “goddess” in the title.Of all the characters, Pam and Lakshmi felt the most real. Not just because they had some of the nicest lines, but also because they were played by much better actors.


The most interesting thing about Pan Nalin’s film, however, is our Pujya Pahlaj Nihalani ji’s intervention to save the maryada and morality of all adult Indians who may go to watch this film. He has removed the words orgasm, dildo and, of course, the f-word. While chopping and muting and insisting on insertions, including blurring of the images of goddesses Lakshmi and Kali, Nihalaniji somehow missed the staggering irony of censoring what the female characters do and say in a film that’s about their rage against how men expect and tell them to dress, talk and behave. If for nothing else, watch this film to see how Nihalani has made five fine women actresses stammer at his command. 





Download the all new Deccan Chronicle app for Android and iOS to stay up-to-date with latest headlines and news stories in politics, entertainment, sports, technology, business and much more from India and around the world.