Just when you thought the Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig-led female comedy smash hit ‘Bridesmaids’ was a one-off female comedy film, along comes a movie that proves just how powerful the visual representation of female friendships on screen really are.
‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ is a Bollywood film from director Pan Nalin (‘Samsara’), which tells the story of 7 friends who get together to celebrate a wedding on Goa. Throughout the film the women discuss topics such as sex, street harassment, religion and sexism which eventually takes the story on an interesting turn toward the end touching on the pervasive issues of gender inequality in contemporary Indian society.
It is being touted as India’s first female buddy comedy which is a big deal. Although it is the largest democracy in the world, with a constitution boasting equal rights amendments that not even the US has ratified, India is still very much an outwardly conservative country with strict censorship in place.
If you look outside the mainstream Bollywood releases, you will find movies that challenge the existing societal norms in order to bring awareness to people who are forced to live in secret because there are many taboos which are still held in high regard. One of those being homosexuality.
‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ is already getting criticism for its inclusion of a lesbian love story, and Pan Nalin has been getting scary death threats from people who feel the on-screen portrayals are offensive.
In another regard, the film had to be edited 16 different times in order to please the Censor Board, according to Huffpost India. As the title suggests, the film does include portrayals of certain Hindu goddesses which the board asked to be blurred out. Among the board’s many complaints were profanities and words such as “sexy” and “orgasm”.
A description of the film mentions how the 2012 gang rape case in Delhi sparked a wave of national and international discussions about violence toward women and sexism in India. It is still a highly divisive subject, as evidenced by the fact the Leslee Udwin film ‘India’s Daughter’ (a feature documentary about the Delhi rape case) has been banned by the Indian government.
“The 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder sparked discussions about women’s rights in India that are still ongoing. An important new cinematic entry in the conversation, Angry Indian Goddesses is a refreshing and frank depiction of female empowerment from a key figure in independent South Asian cinema,” it said.
While ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ has not been banned, the notion that it is pushing the boundaries with its representation of modern young Indian woman is clearly already making people take notice.
In an interview with NDTV (video below), Pan Nalin and his female cast say the film is overall promoting female empowerment, which as we know comes in many shapes and forms. But in a country like India which does have national female empowerment initiatives like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (“save girl child, educate girl child”) launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who says equality is important to him, there is still a long way to go for Indian society in general to accept female empowerment as an all-encompassing idea which should include same sex relationships, diversity in religion, and gender equality.
India is certainly not alone in its unwillingness to entertain boundary-pushing representations of men and women in the world today, but it says a lot that this film was even made at a time when the country is reeling from the international pressure to crack down on gender violence while maintaining it’s reputation with the rest of the world.
No doubt ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ will spark animated discussions online and amongst friends, but if it means women in India are empowered, director Pan Nalin says: mission accomplished. He hopes his feature challenge film industry norms as well as portrayals of women in Indian cinema.
“The way women are seen and understood in the film industry is an eye-opening experience. Most believe that films with women in the leads do not do well at the box-office. Or they make a statement like, ‘Who in India wants to watch stories of women? Let them do romance and dance – that’s enough!’” he said to 9news.com.au.
“The mainstream film industry is a male-dominated universe. But what is changing is the Indian [cinemagoer]; they are waking up to great content and storytelling. So today if one of those good stories has women leads, they will certainly embrace it,” he added.
It is somewhat reminiscent of the difficulties women in Hollywood are facing, in an industry that is male-dominated and although seen as a bastion of liberalism and creativity, still enforces traditional boundaries and sexist attitudes.
We hope ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ is seen by men and women all over the world and serves as a way for women in Indian society in general to have their voices heard through a powerful cinematic medium.
Take a look at the cast and Pan Nalin talking about the themes of female empowerment and the film’s controversy with NDTV below: