Admittedly, I have only a very limited knowledge of Indian films. I’ve seen a handful of Deepa Mehta’s films like the Elements trilogy, Fire, Earth and Water, and, unfortunately, her absolutely terrible foray into Indo-gangster filmmaking with Beeba Boys. She also created the only Bollywood style film I have ever seen, Bollywood Hollywood. Aside from those, my only cinematic attachment to the culture are films like Bend It Like Beckham, Slumdog Millionaire and the works of M. Night Shyamalan and I’m very much aware of how those don’t really count. This added to my intrigue of checking out the new film Angry Indian Goddesses but, as it turns out, a pre-knowledge of their film culture wasn’t actually required.
Angry Indian Goddesses is a film that seems to break the mold of films that are coming out of India and shows the amount of progression that is being exhibited in the art being showcased. This film is definitely different and is being billed as an all female buddy comedy, something, I’m sure, hasn’t been attempted given the way women are treated there, something largely addressed in the movie. Interestingly enough, the film is directed by a man, Pan Nalin, and serves as his debut into mainstream Hindi cinema. Co-writing it with one other man and two women, it’s interesting to see how well the message of female empowerment came out, maybe indicating a turn of the times in the misogyny the country has been known for and an embrace of some of the better qualities of western culture.
The film is about Frieda, a photographer who invites a group of her closest friends for a vacation at her family home where she plans to tell them her big news, that she’s about to be married. Each of her friends though, appears to be in a rough place in their lives and need the escape probably more than Frieda knows. Madhurita, nicknamed Mad, is a Bollywood lounge singer that is looking to be a breakout star who sings more international songs and is constantly heckled by the local men. Pammy is a downtrodden trophy wife who is almost imprisoned by her husband. Suranjana is a powerful but exasperated businesswoman that borders on dangerous workaholic behavior. Joanna is a British-born Bollywood actress that seems to clash with the traditional culture of the genre. Lastly, there’s Nargis, a political activist that arrives late to the party and has more to do with Frieda’s announcement than anyone knows at first.
The reveal of Frieda’s impending nuptials seems to trigger something in all the women, as they, one by one, start to free themselves from the secrets that cloud their minds and shake loose the monkeys on their back. The overlying theme that weighs down each woman is the men that only serve to make their lives a living hell. After these revelations, the women kick off the bachelorette party for their good friend and head to Goa, a beautiful spot on the coast of the Arabian Sea. As the women have a frenzied adventure of fun and bonding, there still remains one secret that Frieda is, for a stretch of time, refusing to give up. Who is this mystery person that she is marrying and why is it so secretive?
For lack of a more time-relevant movie to compare it to, Five Angry Goddesses is like that Indian version of Steel Magnolias, given its main thread of the bond between these women. I really hate using the label of “chick flick” but this film is very much geared to be directed at women but, unlike a lot of the North American stereotype films, is aimed at a larger international audience with both relatable themes and some things that are more indicative of the place where this story is coming from. I think this movie will hit well with the target audience it seems to be going for but didn’t really hit consistently with me.
My larger issue with the film was the way in which the secrets and life obstacles were presented by each woman. It felt like every woman’s problems were taken on one at a time with each character getting triggered by something, whether in conversation or circumstance, at different times one after the other and it all felt wholly contrived and underlyingly manipulative. This only, in my mind, serves to further this story in a linear fashion to abate the filmmakers and felt completely unreal, no matter how much of the dialogue was free and off the cuff, as a large part of this script is a sort of improv by these actresses.
The movie further lost me more in a dramatic shift in tone in the third act and goes slightly off the rails, revealing its true message which, to me, detracts from the direction I thought it was going in. I’m all for a surprise but it all felt like a complete diversion into a moral message we didn’t have any inkling it was headed to. Then there is a quasi-downer ending that I think serves to damage the film as a whole but let it be known, I don’t think the overlying statement of the movie is the problem or unimportant by any means, just the avenue in how we get to this point. I think the ambition of this project is admirable for Pan Nalin, just the execution is what needed work. After deliberating, I have to settle on a two and a half out of five for Angry Indian Goddesses.