Breaking with tradition: One member of the women’s group the Gulabi ‘Pink Sari’ Gang. *Photo supplied
Breaking with tradition: One member of the women’s group the Gulabi ‘Pink Sari’ Gang. *Photo supplied
Pink Saris ***

Director: Kim Longinetto
Country: India
Runtime: 96 minutes

Uttar Pradesh, rural India, is a dusty, crowded, impoverished landscape caught between ancient tradition and modernity.

Most of the inhabitants of its villages are illiterate, the caste system is in full force and girls as young as 12 are married off, often to violent husbands.

Standing up for abused women in this misogynistic society is Sampat Pal Devi, leader of the Gulabi (pink) Gang.

The all-female group — who wear bright pink saris — fights for justice and equality, with Sampat mediating between wronged women, their abusers and the police.

But it does not seem much like a gang —, the only voice we hear is Sampat’s. She is a complex and brave protagonist — but far from a saint.

Like many of those she fights for, Sampat is low caste and was forced to marry young, being beaten regularly by her in-laws.

Unconventionally, she fought back, left her husband and now lives with the higher caste Babuji, who she frequently yells at and seems to be treated like a servant. She preaches equality, yet not in her own home.

Sampat loudly rejects the values of her community, notably caste and religion, often to the horror of those around her — especially when she explodes with curses.

We meet some of the poor souls who come to her for help, mostly children.

Rekha is 14, an “untouchable” lower caste girl whose upper caste boyfriend, under pressure from his family, left her when she got pregnant.

Sampat railroads the pair into a tradition-defying marriage, although the smile-less bride looks terrified and about to cry.

Renu, 15, has fled her husband and family for the upper-caste Guddu. Sampat secures her divorce — but then Guddu’s family talks him out of marrying her and she is abandoned until Sampat takes her in.

Sampat’s own niece leaves her husband, claiming his family work her too hard and beat her.

But instead of helping her leave, Sampat sends her back to maintain peace with her husband’s family — the same family she fled claiming mistreatment.

Enlightening and moving, this bare budget movie presents a non-biased glimpse at the challenges of fighting for women’s rights in rural India and the tensions between centuries-old custom and modern influence through the eyes of a flawed but intriguing protagonist.

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