‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ Review: Bollywood Sex and the City

'Angry Indian Goddesses'

Movie Rating:


A rush of rambunctious energy and giddy politics makes the first half of ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ fly by. Billed as the “First Female Buddy Film” to emerge from the Bollywood industry (and sadly beset by predictable censorship for that very reason), Pan Nalin’s film is unlike any other produced in India. It’s alive and colorful and defined by wonderful performances and a flurry of striking imagery.

The movie works really well, for a while. Unfortunately, what begins as snarkily on-point comedy with refreshing naturalism slowly descends into melodrama and ends disappointingly predictable for a movie that dodged that descriptor for quite some time. At least it’s still a joyful romp while it lasts.

The movie opens with its best sequence, a breakneck montage of our heroines confronting sexism in various areas throughout India. Suranjana (Sandhya Mridul) is a CEO more than willing to assert her power over the men below her. Jo (Amrit Maghera) is a British/Indian actress fed up with being needlessly sexualized in her Bollywood films. Madhurita (Anushka Manchanda) is a struggling singer heckled by perverts. Nargis (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is a social activist. Housewife Pam (Pavleen Gujral) is seen dropping weights on the toes of bros needlessly hitting on her at the gym. And Frieda (Sarah-Jane Dias) is a photographer fed up by the obsession with pale skin models in her industry. After that hilarious setup, Frieda invites all these former college friends to her home for a weekend getaway full of the usual bonding and bickering that old friends do. She also has a secret announcement that she’s getting married, but won’t say to whom just yet.

‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ works best when it’s a hangout film with a political bent. The cast of excellent actresses all vividly inhabit their roles and have an easygoing chemistry that is infectious. Their conversations drift from the overtly political to the small and mundane, with the occasional stop-off to ogle some local man meat. It’s goofy and fun and fresh, particularly coming from a film industry that rarely lends this sort of authority to female voices. Nalin directs with visual energy rare in such a character- and dialogue-driven picture, providing propulsion and purpose even when the cast merely sit around a table swapping war stories. The empowerment politics sit front and center, with many topics broached through a mix of righteous anger and measured compassion. It’s bright, angry, funny and fresh. Well, at least until it’s not.

At a certain point, the movie stops being driven by character and commentary and morphs into melodrama. A gun is introduced into the household and we all know the predictable dramatic rule that must follow when that happens. Secrets slip out and plot mechanics take over with naked manipulation that distracts from the simple, colorful pleasures that came before. Eventually, the story climaxes at a funeral and a dramatic musical number that’s somewhat clunky and forced.

It’s kind of a shame to see the movie slip away into these tiresome dramatic devices. However, heightened emotions, music and melodrama are very much staples of the Bollywood formula. As much as this move dares to depart from India’s conventional cinematic form, it eventually reincorporates all the required elements in a way that might feel big for this movie, yet is subtle for Bollywood. There’s still some subversion here and it kind of works, just not as well as what came before.

Even if ‘Angry Indian Goddessess’ doesn’t quite stick the landing, it’s such an inspiring and entertaining blast of righteous entertainment until that point that the flaws are easy to forgive. Pan Nalin has delivered a movie of style and substance, glued together by some truly fantastic performances. The movie packs a punch and rarely pulls back. If anything, the flaws come from Nalin attempting to make his political points a little too hard, but there’s something to be said for the ambition of what he’s accomplished. It’s a striking piece of work that will hopefully find an international audience, if only to encourage more ambitious projects like this to slip out of India.

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