The five Indian goddesses of Pan Nalin’s sensitive film on female friendship are very angry. In an escape from the world outside, they look towards each other for support, love and a return to their childhood of comfort. Gathered after years for a marriage at Goa, the five friends from different backgrounds, Frieda da Silva (Sarah Jane Dias) — a photographer, ‘Su’ Suranjana (played by Sandhya Mridul) a businesswoman, ‘Mad’ Madhurita (played by Anushka Manchanda) — a musician, Tannishtha Chatterjee (Nargis Nasreen) — an activist, ‘Jo’ Joanna (played by Amrit Maghera), ‘Pammy’ Pamela Jackson (played by Pavleen Gujral) — a homemaker and Rajshri Deshpande (Lakshmi) as housemaid.
Frieda is getting married and she opens up her palatial family home in Goa for her friends to come and stay in for her last trip before walking down the aisle. The wedding is a secretive affair, no one except for her few friends have gathered to witness it, in fact even her partner is a secret till the last moment. As the heroines of this tale let their hair down, they attract unwanted attention from everywhere, men who follow them around on bikes teasing them, the police inspector Adil Hussain who considers both their attire and their attitudes in life wanton and believes it is his part to comment on them. The trip doesn’t remain a mere pleasure trip for the women, as expected, it also ends up becoming a process of self realisations as they open up to confess to each other about the triumphs and tribulations of their lives. Lakshmi is the only odd one in the group, a loyal member of Freida’s household, the two women are close to each other.
The film’s strength lies in the sensitivity with which it deals with women, and their struggle for equality. The characters have cleverly depicted a diverse group — often, disagreements break out in the group as ideologies clash — not women think alike as often depicted on film, and it is interesting to see fully developed women characters holding forth in a film focussing just on them.
However, this ideal world of female bonding often puts a strain on the plot post interval. The film may be held responsible of exoticising the characters often — and the characters go down slippery slopes when it comes to reacting to situations which is a pity, since there theories in life seem so beautifully politically correct, for them to slip into such pitiful stereotypes of ‘women’ propagated by cruel sexist jokes and rumours. The film also reeks to a certain extent of white women feminism, as Lakshmi is the odd one in the group, a housemaid dependent on Freida, their attitudes towards seems patronising. At one point, Freida even gets furious at Lakshmi and slaps her at one point in the film, something that would never had happened had she been her economic equal.
The camera work in this film is intimate, and intuitive of the characters. Joanna is represented as the Half British Half Konkani dream girl as the camera follows her around intimately, like a loving voyeur intoxicated with her zest for life. Beautiful Goa and it’s quaint treats of Portuguese and Konkani architecture set amidst nature is photographed lovingly, yet subtly, not getting in the way of its storytelling — it becomes a part of the narrative’s subconscious. Goa is also an excellent choice for locating the story — in popular consciousness it has become that place which represents a release for the youth to explore and experiment — and that is exactly what these women make use of. The atmosphere of the carnivalesque as a trope to realise oneself is an ancient one in storytelling, and it works wonders for this story.
While Angry Indian Goddesses is definitely not without its flaws, guilty of exoticising India and making villains of Indian men as unfit to be a part of civilised society in some form or the other, it wins points as far as writing complex female characters are concerned. These are characters that give us hope and inspiration, make us feel for them, make us cry but renew our faith in the power or community and female friendship that takes us a long way.