England/India, 2010, 96 min
Acclaimed British filmmaker Kim Longinotto (The Day I Will Never Forget, SFIFF 2002) begins her latest unflinching portrait of gutsy everyday heroines with a line from Indian Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore: “When old words die out on the tongue, new memories break forth from the heart.” For 20 years now, Sampat Pal Devi has been battling the insults, violence, discrimination and sexual abuse routinely visited on married and single women of the untouchable caste. This intimate portrait, shot by the filmmaker herself with unblinking compassion, captures the founder of the Gulabi (or “Pink”) Gang tirelessly challenging husbands, fathers-in-law and policemen in her home state of Uttar Pradesh. In one illuminating case, Devi intercedes on behalf of a pregnant woman whose fiancé was pressured by his father to abandon her. She confronts the older man—clearly not used to having his authority questioned by a woman—and refuses to leave until she gets her way. Devi incorporates lodging, counseling and inspiration as part of her mission, and the filmmaker does not shy from showing the financial and personal strain of a 24/7 calling. To the contrary, the most searing scene is arguably a nasty argument between Devi and her husband, who claims fame and notoriety have gone to her head. Knocked off her pedestal, she is touchingly vulnerable and acutely real. Longinotto has enormous admiration for her subjects but little interest in glorifying them. She recognizes that all social progress is the work of ordinary human beings, flaws and all.
In Hindi with subtitles. Presented in association with Bay Area Women in Film and Media.