Gulabi Talkies

Gulabi Talkies


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Although set against the backdrop of the Kargil War between India and Pakistan in 1999 and the rise of communalism (a sort of Asian equivalent of sectarianism across a broader range of faiths), Gulabi Talkies is much less a film concerned with political debate on a macro scale than with small-town politics, community conflict and the human cost of modernisation. It also shows the ambivalent power of mass communication, which can inspire togetherness but also stir up hate.

Muslim Gulabi (Umashree) may have been deserted by her husband Musa (KG Krishnamurthy) - one of the local fishing merchants, who is currently shacked up with a younger woman - but she is sought after in her farflung fishing village where her midwifery skills are second to none. Her greatest love is cinema - "Where there is a new film, there is Gulabi" - and she sails each day to the mainland to watch the latest flick, even if she's seen it several times before. After being physically dragged out of a screening to help with a particularly tricky birth, she is rewarded with a colour TV set and satellite dish - the first in her village.

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Rather than, as you might imagine, inspiring jealousy among the local villagers, Gulabi goes from being something of a loner to the keeper of the golden goose, as women of all religions flock to watch the latest episodes of the local soap opera. While this community bonding is in full swing, however, dark clouds are looming, as Musa begins to embrace modern - less environmentally sound - trawling methods and undercutting his Hindu rival. And with television also bringing news of the distant conflict, local tensions begin to rise.

The rooting of larger arguments regarding mass communication and economic change in the microcosm of a fishing village make for an interesting dynamic. Umashree is convincing in the central role of Gulabi, who at once finds herself thrust away by her husband, yet drawn into a fellowship of villagers - although many of them are more interested in what they can 'get' from her than in offering her real friendship. Some of the other acting, however, is rather overwrought.

The latest from veteran filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli also suffers from structural problems. His complex layering of shifting friendships and allegiances is admirable and yet by trying to cram in so much comment on society, the narrative becomes confusing. The biggest issue is that the storyline concerning Gulabi's life never quite gels with the economic drama surrounding the business dealings of her estranged husband. The setting up of the fishing rivalry is difficult to grasp initially and, even when it settles into a rhythm of rivalry, it never feels as connected as it should to the events which it will go on to inspire. The film also drags at two hours, with its meandering progress also hindering its cohesiveness. Ultimately, one suspects, it will probably play better to a home crowd who will bring with them a knowledge of societal and inter-religious division, than to international audiences who have to work hard to keep up.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2009
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A fiftysomething exile becomes the hub of her local community after coming into possession of a telly.
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Director: Girish Kasaravalli

Starring: Umashree, KG Krishnamurthy, MD Pallavi, Praveera, Poornima Mohan, Ashok Sandip

Year: 2008

Runtime: 122 minutes

Country: India


EIFF 2009

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