I’m a fan of what I’ve seen of British documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s work, nominally Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go (2007), Divorce Iranian Style (1998) and Gaea Girls (2000). Her latest offering, Pink Saris, clearly covers important issues and is for the most part engaging, but lacks narrative focus and struggles to sustain itself at feature length.
We follow women’s rights campaigner Sampat Pal, a force of nature in rural India who’s mission in life is to rescue young girls from the violence, abuse and inter-familial rape frequently meted out by their husbands and fathers in the archaically patriarchal caste-based society. Acting as intermediary between the families, the police and the girls themselves, Sampat is a woman who refuses to take any shit from anybody (“I once beat up a cop”) and whilst sometimes limited by the bureaucracies of the law her commitment to her cause is both impassioned and hugely necessary.
There’s no narrative through-line to the film as a whole, instead we spend the duration with Sampat on a case-by-case basis as she goes about her work. It’s an intimate portrait of an incredible woman, herself born into the ‘untouchable’ caste, which suffers as a result of the fragmentary and episodic structure, resulting in a film which says little in the final hour that isn’t covered in the first forty minutes or so.
- “I don’t believe in Gods. Is there a higher power than woman?”
Sampat is a complex character too, seeming to revel in the celebrity her work brings, she’s accused at one point of being arrogant, a notion she immediately refutes citing the necessity to dominate in order to have her voice heard above the din of objectionable opinions on the role of women in modern Indian society, but her proclamation that “I’m the messiah for women” does make you think he may have a point. Whilst her actions with the Gulabi Gang (who all wear the pink saris of the title and was formed as a visible protest by female victims of abuse) may be successful locally, she’s clear that legislative reform isn’t enough to implement the profound changes required in the social hierarchies and mentalities of the caste system.
We’re introduced to a number of young girls whose safety Sampat is desperately trying to negotiate. Rekha for example, is pregnant by her boyfriend from a higher caste, his father disapproves of the relationship and enforces his son’s distance. Sampat knows that girls impregnated out of wedlock are routinely killed by their families, so a written contract promising marriage is a necessity for Rekha. Confidence and self-worth have been knocked out of the poor girl and it’s heartbreaking to see her unable to even look her husband in the eye as a hastily arranged wedding ceremony takes place.
- “Can’t you take me with you?”
- “To London? But you’re getting married today.”
- “I know.”
Enjoyable would be the wrong word to use when describing the sad series of events depicted, it’s certainly informative and the photography is colourful and vibrant though by necessity of coverage a little pedestrian, I just think that perhaps by concentrating on one of Sampat’s cases in particular it would have had more of a narrative arc. Longinotto continues to produce important work on neglected issues, but ultimately I couldn’t help but feel that it’s a film better suited to television than the cinema.
Pink Saris – 2010 – United Kingdom/India – 100 mins – Dir : Kim Longinotto
Screening as part of the New British Cinema strand at the London Film Festival on Wednesday 20th, Thursday 21st & Saturday 23rd October. Tickets available at www.bfi.org.uk/lff