Sure, Angry Indian Goddesses is less fun when the anger fades. But that’s kind of the point. Why should we have fun when the movie’s women aren’t allowed to? It’s a polemic first and a character drama second, an unrepentantly political movie of the sort that we Westerners don’t get to see much in theatres. It’s an odd feeling to watch Goddesses and realize that as much as outrage may animate social media and the news cycle, real anger has been largely missing from our theatre screens.
Of course, the moments of fun are a big part of what makes the movie endearing. It’s a familiar premise: the eponymous “goddesses” (a term which has come under fire from the Film Certification board) retreat from the pressures and sexism of their respective jobs to share some female time at an old friend’s house. They’re familiar tropes, too, of the non-stop businesswoman with a disregarded daughter, the struggling musician, the struggling actor, the housewife who pretends to have more freedom in her marriage than she actually has.
After an opening sequence charged with righteous anger, the film becomes, briefly, a work of pure girls-are-back-in-town joy, from old-friends banter to dancing to teasing sex talk. It’s not a calm before the storm, exactly. It’s just a reminder of how charming people are when they feel free.
But this is an Issues movie, and as much fun as it has with friendship, it’s more interested in oppression.
The hang-out film traditionally brings out some melodrama and tragedy in the second half. Here, it’s almost constant, but more so, it’s in service of a single intersectionalist diatribe against the ills of society. Scene after scene comes a new revelation of the pain each woman faces every day, at the hands of strangers, spouses, the legal system, big business, and so on. It’s not boring, but it is deadening. Sustained joy is easier to handle than sustained doldrums.
But the film’s naturally beautiful cinematography and relaxed performances count for a lot. As the melodrama wears on, it’s hard not to think, these characters would rather be talking about something else, too. The world around them is gorgeous. Their friendship is energizing. The dour tone that drags down the movie is the tone of these women’s everyday pressures. That’s not to say that a political polemic shouldn’t ideally be a fast-paced, engaging drama, too, and to some extent, Goddesses fails on that count. But the movie’s primary intent is to make you understand these women’s pain, and pain isn’t fast-paced.
Things pick up in the third act, and the ending – suitably so, for this kind of film – is morally challenging. It’s also an overly theatrical departure from the quiet indie drama of the first two acts, but you’re kind of happy to see the angry goddesses make a return.
It’s hard to shake the feeling, though, that there’s something more radical about the simple joys of the movie’s first third than about many of the Issues and Analyses that follow. Perhaps it’s because the women so actively pursue happiness in these sequences, where much of the melodrama threatens to make individual characters subservient to the abstracted struggles they represent. In the first and third acts, the women actively fight for justice, and there’s no doubt that this is when they’re the most fun to watch.
It’s not a perfect movie, but it loves its characters, it’s not afraid to get nakedly political, and it’s angry. We need it, and we need more like it.