How can Madhuri play me if she hasn’t met me?

MUMBAI - Activist Sampat Pal is the subject of two films - a documentary titled Gulabi Gang and the Madhuri Dixit-Juhi Chawla starrer Gulaab Gang. The vigilante group Gulabi Gang predominantly operates in the Bundelkhand district of Uttar Pradesh and was started in the 1980s by Ms Pal, a child bride herself, to look out for victims of domestic abuse. It was only in 2006, that the "gang" was formally named Gulabi (Pink) because "that was the colour of the sari I was wearing", says Ms Pal.

When documentary film-maker Nishtha Jain got in touch with Ms Pal last year to film her and her group as they went about their business of combating domestic violence, she agreed immediately.

"They called me and told me about the film they wanted to make. I liked the idea that they wanted to follow me as I went about my normal work of helping villagers around me. This was shot over a period of three to four months and features three different cases that the Gulabi Gang took up," reveals Ms Pal.

She is hoping that the film "shakes the audience from their stupor to do something about torture against women".

"Everyone knows about all the torture against women but no one seems to be doing anything about this important issue," she says, adding, "I know that there will be some people who will see it as a lark… there is no hope for people like that. Like someone asked me 'why aren't there pretty women in Gulabi Gang'. I was told the audience would like to see pretty women on screen. To them, I say, reality is not pretty. Don't look at a person's exterior, focus on her pain and trauma."

While Ms Pal is supporting the release of Gulabi Gang, she has filed a case against Gulaab Gang, the Bollywood film allegedly based on her life. "The Madhuri film will not release if they don't get my permission. I have filed a case against them in the court. How can someone make a film on me and my Gulabi Gang and not get our permission. My fight against them is not about the money. If I wanted to make money, there were enough avenues for me to have done that by now. It's about acknowledgement.

"When people see that Madhuri film, they will think that's my life. But it is not. They have stolen my life! How can Madhuri play Sampat Pal if she hasn't met me? You can't just read about someone's life or work and play them. She knows nothing about the ground realities to be able to really tell my story."

Gulaab Gang producer Anubhav Sinha has gone on record to say that the film is not based on Ms Pal or her gang of women but she is not convinced. "What rubbish! Then where did he come up with the idea of a gang of women, wearing gulabi saris who fight for women's rights? Is there another group like Gulabi Gang in India? If yes, let them introduce them to me. When Bandit Queen was made everyone knew who the film was about right? There was no one but Pholan Devi. Just like that any film about Gulabi Gang will be Sampat Pal's story."

With so many films being made on her, it's only natural to wonder if Ms Pal enjoys watching movies? "Yes but I watch films only at home when they come on TV. There are theatres in Banda (Uttar Pradesh) but I don't get to go there. Also, you have to remember women from villages don't go to theatres."

Ms Pal picks films like Border, Rajneeti and the Munnaibhai series as her favourites. "I like social films. I also like Lata Mangeskar's old songs. I don't like the kind of songs films have now. There is too much sex in them. They are vulgar. We should protest about those kind of lyrics.

"Directors don't understand that boys and girls in villages watch their films and think that life will be happy after they fall in love. They don't think about their elders, who are prepared to kill in the name of family honour. I like watching villains like Amrish Puri and Shakti Kapoor because you can see how evil people can be."

Ms Pal's first brush with Bollywood was two years ago when she participated in the reality show Bigg Boss. Over the years, she has continued to stay in touch with her fellow participants but she is upset with the show's host Salman Khan.

"I think of Salman like my younger brother. Every time his court cases come up, I pray so much for him. But I am a little angry with him. He knows Madhuri. He should have told her not to do Gulaab Gang or to get my permission.

"Also, I wish he hadn't gone to dance at that Samajwadi Party's Saifai function. Instead he should have gone to meet the refugees of the Muzaffarnagar riots and given them blankets and food. He doesn't need the money and he could always do with more blessings."

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