GULAAL is a thought-provoking, brutal epic from Indian director Anurag Kashyap. Mired in production difficulties and censorship battles it eventually slipped into Indian cinemas in March to a weak reception from audiences more fond of escapist, high-gloss Bollywood romances. Since then it has played Venice and now London and received critical praise.
GULAAL is strong meat. It speaks honestly about sex, drugs, corruption, fundamentalism and the fissures that permeate "One India". In GULAAL, protagonists don't just sing to each other, they have sex and back street abortions; they smoke pot to relax; they fix ballots; they threaten and co-erce; illegitimate children threaten rightful heirs; and rightful heirs reject aristocratic privelege. The action is shot in ill-lit rooms and grimy interiors and back streets, as Rajasthani separatists subvert a student election to cream off funds. This is modern India indeed. But the lyrics of Prithvi Bana's brilliantly satirical songs speak of the aspirations at Independence. Contemporary struggles are constantly held in contrast with the ancient political and moral struggles contained in the Mahabharata through the device of a Hijra/Eunuch and having people dressed as characters from the ancient Indian epic always in sight. For Western audiences, the comparison that is most resonant is with Shakespearian tragedies - where love affairs are entangled with high politics, and a Fool sings apparently comic songs that skewer the case in point. I don't think I have ever seen such an ambitious and angry Indian film, and if not every bold choice works, you have to admire the ambition and the fine central performance of Kay Kay Menon.
GULAAL was released, after a long delay, in India in March 2009. It has since played Venice and London 2009.