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Sampat Pal on not allowing Gulaab Gang to hit theatres

Activist Sampat Pal is the subject of two films this season — a documentary titled Gulabi Gang and the Madhuri Dixit-Juhi Chawla starrer Gulaab Gang. The vigilante group that predominantly operates in the Bundelkhand district of Uttar Pradesh was started in the ’80s by Sampat, a child bride herself, to look out for victims of domestic abuse. It was only in 2006 that the “gang” was formally named Gulabi because “that was the colour of the sari I was wearing”, says Sampat.

For the screening of the documentary Gulabi Gang, Sampat, along with two of her “lieutenants” travelled to Mumbai where we met her.

There have been quite a few documentaries made on you. Why did you agree to another one?

Well, 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-four months and it features three different cases that the Gulabi Gang took up.

What do you hope the audience takes away after watching this documentary?

Everyone knows about all the tortures against women but I am hoping that when they see it, it shakes the audience up. It’s one thing to be aware and another to actually be shaken up enough to do something about an issue. I know that there will be some people who will see it for a larků there is no hope for people like that. Like someone asked me ‘Why aren’t there pretty women in Gulabi Gang?’ (Laughs) I was told people would like to see pretty women on screen. Reality is not pretty. Don’t look at a person’s exterior, focus on her pain and trauma.

There are two films on your life releasing this seasonů

No, no! That Madhuri (Dixit) film (Gulaab Gang, releasing March 7) will not release if they don’t take 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 take 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.

But the producer Anubhav Sinha has gone on record saying that Gulaab Gang is not your story.

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 Phoolan Devi. Just like that, any film about Gulabi Gang will be Sampat Pal’s story.

Now that Gulaab Gang is ready for release, would you give them permission if they ask?

I will.

Will you watch the film?

No. I will not watch it unless they ask for my permission.

Do you watch movies?

Yes, I love watching movies. But I only see films 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.

What kind of movies do you enjoy?

I like social films. I liked Border, Munnabhai and Raajneeti. I also like Lata Mangeshkar’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 the 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.

Do you have any favourite actors?

I really like Sonakshi (Sinha). She got me toothpaste and toothbrush when she met me. I also like the kind of roles she does. Vidya Balan is also nice. I met her in Delhi some years ago. She was talking in English so I scolded her and told her to talk in Hindi because I couldn’t understand what she was saying. She apologised immediately. I think of Salman (Khan) as 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 take my permission. Also, I wish he didn’t go to dance at that Samajwadi Party’s Saifai function. Instead he should have gone to meet the refugees of Muzaffarnagar riots and given them blankets and food. He doesn’t need the money and he could always do with more blessings.

You participated in Bigg Boss two years ago. Are you in touch with your fellow inmates?

I met Sapna (Bhavnani) when I was in Mumbai for the screening of Gulabi Gang. I talk to Delnaz (Irani) some times. But I haven’t had the chance to meet Sidhu bhaiyya (Navjot Singh Sidhu) since.

There is talk that you want to contest the Lok Sabha elections this year....

(Pauses) If I get a ticket. If Rahul (Gandhi) bhaiyya is feeling generous towards me.

Karishma Upadhyay

(Gulabi Gang is now playing at PVR Diamond Plaza, Jessore Road)