Sampat Pal Devi is the residing matriarch of Uttar Pradesh, Northern India. A formidable force, her no-holds-barred attitude to Indian traditionalism is the weapon she wields to free young girls from unhappy arranged marriages and dangerous living conditions. She leads the Gulabi Gang who, clad in fuchsia saris, rail against the caste system and problems engendered in cultural customs. Kim Longinotto’s insightful documentary Pink Saris shows Sampat Pal Devi absolving young “untouchable” (low caste) women, restoring the honour of their disrespected caste, and straightening out domestic issues.
Originally from a low caste herself, her partner (in life and in the movement) Babuji is a well-educated man from a higher caste, yet she is the proverbial man-of-the-house. She bestows upon herself an amount of power unheard of in Indian cultures. Her inherent control over every situation is mirrored in Longinotto’s style, an observing camera taking in key angles, portraying what feels like an unedited, truthful version of events. Unfazed, the documentary’s subjects seem comfortable on screen, simply “being”, without performance or pretence, until Sampat’s domestic cases become increasingly distressing and intense.