Director Kim Longinotto turns her lens to India and the extraordinary women of the Gulabi Gang and its leader, Sampat Pal Devi for her newest documentary, Pink Saris (distributed by Women Make Movies). The gang, whose members wear pink saris, are champions for women struggling with their lives in Uttar Pradesh.
Longinotto and her film crew spent 10 weeks with the very charismatic Devi, and the film dealt with both Devi’s newfound notoriety and about the girls who showed up on her doorstep for help. ‘Sampat Pal could be a spring board for meeting girls and young women who were in moments of crisis in their lives who were coming to her for help. Then we could follow their stories,’ says Longinotto of her doc’s focus.
The stories that played out on screen included that of a pregnant 14-year-old girl, homeless and unmarried because of her low caste, and a 15-year-old girl whose husband from an arranged marriage had abandoned her and whose father-in-law was raping her. ‘What we filmed are very universal stories … about breaking up with your boyfriend or your boyfriend abandoning you and now you’re pregnant. Everything’s much more extreme [here] because there’s so much more at stake,’ she says.
The experience for Longinotto had some highs and lows. She says the main difficulties in making Pink Saris were physical ones. ‘I got horribly bitten by bed bugs. Everything got infected, I had wounds everywhere and it was very hot,’ she recounts. Still, she says everything else was ‘exhilarating.’ She loved all of the girls she met throughout the shoot and took to the beauty of the countryside. ‘It’s a tragic, fabulous place; a real mix.’
Currently Longinotto and crew are in the process of getting some of the film’s cast passports so they can come over for assorted festivals, although the documentation wasn’t ready in time for TIFF.
Her hopes for the TIFF debut are that the audience falls in love with the girls who come to Devi. ‘I hope it makes people feel close to them and love them,’ she says.
Pink Saris had its premiere on September 14 at TIFF and screens again on September 15 and 18.