Though not quite the Donna Corleone the title suggests, the protagonist in “Godmother” similarly finds that power corrupts; she also proves once again that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, particularly when she’s got armed henchmen on her side. Unsubtle but entertaining, writer-helmer Vinay Shukla’s full-blooded and bloody Indian melodrama might intrigue select fests and specialty programmers with its femme-driven take on genre conventions.
Drought forces Rambhi (Shabana Azmi) and her husband, Veeram (Milind Gunaji), to leave their village for a nearby town. When he kills a vile foreman who’s prejudiced against their caste, the police turn a blind eye, and Veeram perversely finds himself rising to wealth and political favor. But just as he renounces further strong-arm tactics, he is assassinated. Rambhi, elected to office in a back-room maneuver, discovers she’s quite willing to deploy brutality in the cause of justice — or simple vengeance. But her abuse of power returns to haunt as her now-grown, spoiled and ill-tempered son demands the hand of a girl who loves a Muslim boy. His actions spark race riots that Rambhi can quell only by offering her own public repentance and martyrdom.
Fast-paced, large-scale production goes zestily over the top on more than one occasion; requisite song interludes (including an amusing dance number in which drunken Rambhi and her womenfolk crow, “The queen is a firecracker now!”) further keep the unrestrained emotions roiling. Pic may prove hard for Western auds to take seriously after a point, and it’s hardly a feminist statement. But the headlong narrative maintains interest, ballasted by Azmi’s histrionic star turn. Widescreen lensing tends to waver between crispness and gauzy soft-focus; echoey dialogue recording is the only other distraction in well-mounted package.