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Upperstall Review

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Hindi, 2005, Color

Prakash Jha continues to be seen and written about in front pages of newspapers furthering his political involvement in Bihar. Meanwhile, he enhances his agenda by making films based around socially relevant issues and happenings in that part of the country. Closely following in the footsteps of Gangajal (which was based on the Bhagalpur blindings), is a similar-looking Apaharan, this time on the kidnapping/extortion mafia of the state. However, besides the basic feel, there aren’t many similarities between the two films.

First of all, Apaharan is a “big” film. Lots of cars, lots of chases, lots of crowds, and lots of guns. Yet somehow, they take the backseat in this intimate story told without inhibition. There are an overwhelming number of pluses that work in favor of Apaharan, starting with it’s pace. The film doesn’t miss a beat. It races from scene to scene and idea to idea with astonishing control despite having a complicated multi-story structure. Characters come and go and events are crammed-in seamlessly in this two-and-a-half hour action-drama. This is a victory for the strong script sensibility and ruthless editing. The script is quite complicated, but the director has managed to tell the tale with alacrity without burdening the viewer with tedious soliloquies and finer points, the needs of which don’t arise at all, given it’s sharp and to-the-point dialogue. Nobody says a word more than is required to get the idea across. And there is no repetition of idea. The graph of the leading characters that could so easily go haywire in the second half is directed with smart restrain even as the film itself contributes with it’s little “surprise” scenes. This is something that even Ram Gopal Verma has never quite managed to get right in any of his similar-themed fictional pieces.

The location of Satara is convincing as it masquerades as a small town in Bihar where the action takes place. Jha hasn’t shied away from portraying its citizens as multi-dimensional – from the super rich, to the politicians, to the babus, to the criminals, to the average Joe. The film is very real in this aspect. The art direction and costumes are as true as celluloid can allow them to be, which means that they aren’t fully accurate but it’s not because of lack of research or knowledge.

The trio of Ajay Devgan, Nana Patekar, and Mohan Agashe perform to the tee, never going over the top, given the lure of the script (especially for Patekar.) It is tempting to say that this film is a story about a real father versus a foster father who are at extremes with each other, set in a backdrop of the kidnapping mafia, rather than the other way around because the director has subtly allowed them to overshadow the true intention of the movie. There is one remarkable long (time-wise) shot of Devgan, after having being refused any favoritism by his father, walking the streets in the evening, crying and eventually making up his mind to go all out against all that he stands for. There are no words. Only expressions and, secondarily, music.

And yet what really makes the film really tick, Apaharan’s greatest strength, lies in its marvelous supporting cast. They’re just too good. From Mukesh Tiwari who ends up playing the honest cop (watch out for that scene with his wife) to Chetan Pandit who plays the slimy politician (even his clothes and hand gestures are fully in character) to Anoop Soni, the reporter, this is possibly one of the best supporting casts to come together in recent Indian cinema. The importance of every actor being a good actor in a film is a basic lesson still to be learnt by most contemporary Indian filmmakers.

On the downside, Bipasha Basu’s track in the film is unnecessary. There is only one scene in the second-half that is of relevance, however it certainly does not justify such a prominent build up in the first. There is an attraction between Devgan and her, but it is never spoken about and the film lacks a point where Devgan has to seriously consider her as a factor at any decision making point. The cinematography is quite tacky. The look is bland, with lots and lots of repetitive tracking shots. Color is used sparingly as a visual cue and lighting remains flat throughout. But the biggest disappointment is that Jha, once again after Gangajal, has decided to include an item number in the film.

Now the item number in Gangajal was a music video thrown in randomly in the middle of the film. Okay, so we thought it is the market pressure getting to him, maybe it’s a producer’s quirk… could be anything. It was a given that after revisiting the completed film, any filmmaker in his right mind would not repeat such a silly, in-your-face mistake. But here he’s done it again! And this time it’s not even a proper item number. Once again it’s in a bar, the girl is, again, a nobody. But this time there is (unnecessary) dialogue pat in the middle and then some rubbish interaction between the girl and Devgan. At least the last time the whole do was a sort of mini intermission… but what is this?! In no interview has the director managed to justify this inclusion with any kind of sensible explanation. Maybe it is a director’s quirk. All said and done, item numbers in Jha’s movies are extremely oxymoronic and completely out-of-place.

Jha seems to have found his niche in films. His experiments, like the more mainstream Rahul, were failures, not only at the box-office but also of the filmmaker’s creativity. Jha seems to have a righteous agenda on his mind – to bring to an international audience – interesting, relevant stories of the common people of Bihar (which are unlike the stories of the common people elsewhere) and to highlight their tribulations. And though the films are always identifiable as a Prakash Jha film – given their style, Ajay Devgan, and other intersecting actors – all stories from Mrityudand to Apaharan are unique. And with each passing film, they only get bigger and better.


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