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Upperstall Review





Hindi, Urdu, Drama, 2009, Color

Sikandar Raza (Parzan Dastur) is a 14 year old schoolboy in Kashmir. Ever since his parents were killed by militants 10 years back, he has lived with his aunt and uncle, in a small town in Kashmir. All Sikandar's desires revolve around the happiness of his foster parents, and getting the ball into the goal on the football field. One day, on his way home from a school football match, Sikandar finds a gun lying on the path. Despite admonishments by his newly made school friend, the 14 year old Nasreen (Ayesha Kapur), Sikandar picks up the gun, and thus begins a journey into the darker side of his nature. The quiet yet strong Nasreen becomes Sikandar's conscience keeper. She tries to dissuade him from giving in to the lure of the gun. However, Sikandar gets embroiled further and further in situations beyond his control, and people start getting killed. As layer upon layer unravels, it becomes clear that Sikandar is the innocent victim in a game being played out between the militants, the army, the peace bartering politicians and the religious heads of the little Kashmiri town. The pieces of the puzzle come together at the very end, leading to a shocking revelation.

Sikandar is a film that pulls you in two directions. As the story begins to unfurl, you want to go along with it, being that rare Hindi film actually dealing with a sensitive issue – not just the Kashmir issue but one layered with that of an innocent teenager caught in a conflicted area. But as the film continues on its tedious journey, you wonder sometimes whether it is better that our filmmakers stick to their usual time and tested formulas. One felt this earlier with New York and Sikandar too only re-enforces that feeling.

Except for the idea that sounded promising, little goes right for the film. The screenplay is weak and lacks an insight into the various complexities of the Kashmir problem. It also suffers from badly fleshed out characters while its tacky making doesn’t help either. In fact, the central character of Sikandar is the most problematic. In a land of conflict, having seen his parents been brutally killed by the militants, he appears far too naive, innocent and childlike. If it was innocence being destroyed by man made conflict that the filmmaker wanted to show, perhaps the central character could have been younger.

Just about the odd moment works in the film and little else. OK, the film doesn’t take any obvious sides but it loses focus as it tries to include in the angle of the militants, the Indian army and the Maulavis as well as each of them play their own games within the situation. One might have had a more coherent and tighter narrative if perhaps the entire film was seen through the eyes of its protagonist and the other characters and issues are seen through him. But that would have reduced the other angles greatly and maybe these decisions were taken to get shooting permissions or cast the odd well-known face in the adult roles to help market the film. One doesn’t know but this doesn’t help the film, that’s for sure. The shift of the film in the second half to a thriller and a none-too-engrossing one at that also doesn’t work and neither does the final twist which throws up more questions and doubts as you try to piece together what really happened. The all's well ending at the football field is much too simplistic and pat.

The performances too fail to lift the film. Parzan Dastur and Ayesha Kapur are always ‘acting’ and the latter clearly has a problem with the language and hence sounds even more stilted. Madhavan has nothing worthwhile to do in the film nor does he attempt to rise above the weak material while Arunoday Singh is filmi to the core. Just about the only sensible performance comes from Sanjay Suri as the ex-militant who has given up the gun and is in favour of dialogue now to initiate the peace process.

Technically too, there is nothing to talk about. You feel the camera moves about unnecessary most of the time as if constantly mounted on the crane so must use, shots are cut in the midst of the movements even as you wonder where the camera is going thus leading to extremely jerky cuts in a lot of places. The background score is a big NO-NO and totally shorn of imagination.

All in all, disappointing and simply not happening.

Upperstall review by: Karan Bali aka TheThirdMan





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