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Upperstall Review




Bengali, Action, Drama, 2013, Color

Arnab (Tota Roy Choudhury), a simple officer with the PWD, is transferred to Kolkata. He arrives with his wife Anjali (Rituparna Sengupta) to step into a rented flat owned by an elderly lady (Laboni Sarkar). But the local goons in the payroll of the local MLA Shibhankar (Rajatva Dutta) and his brother Raj (Sagnik) does not permit him to live in peace or work with honesty and integrity because he refuses to accept bribes and shows a bribe-paying businessman the door. The goons trap him in a trumped up charge of rape with the connivance of the local police. When he is in the lock-up, the goons try to molest and finally kill his wife. Arnab fails to prove his innocence and is jailed where other goons of the same MLA thrash him up till he gives it back and gets help from a kind-hearted inmate – another mafia lord, who promises to help him avenge the wrongs done to him. Does he succeed? This is the question Villain is hinged on.

It is a run-of-the-mill revenge story done to death. But Villain differs in its approach, it stylization, treatment and the way in which the story unfolds on screen from similar masala films. It is an honest, unpretentious film produced, directed and partly scripted by Tota Roy Choudhury who has also played the title role. In other words, it is a film intended to showcase his screen image and his potential as an action hero. Therefore, Villain could be read as a self-indulgent film but happily, it is not. It tells a clichéd story full of melodramatic twists and coincidences, true. But it is also true that over the telling of the story, Villain evolves into the first ever genuine action film focussed on dynamism and violence in the post-interval segment that places a strong rationale in the pre-interval segment.

From an ordinary man who raises his voice in the only way he is conditioned to, Arnab designs himself, with the help of his Muslim mentor, portrayed with conviction by Sudip Mukherjee and the mentor’s fight trainer Laila (Barkha Bisht Sengupta) into an avenging action hero, thus underscoring his killing of the villains who turned him into a villain in the last segment of the film.

The most outstanding parts are the training sessions where Arnab fails miserably to deliver and Laila complains to her mentor whether she has committed some wrong to be given such a miserable pupil. But his mentor places a huge portrait of his dead wife, telling him that this will be his trigger for action. Arnab keeps looking at the portrait and does impossible feats, each one genuinely, skillfully and gracefully executed by the beautiful-bodied Tota and his tutor Barkha. The portrait disappears from the frame for some time and then appears again towards the end when Arnab is going for his final mission to kill the evil Shibshankar and his brother Raj.

Tota is brilliant as Arnab with the several layers embedded into the character of an ordinary man who becomes extra-ordinary by force of circumstance. Rituparna as his wife has a brief role and does it well. Laboni as the panic stricken landlady who turns her walking stick into a weapon of attack inspiring the other locals to join her in collective protest is very good because she does not cry in the film. Rajatva and Sagnik as the villainous brothers are stereotypically cast as the two brothers. Special commendation must go to Barkha for her subdued, strong portrayal of Laila and the best part of the characterisations are that Tota has given them a social context and an interiority to offer a rationale for the place they have reached in their lives.

Tota’s dance number rooted in revenge is well-cinematographed and edited but the latter item number could have been dispensed with. Rishi Koushik as the police officer who resigns after Arnab dies as his voice of protest against the impotent legal and police system that makes a villain of an honest and righteous man to support the real villains is sometimes wooden and sometimes good. The story is narrated in flashback with a little afterword which also was not really necessary. The music is good and so is the editing. The sound design deserves special mention because you can actually hear the crack of a bone when someone’s neck is twisted and breaks under the pressure of Arnab’s death-hold.

Tota has composed and choreographed the actions in the film himself and his body is something other Bengali heroes should emulate as a model lesson in heroism cinema style. The art direction has been kept minimal, simple and modest without ornamental frills that would fit into the idealistic character of the hero in the beginning, the physical training sessions in what looks like a godown, and then, the actual scenes of the killings, one after the other. The dynamism in this action film could turn into a genre within contemporary Bengali cinema where even with fight and action masters imported from Bollywood, the action scenes and fight sequences lack technical finesse, skilled execution and cinematographic aesthetics. One can only pray that Tota’s market value as an action hero – the only real one in Bengali cinema rises with the commercial success of this film. He deserves it. Really.

Upperstall review by: Shoma A Chatterji

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