Monday, March 30, 2009
Five years ago, director Anurag Kashyap tore through the press, public and Bollywood with his mighty sophomore feature, Black Friday, a riveting drama chronicling the Mumbai Bomb Blasts of '93. On the one hand, its release was blocked by Indian courts due to the sensitivity of its themes, but on the other, it generated a lot of international acclaim for the quality of its film-making. Kashyap now gives us Gulaal, a movie about the Rajputs and their desire for an independent state. Equally controversial (for Indian courts) and equaling Black Friday's greatness, Gulaal is another achievement for India's Independent cinema, one that threatens to be lost in the melee of everyday Bollywood.
The film is set in an unnamed city of Rajasthan, with a deteriorating law and order situation. Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon) is an over-zealous Rajput. As the self-styled kingpin of control, he strives for an independent 'Rajuptana' state. To achieve that end, he enlists Ransa (Abhimanyu Singh) and his room-mate Dileep Singh (Raj Singh Chaudhary, also the co-screenwriter), students from a local college, to contest the student elections and add some political muscle to his fight. As the film digs deeper into issues of student politics, separatism, honor and ego, Gulaal creates a complex reality and then peels the layers to reveal truths about the chaotic state of regional India.
Kashyap doesn't take long to establish his players - he instead tells an engrossing story and gets the characters to inhabit it on their own individual terms. This helps flesh out a strong existence for them, which in turn adds the requisite depth to the films realism. Notably, Kashyap lets the audience discover the machinations behind the motivation of some key characters -- especially in the case of Karan, played with a burning intensity by Aditya Srivastava, and his sister Kiran, a stunning debut by Ayesha Mohan who also happens to be the Assistant Director. Equally stunning is the scene-stealing performance by Abhimanyu Singh as the foul-mouthed, reckless Ransa. He makes the performance so real, that it would be both surprising and shocking to ever watch the actor out of character. All these wonderful performances revolve around a composed yet maniacal portrayal by Kay Kay Menon in what has become his forte. His opening monologue carries so much fervor that it throws the audience into the midst of the chaos that the movie examines.
Putting yet more people from the crew in front of the camera, Kashyap hits a home-run by having lyricist/music director Piyush Mishra play the eccentric elder brother to Kay Kay Menon's Dukey Bana. Piyush Mishra's Prithvi Bana, along with his "ardh-nar" mime, becomes the voice of philosophical cynicism commenting on the futility of man's greed. At one point, Prithvi Bana has an imaginary conversation with George W. Bush demanding all the disappeared oil to light the Diwali lamps. From quoting John Lennon to Jawaharlal Nehru to Sahir Ludhianwi, Piyush Mishra's presence and input makes the movie a literati's delight.
With his trademark hard-hitting dialogues and a taut script, Kashyap proves that he is a writer-director worthy of representing Indian independent cinema on an International circuit. The only caveat is that Gulaal does require a basic idea of what state politics and powerplay can be like in regional India. But although it is set in Rajasthan, the movie becomes a metaphor for what transpires all over India, and quite possibly, in third world countries and lawless states globally.
My rating --> 4.5 of 5