forever. I don’t know how many of you’ve heard of Mr Shah’s grind-house classics – Gunda, Loha, Phoolan Haseena Ramkali….
Video generation of the early ‘90s is likely to know him better, and perhaps relate to the four Bishop Cotton schoolboys in this film, caught at a late night show of Kanti Shah’s Angoor at Shimla’s Rivoli cinema. That Rivoli, I suppose, could well be in Delhi’s Cannaught Place. The title of the precious outlet of youth would remain the same. Mr Shah (and the likes) united the repressed, pre-Internet Indian young back in the day, in ways only MTV Grind could do later.
These kids, in their boarding school night uniform, are chased back to the hostel by a warden, who’s himself caught cherishing an extra-marital snog in the backseats of the same theatre. The boys are instantly expelled from school, packed off home.
This, in the case of the three friends perhaps means a wilder life in Mumbai; for Rohan (Rajat Bharmecha, beguilingly calm), it’s a trip back to a father he hasn’t seen in 8 years, a 6-year-old step-brother he didn’t even know existed, and memories of a mother who’s no more. The place is Jamshedpur. Where they also make steel. The boy’s forced into his father’s factory, and to learn engineering.
All small town fathers are the same, the boy’s new drunken friends from the local school tell him over gallons of cheap rum, parodying a popular ‘90s song: “Family business: very good, very good. Dream business: very bad, very bad.”
This 17-year-old dreams of becoming a writer some day. Small towns bear fewer routes for such professional escape. Dutch courage of youth will play itself out only over brawls at shady bars and similar frustrations when you’re gifted with an abusive, difficult father (Ronit Roy; in character, as they say) who’s so selfishly thickheaded, and with enough problems of his own. The boy calls him ‘Sir”, because the dad wants him to -- demands respect, when he commands none; seeks relationship with alcohol, since most others are likely to let him down.
Unhappiness, like loneliness, you can tell, is a mental disease. Unhappy people are most unhappy with others’ happiness first. This projection quality alone is its scariest symptom. You can sense this film’s disturbing tension seamlessly seep into your internal recesses. Very few films manage to have such effect on their audiences; fewer audiences still prefer such violent checks on their own reality. You wish they would.
I guess movies can either take you away from problems, or compel you to deal with them directly. And they can both make for good films. Just as there’s the fine ‘coming-of-age’ movie where natural order of things get somehow conveniently restored (Wake Up Sid, perhaps), there ought to be the film where you rightly suppose you hadn’t come of age after all. This is that rare, superior latter: a bleak beauty, a commendable debut.
For Rohan, I reckon, it’s clear that dreams don't always come true. And that's a reality -- often from accidents of birth – that most merely contend with, and in their own ways, move on from.
For a film this sorted in its approach, it is slightly disappointing to reach an end that appears an alternate one. Maybe because such true stories don't really have endings. They merely continue through a cycle of generations. Mildly observe the unhappiness around you -- you will know. The movie’s certainly worth a trip back to somewhat figure why.