Director Onir's chamber piece, Bas Ek Pal, telescoping five intertwined lives in a lethal yet lyrical passion-play, is an original slice of art.
Bas Ek Pal opens and closes in a pub where the first of the many passionate encounters occur between the restless, violent and doomed characters looking for a place to rest their uncertain hearts.
When after years abroad Nikhil (Sanjay Suri) walks into the crowded place of pleasure, his life changes. He meets the mercurial Anamika (Urmila Matondkar) who teases, flirts and reduces Nikhil to a lifetime of slavery.
All the characters are in one way or another linked with one another. Even the men, Nikhil and Rahul (Jimmy Shergill), share complex, ambiguous relationships. In one notable moment of tormented confession, Nikhil tears off his shirt in front of the paraplegic Rahul and confesses he was raped in jail.
|Urmila Matondkar and Sanjay Suri in a still from Bas ek Pal.|
But the crime for which Nikhil went to jail is deflected to another even darker character, the spouse-beating Steve (Rehaan Engineer) whose heartbreakingly fragile wife Ira (Juhi Chawla) wants to leave him but can only be liberated in death (Till death do us part).
Guilt runs through the criss-cross of wounded relationships in this film of unstated recriminations. Even the ostensibly free-willed Anamika opts for compassion (the crippled Rahul) over passion (the incarcerated Nikhil).
One of the more absorbing side-shows in this drama of muted feelings is the dark undertones that are applied to every character's conscience. None of the five protagonists is a happy person. None of them finds solace, comfort, let alone love, in his or her partner. They all seem to be driven more by desire per se than its fruition. The distinctly Shakespearean finale leaves three of the five protagonists dead.
Sachin Kumar's camera captures the conflicts of the characters in striking silhouettes and dark contours. The hints and whispers created through the lens go a long way in detailing the inner world of the pain-lashed characters.
All five actors penetrate the heart of their characters. Urmila has never looked more tranquil in her torment, and Juhi uses her ability to portray hurt and guilt with minimum effort.
Among the male actor Sanjay's eyes follow the course of his character's destiny with pained transparency. Check out Suri's reunion with Urmila in the pub called Anti-Clockwork where they first met or the sequence where Jimmy tells Urmila he can't make love to her. The film is shot mostly in the night and towards the end, in the lashing rains, to create an aura of doom and pain.
Bas Ek Pal is an interesting though flawed study of gender equations in a competitive society where feelings are casualties of ambitions. And ambition not only at work places. The rivalry in the bedroom can be even more cutthroat. Onir knows.