Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Actors: Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi
C****ium sulphate is her favoured cuss. She knows her sections of the Indian Penal Code. She’s the Bonnie Parker to two Clyde Barrows (Naseer, Arshad), simultaneously playing both the men. She gets wants she wants. She holds the gun, and is still femininely attractive (or at least as gorgeous as Vidya Balan can possibly get). For a film set in a male-dominated, almost misogynist middles of India, you’re instantly struck by the leading lady, who comes across the most powerful character.
Vishal Bhardwaj (as producer, music composer and dialogue-writer) gives this Middle India its voice. Chaubey (as director) gives it the colour.
Despite the nobility of his presence, Naseer plays the outlaw. Arshad is his supposed nephew. Chacha-bhateeja (like mama-bhanja) is a sweet old motif of Hindi films. Together they make incredible fun, on the run. Along the chase, they also fall for the same girl. It isn’t convincingly clear what the two are running from really. But that’s probably not the point.
The escapade exposes them to the eastern badlands of this country – the cow belt heartland, as it were – where young boys get trained in tamanchas (country-made pistols), much before they go through toilet training at infancy. Older gangsters are either “nange” (naked) or “burkhe mein” (in a burkha) – “andar ya faraar” (in jail, or on the run!). The little kid they befriend (“paanch kum bees”) joins the Naxalites, in a relentless caste war. Here there are Thakurs, Yadavs, Jats, Pandeys… Where our two men come from (Bhopal, and probably Aligarh before), there were only Shias and Sunnis.
The uncle-nephew team, with the girl who holds their strings, wants to abduct a Gorakhpur industrialist for ransom. That fellow also runs an arms trade across Nepal. Chaos is complete. So is the humour. Intellectual deconstruction is immaterial.
Mira Nair is right. Bharadwaj is probably one of the few of Bollywood’s unique voices likely to corner any genuine attention in the West. This road film is in parts, an Yi Tu Mama Tambien sort of bizarre romance, an El Mariachi type curry-western, and a City Of God kind of grimy thriller. Yet, the pungent odour is entirely original. Oh smell it - for sure.