Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Aditya Srivstav, Piyush Mishra, Raj Singh Choudhary, Deepak Dobriyal, Abhimanyu Singh, Ayesha Mohan Director: Anurag Kashyap
Anurag Kashyap inhabits a nasty, brutish space that every so often, like a volcano, erupts to spit out its molten venom. It can be an overwhelming, sometimes suffocating experience, but an immensely exciting one too. As with Gulaal. You’re hooked right from the dramatic opening sequence and the pace keeps building up with a power that can overwhelm you with a sensory overload, but fulfils its promise in the climax.
Set in the ubermacho badlands of Rajasthan, Gulaal pits two Rajputs against each other — the amoral Dukey Banna (Kay Kay Menon), an erstwhile royal who dreams of reclaiming lost Rajput glory with a splinter state; and the naïve, trusting Dileep Singh (Raj Singh Chaudhary), brand new college student. The film traces Singh’s introduction and induction into Banna’s empire of evil, only to be undone by love. What makes Gulaal so gripping is the exciting confluence of the many aspects of film-making. Aarti Bajaj’s dramatic editing gives the edge to Rajeev Ravi’s terrific camera-work. The costume design dovetails into the set design. Kashyap’s dialogue is as sharp as the storyline.
And when the acting is not good, it’s outstanding. Kay Kay Menon and Aditya Srivsatav (as illegitimate royal son Karan) hit you with their superbly controlled acts. Abhimanyu Singh plays the rebel, maverick royal Rananjay with a dangerously tantalising arrogance. And the irresistible Deepak Dobriyal engineers a triumph even in a relatively low-key role (watch him in a scene at the panwallah and you’ll see what we mean).
But it is Piyush Mishra — actor, lyricist and composer — who takes your breath away with his inspired lunacy as the manic minstrel Prithvi Singh. Setting contemporary themes to age-old tunes and a frenetic beat, he reaches a fitting crescendo with Duniya, the director’s homage to Guru Dutt’s Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye from Pyaasa.
It seems almost churlish to talk about flaws here, but you can’t escape them. Jesse Randhawa does a decent job as a humiliated professor but looks miscast, while Mahie Gill as the dancer Madhuri seems to have little more than item-number value. Also, the symbolism and allegorical allusions can be either sledgehammer or somewhat incomprehensible, as with Prithvi’s ardh-nari sidekick.
But one is ready to forgive, faced by the brilliance of much of this film. Gulaal has been a long time in the making — seven difficult years — but the delay has, if anything, added depth to this tale, told with great passion, craft and daring by Kashyap.