Yeh Saali Zindagi
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Actors: Irrfan, Chitrangada Singh, Arunoday Singh
Irrfan plays a chartered accountant (CA) in New Delhi. His expertise, I suppose, should hold serious value in one of the most corrupt capitals of the world. It does. He’s essentially a hustler; works in a shady financial front that manages arms deal, drug deal, chit fund, ‘benaami’, ‘hawala’ sort of wealth. The accounts he services would trail up to some politician or the other -- if you doggedly followed the money. But nobody follows this sort of money (Radia, Rajas of the world were plain unlucky).
This CA is no whistleblower either. He’s a willing conduit to various frauds that fund Delhi’s new aristocracy. The reason you see this man hung upside down from his own balcony by his boss, or shot at in the first scene, is because, he unfortunately fell for a girl. She brought him down.
He took on a top cabinet minister to rescue her. She's abducted. He's risked everything: his job, his sleep, his security, his life. She’s not even quite in love with him. The girl's in fact holed up in the kidnapper's den with another guy, a rich dude, she prefers to be with! “Aage se, peeche se, dono taraf se lagne ka matlab kya hota hai, aaj mujhe pata chala (What it feels like to be had from both ends, I know now),” the CA admits, and moves his wheels further into the muck. You don’t question obsessions.
The dilemma is sweetly ironic all right. It doesn’t quite emotionally suck you in, because too many other dramas in the movie compete for the same kind of attention. Various tensions are teasingly played down, sometimes with testosterone alone. Humour is instantly self-aware, goofy. Guns go off easily. Nuts crack. Narrative’s knotted up. There’s lightness in death, coolness in the dialogue. This might please the Tarantino-Rodriguez fan (Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey comes to mind as this movie’s more recent, local approximation). It may not equally excite lovers of Mishra’s more matured Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003), or its sleepy sequel in spirit, Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin (1987).
Which is fair. Mishra’s also the director of Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin (1996), the rare, pre-Satya Mumbai underworld caper. He uses (and some could suggest, loses) the plot here to captivatingly map the urban, semi-urban landscape, life of the city-village of Delhi. The mafia and their “launde” (boys for hire) seem rustic imports from the capital’s various rural neighbourhoods (around Rohtak, Ghaziabad etc). It’s great to hear gangsta twangs besides the tiring Bambaiya.
The camera breathlessly pans across Lutyens’s Aurangzeb Road to Mehra saab’s Gurgoan, struts off Sohna Road, down Pitampura and Mehrauli, into plush Chhatarpur farms, right up to the minarets of Jama Masjid…. It becomes a fine of ‘tale of two cities’, as Dickensian for its grotesque comedy as for the number of characters that help develop it. Each role is designed to be sweetly campy in its own way. Signage on screen spell out places, and the parts the actors play. The sweep is super-wide, the speed hard to match up with.
Let me slow down here, since this film won’t. Irrfan’s is not the only character caught in crossfire. There’s a tough gangster (Arunoday Singh) who must choose between guns, and the girl he insanely loves (his wife: “once a Sri Devi, now a Phoolan Devi!”). There’s also an old don in a prison, who could become victim to a bullet fired by either his own younger brother. Or the said gangster and a cop. They want a minister to free him from Tihar jail. This is how Irrfan’s character gets involved. His love-interest (Chitrangada Singh) gets mistakenly abducted. The boy with her is engaged to the minister’s daughter!
It’s fairly simple. The film appears jumbled in parts, merely because no character holds a moral centre. No character, in particular, holds the plot together either. The picture goes all over the place to arrive at an end, even beyond the intended end. You leave for home with an exhilarating ride, still reeling in your head -- though not quite the heart. The actors (each one of them inspiringly cast, stunningly moulded) help you get there. The movie seems infinitely better than the sum of its script. That's usually true for fun thrillers. This is definitely one of them.