Cast: Soham Shah, Mithun Chakraborty, Om Puri
Direction: Ashu Trikha
The gangster-don is seen chilling at his home. The final sequence of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya, where the police is pounding upon the protagonist, plays out on the television screen. The wife in the living room can’t stop sobbing and worrying for her husband’s fate.
The husband, it turns out, looks a bit like Bhikhu Mhatre himself. Just a few scenes before, this hero had survived a bullet pumped into his forehead, with the gun at kissing length from his skull. Watching the scene from Satya still, and attempting to calm his wife down, he says, they show anything in the movies. This could hold true as mirror to the moviemakers themselves. Everyone wants to make a City of God.
For a film so seemingly strong on the setting, yet so weak in plot, you realise how much the filmmakers would’ve benefited had they referenced less from films, and more from life itself.
The narrative introduces us to the badlands of Uttar Pradesh: a state, it argues, where nothing exceeds like excess: poverty, riches, population, corruption, and politeness as well.
The story belongs to six brothers, one of them Babar of course, who share a crime-factory at a slaughterhouse. It’s supposed to be a Muslim-mafia neighbourhood. Cops cannot enter this ghetto to protect the politician’s vote-bank. Goons settle tenders of government contracts. Each shanty is home to several kids with kattas (country-made pistols).
This Babar-nama relates to the rise of one such child into a dreaded Mafiosi near Kanpur Dehat. You expect to follow a riveting journey. There is no progression, merely hard-core, random action. This roughly suits well the audience the film could be intended for. For long, fisticuff flicks have been loved by front-stalls of Middle India. Mithun Chakraborty ran one such successful franchise back in the ’90s. He’s also a bit of a hero here: an honest cop in a stinking system. The gentleman below him in rank is more a man of the wily world (Om Puri; his twang reminds you of the TV show Kakkaji Kahin from Doordarshan; his little pony, of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool). Babar (Soham Shah), on the other hand, walks around a nut-job under top and side-shots, just so the camera can avoid the lack of emotions on his face. The barbarism never stops. If you can’t empathise with the character a film is named after, you’ve pretty much lost the game.
Watching this sort of action mania on screen makes the destruction of Babri Masjid, UP’s ultimate shame, and the riots that followed it, seem as some minor brawl at a pub. Prakash Jha (Gangaajal, Apaharan) has lately found a fair mix of depth, realism and cinema within a similar milieu. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s under-rated Haasil was an authentic movie of UP, and its youth politics. If you’re looking out for pure, real ghetto-action, I suggest a pic I recently picked up: Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah. Now that’s a truthful, neat City Of God from a neighbourhood in Naples. This is Ghajini!