Paanch: Holding up a mirror

The closing film of Cinefan 2003, Paanch, is certainly not regular Bollywood fare. It disturbs as much it holds the viewer, but unfortunately it does not make you think.

india Updated: Jul 29, 2003 19:23 IST

No aspect of celluloid is more disturbing than the fact that it mirrors reality - either in parts on in whole. Therefore, when one walks away after having seen Anurag Kashyap's debut feature Paanch, one can't help but recall the Abhyankar murders in Pune on which the film is based. And try as might the Censor Board (through disclaimers - two, not one - at the beginning of the film stating that Paanch is a work of fiction) it cannot curb the collective memory of the audience which knows better.

For it is true that an emerging rock band of five members (where the film title comes from) in Pune in the 80s, had not only been sentenced for multiple murders of an entire family but also done away with the inspector on the job because he had cracked the case.

What works in favour of a gruesome film like Paanch is that the violence is only suggested and not onscreen. Nor is it made available for titillation as has been the case with scores of Hindi films. The violence that the film essays is integral to the plot of the film and therefore justified.

The heavy metal band called Parasites comprising Kay Kay (in a stupendous but menacing performance as the band leader Luke), Shivli (a brilliantly controlled Tejaswini Kolhapure making her debut), along with theatre actor Joy Fernandes as Joy, and Akhilesh Mishra as Chicken - remember him as Inspector Khandelkar from Satya - and two others, is out to make big money, at any cost.

When the rich kid among them, Nikhil offers to be kidnapped so that they can ask for ransom and make that extra buck, the idea is lapped up by all of them. But none of them have bargained for the trouble that ensues because the father informs the cops and none of them know how to handle it. Their apprehension about what might happen leads to blame and counter-blame without any of them coming up with a real solution.

The first murder (Nikhil's) takes place because Luke loses his temper with him, while blaming the father and four other murders take place because one thing leads to another and none of them remains in control thereafter. While the film holds as is, the weakest link turns out to be Kashyap's inability to pass on a message in the end to his audience.

For Paanch is not meant to be entertainment a.k.a Bollywood style - it goes much deeper than that. Kashyap's premise (when he had begun making Paanch) had been "to explore the workings of a creative mind (in this case, a rock band out to create music) which subsequently sanctioned cold-blooded murders." The killings, after all, weren't the handiwork of a bunch of seasoned criminals but a group of amateur singers for whom murder would not have come naturally. That is the point the film forgets to make.

Paanch, though very well made, unfortunately remains a documentation of the Abhyankar murders, not an investigation into the morality of the act. What lifts the film in spite of, are the compelling performances, the taut direction and its treatment.

First Published: Jul 29, 2003 14:05 IST