The good news first.
This is Nagesh Kukunoor's best film since Iqbal and Dor.
We once again get to see the director's unique ability to find hope and spirit in the most unlikeliest of situations. Nagesh Kukunoor is the master of feel good. He makes his characters so relatable and human that you connect with who they are, irrespective of their environment.
This is a world where there are no definite blacks or whites (except for the titular 14-year-old heroine who is a picture of innocence).
Reddy (Satish Kaushik), the man who runs the racket beats up his own man Chinna (Nagesh Kukunoor) in front of the sex workers for hurting Lakshmi (after she tried to escape) to show he cares for them like he does for his own family. Maybe he does think of them as family. He takes care of them, gives them good clothes to wear and makes sure they get medical help.
Jyoti (Shifali Shah) who manages the brothel has a daughter far away studying engineering. Though she is efficient with her job, she also hates it. When she sends Lakshmi (Monali Thakur) to her first customer, though she forces her to get done with it, she also tells her: “If you fight and resist, he's going to enjoy it more. Don't give him that pleasure.” And Lakshmi's room-mate Swarna (Flora Saini) actually likes her job.
There is a certain amount of disturbing realism in the environment Kukunoor has created.
Which brings us to the bad news.
These realistic, fairly relatable characters (if you are able to ignore the fact that this film set in Hyderabad has mostly Mumbai-based actors trying to put on a Hyderabadi accent) halfway through, turn on their movie-mode to do things which seem like they belong in a different, exploitative film. Stock characters pop up. Like the reluctant lawyer who has retired but is one scene away from agreeing to take on the case. The conscientious social worker. The evil Corporator because the film needs more villains.
Sensitivity is not just about not showing. Sometimes what we do not see shocks us a lot more. After displaying restraint in not showing the rapes, the director goes for blood and gore in the second half. And also shows us in graphic detail.
So what we have here is an earnest but emotional film that's inconsistent in its tone. It wants us to feel good one moment and feel super bad the next. Except that the shift in tones are not seamless and often jarring.
Monali Thakur is just too pretty to be cast in this world. She never comes across as a native of Andhra Pradesh and her accent is hardly convincing. But the girl acts really well (she is fantastic in that last scene) and the casting may have worked better if her character was kidnapped from the North and sold in the South.
Kukunoor himself is pretty solid playing a despicable sadistic character with quirks (again, the pimp himself is never shown raping any of the girls — he loves his nail polish!). Shifali Shah is brilliant and pulls off a very complex role, while Satish Kaushik is scarily believable as Reddy.
It's a well-acted film no doubt. And a film we ought to see.
Go for it if you have the stomach for the brutal truth about the world we live in. And a little B-movie gore. If you want a more consistent (but also louder) version of a girl sold into the flesh trade, you might want to wait for Abhinav Shiv Tiwari's Oass.
Director: Nagesh Kukunoor
Cast: Monali Thakur, Shifali Shah, Nagesh Kukunoor, Satish Kaushik, Ram Kapoor
Storyline: A 14-year-old girl forced into prostitution fights back
Bottomline: A gritty film that works largely because of the subject and sensitive treatment if you have the stomach for gore.