One thing that is certain about Sudhir Mishra is that his films are not skin deep. He takes us to the inner recess of human conscience. His characters are not cut out of the cardboard of convenience and their moral compass changes according to the ground realties of the subject at hand and not popular taste.
Here he tackles the intricacies involved with the issue of sexual harassment at the work place, something Bollywood has ignored all these years – discounting the sleazy Aitraaz – despite the fact that it is a grim reality of the young corporate India that our cinema often tries to mirror.
Unravelling in the competitive and ‘broad minded’ world of advertising, it is the story of Maya (Chitrangada Singh) and Rahul (Arjun Rampal). Once his trusted protégé, Maya charges her mentor of sexually harassing her after she rises in the office hierarchy and becomes a threat to his position. Of course Rahul denies the charge calling it trivial flirtation, which is must to keep the creative atmosphere fertile. An internal committee is set up and a social worker (Deepti Naval) is called from outside to head it.
The narrative goes back and forth as Mishra uses flashbacks to bring out the undulating relationship between two ambitious souls. Maya is not the usual Bollywood lollypop and Rahul is not the typical hero ready to sacrifice his interests for the girl in his life. When they present their contrasting point of views, one becomes eager to know more. The arguments of both sides sound believable but through the crevices in their statements, Mishra spells out the contours of the issue. How innocuous flirtation takes the form of harassment? If you help shape someone’s career, do you own the person? Do female employees selectively use their feminine charm to go up the ladder? Why a girl is expected to be morally right all the time? Why her rise is associated with her proximity to the boss and not her talent? Is it a matter of perception or reality? Many questions stare in the face as Mishra gets hold of the problem by the scruff of the neck. He doesn’t spare the bosses, who often use divide and rule as a tool to thrive.
For once Arjun is at home playing an intricate character. He exudes the cool charisma that the role demands without being conscious about it. Chitrangada fires her ‘mystique’ missile all over again but this time the process is not as effortless. Naval once again stands out with her natural demeanour as the social activist.
Instead of bringing in the expected know-all approach to the character, she plays it like a person trying to understand the nuances of the case without getting judgmental. Another remarkable choice is Vipin Sharma, who brings in the caustic humour as the harmless looking colleague with set ideas about man-woman roles.
Mishra has a knack for hitting where it hurts but here after a point he strikes more on the surface than the soul. When he delves into the motivations and impulses of his characters the drama is not consistently satisfying and the climax is a disappointment because in an attempt to leave with a ray of hope, Mishra tones down the denouement. After going almost all the way, he takes the ‘escapist’ route.
At places Manoj Tyagi’s writing reminds of Madhur Bhandarkar’s cosmetic ways to stir emotions. When Maya invokes alpha female, dialogues take a cheesy turn. He does try to give a backstory to his characters by hinting at their small town moorings and lessons they have imbibed from their parents but they don’t really add up. Some of the members of the committee wear just a single layer of flesh over the cardboard. Also the setting demanded a little more creative ingenuity. The advertising imagery that is created to sustain the drama is just a poor imitation of what we see from the purveyors of persuasion
The climax unfolds in fluctuating light where you can sense the vacillation of current is added for effect. One left the film with the same feeling of fluctuation.
Cast: Arjun Rampal, Chitrangada Singh, Deepti Naval, Vipin Sharma
Plot: What happens when the national creative director of an ad agency charges her CEO of sexual harassment…
Bottomline: You can’t ignore ‘Inkaar’ for its sheer topicality and the courage to look a problem in the eye before the director goes into the blink mode.