Bad guys are the flavour of the season. Poor Vajramuni never got any sympathy, but the bad-boy hero can slap and abuse; the fair-skinned rich girl still falls for him

I’ve never seen a flashback justifying why Vajramuni is the despicable devil he was on-screen. He loots, rapes and kills. He was born bad. Detention, divine retribution or even death never made him repentant. It’s only when the hero plays the bad guy that you get a lengthy pictorial preface explaining why he turned evil. Even then it’s ambiguous. He’ll play Robin Hood, dote on his mother, dispense justice in a jiffy and protect the elderly and of course women. These are also the reasons why heroines, usually fair-skinned and rich fall for him. Bad boys are the flavour of the season.

‘Ugram’ is an orgy of violence. A news channel reported that two Telugu superstars are vying for the remake rights. I wonder why. It’s like any run-of-the mill Telugu pot-boiler, probably a tad more stylish. It’s been in the making for around three years. Four cinematographers have cranked the camera and the producer, I reliably learn had to sell a plot in a premier locality to finish the film. These are just tid bits for the curious about trivia. The heroine who’s never seen India visits just to get a glimpse of her mother’s grave. She’s promptly kidnapped by her father’s old foes. Only hero can save her and he does. He takes her home and convinces his mother to keep her as a domestic help. Her lack of basic culinary skills and two creepy cousins are supposed to raise chuckles. Well, another band of baddies is sent but the mere sight of hero sends them scurrying. So hero has a past. Rewind to the recent past. ‘Mughor’ is a town infested with creepy characters. They are really bad so they look unkempt, are apparently allergic to water with mane that has never met a barber’s scissors. There’s a war for one-upmanship and hero is used as a pawn by a childhood pal. He’s been ostracized after killing his pal’s brother but now has to return to save heroine.

Either too much footage was shot and sacrificed at the editing table or the director bit off more than he could swallow. There are too many sub-plots that are not fleshed out. Tilak emotionally manipulating hero is interesting. Atul Kulkarni and Avinash are wasted just like they were playing similar characters in ‘Veeram’. Some shots are brilliantly choreographed. The relentless background score gets on your already jangled nerves. SriMurali, throughout the film looks like he’s battling incontinence. When you emerge after watching ‘Ugram’ you instinctively check for bloodstains on your shirt.

***

I don’t think films have to be believable. They just have to be convincing. Watching ‘Highway’ is like going on a long trip sitting alongside the driver in a lorry. The visuals are breathtaking but the emotions mostly vapid. What starts out as a possible thriller turns out to be one lengthy travelogue. The dichotomy in background and upbringing of the two protagonists is stark. She has lived a sheltered, stifled existence craving for a burst of fresh air. He’s a criminal constantly on the run. Again there has to be a reason for their behaviour so you are told that they are victims of abuse, she sexually and he physically. When he inadvertently kidnaps her it’s the meeting of two tortured souls. He drags her by her hair and slaps her around but she feels safe when he protects her form a lecherous underling. I told you bad boys are in vogue. She begins enjoying the journey even feeling as comfortable as to confess her ordeal with an elderly uncle. He softens, even looks fondly when she breaks into an impromptu jig. She confesses that she doesn’t want to return nor does she want this journey to end. There is a hint of love. They want to be together but know it won’t last. The contradictions in their characters are endearing.

It’s as if Imtiaz Ali, accompanied by his protagonists lugged a camera and started on a road trip hoping the ever-changing landscape will inspire him. It does but only in short bursts. More time is spent capturing nature’s bounty. Praising Anil Mehta’s work will be mistaking great locales for good cinematography. He’s competent enough to capture pristine beauty. Rahman’s minimalist musical score is sublime, especially his use of silence. The film has been shot with sync sound and Resul Pookutty’s sound design is remarkable. Imtiaz Ali is obviously in love with Alia the performer. He sometimes seems to turn on the camera and simply watch the plethora of emotions her innocent face expresses effortlessly. The casting, right down to the tiniest of parts is spot on. ‘Highway’ is a visually breathtaking journey but long, sometimes boring and tiresome.

sshivu@yahoo.com