A film on C-grade industry made with A-grade intent! Director Ashim Ahluwalia humanises a part of the film industry that is scorned at in real life and made fun of in its reel avatar. He shows us what all goes behind the making of “Bandh Darwaza” without giving easy access to all the doors of his layered narrative. Stylised and slightly indulgent, it is an unfamiliar blend of pulpy narrative treated with art house flavour. On the surface it employs a familiar Bollywood trope but the way Ashim has projected it, it will test the sensibilities of an audience fed on linear progression, entry and exit and verbosity. Ashim intrigues you, pokes you and at times makes you restless for he is parsimonious with information but the director never gives in to popular demands.
It is about two brothers in the business of exploitative cinema, which the law considers illegal. Vicky (Anil George) is successful, dominating but coward while Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is talented but meek. Both have the desire to revolt against the system, run by powerful men in their own way. A mysterious girl called Pinky (Niharika Singh) comes in between the two brothers and their relationship gets scarred for life. She lays the trap of vulnerability and Sonu gets spellbound.
It could have easily been a character-driven piece but it is not. Fleshing out the idea of a criminal filmmaker, who is at the bottom of the social and professional hierarchy, Ashim looks at the transformation of a socialist country to a globalised economy. He recreates not only the Mumbai of the 80s with its art deco façade and neon lights but also the social mores and body language of the times. The grainy visuals on television and the way the society — even the way the police looked at these purveyors of crass – create a visceral mood on screen. He talks of times when pornography hadn’t come in our pocket and people lined up for morning shows to see sex-horror films interpolated with steamy stuff. It is about an exploitative genre but the way Ashim treats the subject is not manipulative. People might seek these films for gratification but the way these films were shot, pleasure was the furthermost thing on the mind of the performers. The effect is rather melancholic which fills you with a void similar to what Sonu goes through as he stares at Pinky dancing to a Nazia Hassan number on a golden set.
The mise-en-scene casts a hypnotic spell with its evocative sound and meticulous production design. There is a scene where a blue film is being shot in an abandoned building. While the cameraman in the film is busy taking a straight forward shot, cinematographer Mohanan creates the mood for erotica before Ashim sends in the police. One wonders if such films were shot by Mohanan and directed by Ashim, they would have given the Mundhras and Pandeys a run for their money. The Dirty Picture which was set in a similar world and used a similar storyline was more profane in its portrayal of this sordid universe. Slipping in shots of ennui, Ashim reminds of the everydayness in the life of these people who are supposed to set the pulse racing. If you care to notice the film says a lot. As the genre is governed by their ‘performance’, women are not really the exploited lot. The manipulative Pinky makes the transition to sleaze from mythological, which were shot with similar limitations of budget and infrastructure. The way Ashim has captured the shoot, the way they make use of limited resources it gives the genre a feel of independent cinema. There is space for people of all shapes and sizes. A midget controls the production; a lady with a protruding belly can call herself sexy. Ashim is talking of times when demand and supply were inversely proportional. How they went about the business of selling soft porn in the garb of horror so that the package remains legal, makes you chuckle.
The casting is spot on. Nawazuddin shines through this amoral world. When his eyes are at play you don’t need the dialogues. Anil George is an interesting find and so is Niharika Singh. She is again someone, whose eyes are an asset.
Strictly for those who love to experiment with their cinematic diet with an open mind.
Genre: Art house
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Anil George, Niharika Singh
Plot: Deep into the business of sleaze, two brothers don’t realise when a wannabe actress manages to come in between them.
Bottomline: A true blue independent ﬁlm!