ZIYA US SALAM
(At PVR Saket and other Delhi theatres)
Wilful loss of memory makes for compelling cinema. Even before we could consign to memory the ghastly Bombay blasts that claimed hundreds of innocent lives, Anurag Kashyap's film here now raises the issues which the march of time threatened to reduce to a mere smudge. Some might argue about the merits of talking of the blasts that went off soon after the Babri Masjid demolition, and might appear like all but a forgotten footnote of history now.
But the passage of time does not defeat the purpose; a crime remains a crime. Full credit to Kashyap for making bold to embrace S. Hussain Zaidi's book to expose the underworld hand in the blasts. And recounting to us not just a history of those chilling days but a terrible tragedy that hopefully the future will have no place for.
Kashyap has only been among the pluckiest, not the luckiest, of filmmakers. His first film, "Paanch", could not be released to this day due to what the Censors considered "unexplained violence". And "Black Friday" itself has had to wait in the cans for two years and a Supreme Court judgment allowing its public screening. Here Kashyap does not bring with him the undeniable craft of a master technician - there is too much interplay of light and shadow, amber and blue to drive home the flashbacks. What he does bring to the film is the guts and sweat of a shift worker, also his patience and the ability to plug on. That explains the final release of the film, and the near total adherence to the book. His glory lies in his grit.
Kashyap talks of March 12, 1993, and the ten deadly blasts that claimed so many innocent lives across Mumbai. However, it is no moving human drama or a pointed tragedy that he unmasks. He avoids the easier option of pandering to emotions, getting the tear glands flowing. Instead, he goes in with a scalpel. The aim is to unmask the culprit. He uses the brains of a lawyer, the precision of a surgeon, and the narrative skills of a raconteur finding his feet. It is this search that points the needle towards Tiger Memon played with nonchalant ease by the generally underrated Pawan Malhotra who is said to be the brains behind the blasts. The guys who actually left the RDX or black soap, as the film puts it, in buildings, in hotels and markets, were mere pawns, used by the commander sitting in Dubai. The foot soldiers wanted to avenge the masjid wrongs and the consequent targeting of their innocent women and children; the Don in Dubai had other ideas.
While Kashyap exposes the underworld, it is in depicting the cops and their often relentless search for the culprits that he fumbles. Here the cops led by Kay Kay in a cut-and-paste kind of role get down to work post-blast like a rooster calls at the first sight of dawn. This despite all the feet dragging that took place in the incident. Then the cops get to know the truth almost too easily to be plausible. It is at such times that his heart rules the head. And "Black Friday" shows shades of a docu-drama that neither pleases the senses nor jolts the heart. It has purpose, it is honest, but it does not have as much of a punch as one expected.
The aesthetic values are understandably on the ebb, it is the human angle that is disconcertingly weak.
The tale of Tiger Memon remains distant; and the lack of human drama involving the anonymous masses makes sure that the cinemagoers remain non-participants, at times even disoriented viewers. Tales of torture, shots of the blasts, brief glimpses of the life of policemen... all remain a mechanical exercise.
Where Kashyap scores is in his focus. He adds no sub-plots, makes no compromises for the box office, gives a thumbs-down to the entertainment quotient box office collections. And in the end he comes up with a film that should be seen for its sheer purpose, for the filmmaker's sheer integrity. Only the other day came "Parzania", now we have "Black Friday"; our filmmakers are just getting down from the high horse of fantasies and dreams. Watch it for the reality fare.
(At Shiela and other Delhi theatres)
Here Bollywood dabbles in reality once more. This time a distinctly utilitarian and completely bereft of charisma Rajpal Yadav gets to play the hero and carry a film on his slight, no, slender frame. That he does not quite make it was known from the first step. That somebody was so credulous as to think a limited character actor could both be a victor as well as the vanquished in a film is only a little short of being incredible!
Director Aziz Khan picks up the real life story of a man who was accused of assaulting his three daughters for eight long years before the hand of fate intervened to deliver justice. The story had enough substance to take it through. If only Khan had stuck to the main plot rather than wasting his energies on all the prisoners in the jail where the undertrial is lodged. If only he had not focused on the prisoners' machinations, the cops' problems... the vile lawyers and the unclean system. He bites much, much more than he needed to. He needed a sip; he tried to take a gallon. The result? An amateurish film that falls flat despite a subject that is disturbing.
The technique is poor, the presentation disappointing. And some of the dialogue does more harm than help the cause the film is ostensibly espousing.
In a sea of mediocrity, Yadav as the father in jail waiting for justice is a shade better than Pratima Kazmi as the judge. Of course, he is miles ahead of Monica Castellino who plays his wife here. Castellino brings with her all the amateurism seen in the 1940s and `50s B-grade films. She makes you laugh when she opens her mouth as the wronged wife! Saving grace? Good old Kader Khan. He is impeccable with his pronunciation.
Sad but true: "Undertrial" is just another case of an opportunity wasted. Better to stay away.