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|August 24, 2001||
Living on the edge
Subhash K Jha
Like Dil Chahta Hai, the forthcoming film Paanch too revolves around life in Bombay.
But while Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai is upbeat and hip, Paanch (still awaiting censor clearance), is a grim saga.
With director Anurag Kashyap's debut, Hindi cinema plunges into metropolitan realism. The film pushes sociopathic realism near enough the brink that the narrative almost falls into the abyss.
Kashyap doesn't really care if audiences went along for the nightmarish rollercoaster ride with his five outlawed characters. For, like Farhan Akhtar, he has made the film he wanted.
Kashyap's film starts with four of the five main characters being interrogated. The audience is introduced to Luke (Kay Kay Menon) and his flatmates -- the quiet, observant and intelligent Murgi (Aditya Shrivastava), the uncerebral Joy (Joy Fernandes), the confused Pondy (Vijay Mourya) and the tartish queen of self-preservation, Shivli (Tejaswini Kolhapure).
They are all part of Luke's twisted dream plan to form a successful rock band. His attempts fail, and Luke decides to take his cronies on a journey into crime.
Kashyap builds Luke's bitter rage into an explosion of street violence -- he thrashes a petty drug dealer, roughs up a bus conductor and taunts his friends, especially the weak and indefensible Pondy.
When the killings begin -- a moneyed associate Nikhil, then Nikhil's father, followed by a cop (Sharat Saxena) -- one isn't surprised, only appalled by the inevitable doom to which Kashyap's narrative leads.
The narrative follows no known convention and is, therefore, distracting to the extreme.
While the first segment shows the five friends singing loud rock numbers and passing filthy comments, the second signifies a strident shift in mood, with Luke's neurotic violence surfacing with brutal force.
The third and last movement in the dark and morbid narrative appears most disturbing. The five characters play a lethal game of cat and mouse: Murgi, Shivli, Joy and Pondy hatch a plan to murder their control-fixated gangleader, Luke.
The film's raison d'etre lies in its audacious effort to stretch the parametres of conventional cinematic expression. Rather than anything seen in India before, Paanch reminds one of Danny Boyles' film on Scottish angst, Trainspotting.
Kashyap's characters speak a rough, streetsmart language that constantly reminds one of their proximity to the grassroots. Their body language is aggressive and borders on the lascivious. But to call their verbal and postural demeanour vulgar would be wrong.
Kashyap's characters live, behave, sing and die the way they do because they know no other way. Bombay engenders innumerable such desperados.
The Bombay seen in Paanch is many shades darker than the one in Dev Benegal's Split Wide Open or Sudhir Mishra's Dharavi. In Paanch, the city is a merciless adversary that pulverises every good quality in the man on the street.
Kay Kay Menon's portrayal of passionate perversity shows great promise. He has fabulous support from his colleagues in crime, especially Vijay Mourya as the mixed-up Pondy.
The film certainly has no universal appeal. But it lets audiences see the darker side of Bombay, far removed from the comforting world seen in Dil Chahta Hai.
Indo-Asian News Service
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