Directed by Ram Gopal Varma
This is commonly called India’s first real gangster movie, and it is often praised for its depiction of complex characters on both sides of the law—there is no one righteous, not one (except perhaps the female character Vidya). For me, though, the stars of the film are J.D. Chakravarty’s heavy-lidded, dead-staring eyes, whose blank depths reflect no childhood trauma that led him to this life—it was just the road he happened to set on, and his amorality kept him on it. You get the feeling he would have reacted to life the same way if he had happened to fall in with the owner of a call center instead of a gangster main player. For some reason, the people in his life take an interest in him—from the gangster player he meets in jail to the girl next door. The interesting thing about this movie is that nothing is presented as if the audience is supposed to sympathize with anything—that I appreciated. Even the girl next door, who lives with her mother and stroke-ridden father and dreams of being a playback singer—her situation is pathetic, but it’s never presented to us as if it should tug our heartstrings. The overall effect of the movie is gritty and real, and the camera certainly is fond of sweeping over the dirty, poor sections of Bombay/Mumbai. In terms of achieving an aesthetic that will pacify Western-loving critics, this film comes much closer than Parinda—and in a much more genuine way. Without trying to pick it apart too much, I want to say that the film gives off the feeling that the director came to his conclusions to film this way through exploring film from an Indian perspective, whereas Parinda feels as if it arrived at its presentation by studying Western film and trying to force the two styles together. The cutting from scene to scene is noticeably abrupt and jarring—even hard to follow (most of the time in Bollywood films, even if the cutting is abrupt, you still know where you are in the next scene). The songs are not remarkable in any way.
The title word means “truth,” and the film does a good job of showing how the truth of who is honorable, good, and being kind changes depending on which side you stand—the policemen endure the same moral choices and choose the same brute force that the gangsters endure and choose. People on each side have families they love and job promotions and security that they worry about. At the end of the film, the director states that his heart goes out to those who feel they have no choice but to follow the path of violence and evil—he wishes for everyone to search their own minds and understand why they do what they do.
Tidbits: Well-known stars were not used for this film, but a couple actors did go on to achieve more renown afterwards—Shefali Shetty, the wife of the gangster player here, went on to star in Monsoon Wedding.
Rating: Even though the film succeeds at developing organically from Bollywood aesthetics, its significance will not be apparent to the casual or first-time viewer.
Library Collection: It is historically significant if you want a good representation of a variety of films from the 90’s. Otherwise, it doesn’t hold that much entertainment value.