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'Apaharan': A compelling mix of thrills and politics
By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service
Film: "Apaharan"; Cast: Ajay Devgan, Nana Patekar, Mohan Agashe, Bipasha Basu, Mukesh Tiwari and Yashpal Sharma; Director: Prakash Jha; Rating: ***
Nobility combined with mobility. Interesting gripping combination. "Apaharan", Prakash Jha's harsh and brutal political commentary on the state of anarchy a.k.a Bihar, makes for riveting viewing.
You know it's true. But you cannot, but shudder at the sheer disintegration of moral values in Jha's brooding and damned world of moral anarchy where characters discuss kidnap victims as "damaged goods" and "intact piece".
I remember, my favourite Jha film "Mrityudand" opened with an image of a mother and a daughter being chased down and brutally slayed by a mob of frenzied villagers. To think of the harsh reality that sequence reflected makes me shudder even today.
Witch-hunting in one form or another continues to haunt Jha's cinema.
In comparison with Jha's earlier cinema, the violence in "Apaharan" is far more filmy, more harnessed though no less honest. The hinterland is harsh - but the director's vision has softened considerably.
More than a film explaining the intricacies of the kidnapping industry in Bihar, the film whisks you away into a familiar family realm of father-son confrontations patented by those gripping parent-son Bachchan (Actor Amitabh Bachchan) dramas like Ramesh Sippy's "Shakti", Yash Chopra's "Deewaar" and Mukul Anand's "Agneepath".
Unemployed, wayward and finally criminalised, Devgan's multi-faceted character Ajay and his troubled relationship with his father (Mohan Agashe) harks back to the great Bachchan era but with a difference.
Jha is always reluctant to let the emotions spill out. Barring two sequences (one towards the first-quarter and the other at the end) Devgan and Agashe, playing the emotionally and morally disconnected son and father, seldom come out in the open.
You often wish we would be given a better view of the protagonist's innerscape of how Devgan drifts away from his father's rigid ideology to join hands with the freewheeling communally clenched morality of Patekar's character and finally redeems himself by becoming a police informer.
The leaps in Devgan's astonishing graph are achieved without punctuations. On this occasion, Jha is determined not to lose his audience for even a minute. Though he sacrifices the introspective interludes, he succeeds in making this his most gripping tale to date.
The principal and peripheral characters (Yashpal Sharma, Murli at al, all excellently in-sync) often look like Ram Gopal Varma's gallery of goons transposed to the Bihari bad-land.
In fact the Patekar-Devgan "guru-shishiya" (teacher-pupil) relationship of criminal camaraderie appears a carryover of Devgan-Vivek Oberoi conflict in Varma's "Company".
Yes, this time Jha is as interested in the politics of the country as the politics of commercial cinema. He blends both in a compelling mix of thrills and politics. Often the rough edges and that trademark savagery, which characterises Jha's cinema make you wince (for example that sequence where goon Yashpal Sharma makes Devgan lick his spit - ugh!).
Still, there's a remarkable balance of the brutal and the brittle qualities of life, achieved through mildly touching and savagely humorous demonstrations of human violence.
Some of the sequences delineating the kidnapping are fluently funny. If you look hard at Devgan's clumsy first-attempt at kidnapping you cannot but chuckle at its amateurishness. By the time the character arrives at the elaborated climax, you want to get into this muddled Bihari youth's dangerously awry head.
But the director draws a curtain on the cinematic life that he nurtures with deliberate dispassion, like a stern father looking after a son who knows the child must go out in the world to seek his fortune as soon as possible.
"Apaharan" is a film in a hurry about society gone over the brink into the abyss of chaos.
Welcome to the dark, dangerous and dreadful world of kidnapping. Jha knows the frightening fundas well. Fortunately, for his film he doesn't flaunt his research.
Doing away with that dryness that debilitated a share of Jha's last film "GangaaJal", "Apaharan" sweeps you into the anarchic arch. The effect is like a punch in your solar plexus.
The dusty, crusty and sinister bylanes of a small-town in Bihar where the Muslim politician Tabrez (Nana Patekar) rules beyond the khaki regime, the nefarious activities of various politically backed factions.
These are the director's familiar gullies. He takes us into them with a surety of purpose that angers the audiences, provokes you into questioning your lopsided socio-political system without losing the thread of the cinematic experience.
In the film, Jha has achieved a balance-not always neat but constantly riveting - between drama and documentation, irony and tension, without letting go of his beliefs. He has his dependable cast to support his cause.
Nana Patekar, Yashpal Sharma and Mukesh Tiwari (as an honest cop trying hard not to buckle under corruption) are outstanding. Devgan knows what he is doing. He does it effectively. Bipasha Basu has little to do, and she does it well.