|Shilpa Shukla, Shadab Kamal|
He’s a lost kid. His parents dying early makes him feel cheated; by whom he doesn’t know.
He (Shadab Kamal) moves in with his indifferent aunt and uncle. The relatives are not cruel, but stingy. They call him ‘beta’, the way house helps are kindly addressed. When the aunt has her friends over, he makes the tea and serves the snacks.
One of them Sarika (Shilpa Shukla) flirts with him openly, leading to squeals of laughter among the women. The next day, she sends for him to pick up a crate of apples. He arrives on time, to be greeted by an old woman who suggests he run away.
Sarika arrives and sits next to him making casual chit-chat about his lack of friends and so on. And then just like that, she undresses herself and him. Their liaison continues for a few days and she gives him some money to buy new clothes. He lies at home about taking tuitions.
And then one day, she asks him to go to another woman. He’s distraught. ‘I am not that kind of a boy’, he shoots back at Sarika. But she has answers for everything and gently reminds him of his sisters (now in a seedy a foster home).
The next few weeks see him transform from a normal boy struggling to pass his BA to a much-in-demand prostitute. We’ve all heard the tragic pasts of female prostitutes in films; this time we see how circumstances turn this boy into one.
His despair is manifested in his favourite location to hang-out— the graveyard. A game of chess is interspersed with what’s happening in his life, forming an interesting analogy. His encounters with the women are interesting. One gives him a lowdown of what happened in the latest episode of a TV serial while making love, another abuses her philandering husband in the act, and yet another just wants to talk.
Shilpa Shukla is excellent as Sarika, but the character remains quite a mystery. At one point she proudly says that the entire boy’s earnings equal what her husband earns in a single day. She’s rich, and is in a loveless marriage. But what are her reasons for grooming boys into prostitution as a business? What does she get out of it? (Money’s not an issue, clearly). Where does the masochistic tendency come from? Clearly an insight into this character’s mind and intentions would have been interesting.
The boy’s character is more believable, even as his humiliation makes him clutch onto something, anything— a sentiment continually used by Sarika. And then we see how he goes to desperate lengths to keep himself afloat. Shadab Kamal does well bringing out the character’s desperation and naivete, a deadly combination.
The film is based on a short story called The Railway Aunty. But it will have you think back to The Graduateas well. There too, the humiliation the character is served initially makes him submit to Mrs. Robinon’s seduction. And how interesting that they’re both titled to reflect completion of a college course.
Ajay Bahl’s storytelling is immersing at a superficial level. He also manages to fold in betrayal and drama in the story. But the moment you go asking for answers, it draws a blank slate.
As an erotic thriller, the film is serviceable. It has the interesting cinematography (by Bahl), a grappling story, and good acting. Due to these positives, it manages to stand despite the weak foundation.
It’s not as dark and dangerous as you’d expect film noir to be. Still, you might want to check it out for the few grappling moments and the performances.
Rating: Two and a half stars