It's unnerving when Manjunath (Sasho Satish Sarathy) walks up to us, at the start, and asks us to decide what he did was great or stupid. The film is based on a real story on the Manjunath case of 2005, where a 27-year old petroleum company officer was killed due to his uncovering a fuel adulteration scam and sealing of two pumps.
An IIM graduate and employee of the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Manjunath was stationed in Uttar Pradesh. He was thrilled at having got this opportunity alongwith a friend, not knowing just doing his job diligently would cost him his life.
But, he tells the audience, he simply "could not run away from this fight". For this writer, the most immersing portions were Manjunath's reactions to the death threats ? more than frightened, he's intrigued. He sits up at night doing calculation wondering, "What have I disturbed?" "Why are these people scared?" He realizes the oil mafia is involved in a scam that runs into hundreds of crores (one wishes this aspect was further delved into).
With indifferent colleagues and bosses, he wonders if the cream of the country (referring to his IIM background) won't do anything, what hope is there?
The people threatening him often warn, "This is India, and moreover UP. Anything can happen."
And indeed it does. Manjunath gets brutally murdered, like several whistle-blowers in the country (the film shows us an unending list of brave-hearts like him).
The film takes an interesting turn when the conversation continues even after Manjunath's death. He appears in spirit to debate with his murderer on who was right. The killer still maintains Manjunath should have taken the bribe offered. To see this kind of an imaginary debate between a killer and his victim is a masterful touch.
The film then shows us how his death wakes up so many, who take the fight to the court. The cops who spring to action, the media that rakes up the topic, the IIM ex-students who demand justice.
Debut director Sandeep A Varma does not spoon-feed us the story. We have to often piece it together, as there are many things implied as there are obvious.
As a viewer you're likely to be captivated by several aspects of the story ? the affable person that Manjunath was, his relationship with his parents, colleagues, friends and even those he opposed for the fuel scam.
Varma is an astute storyteller, also showcasing a flair for cinematic style. The atmospherics are delightful, and so are the nuances (right from Manjunath's nerdy dressing sense to his worn-out steering wheel cover). Music by Parikrama is superb, even if too much at times.
The actors are impressive. As Manjunath, debutant Sasho Satish Sarathy does not carry the weight of being the central protagonist. He's effortlessly earnest, and the slight awkwardness only enhances his performance. Yashpal Sharma makes for a formidable smooth-talking antagonist.
The peripheral actors particularly Seema Biswas, Kishore Kadam and Divya Dutta are dependably good.
Watch the film to revisit an incredible true story, told beautifully on celluloid. Don't miss this one!
Rating: 3.5 stars