Pardon the sarcasm: It’s not the film’s fault; thing is, we’ve already seen and been shocked by similar conduct in Omkara. We’re seasoned viewers and somewhat expect certain things of a gritty film about student politics in Rajasthan. Of course, Omkara was essentially a love story and Gulaal is anything that. They both show us a peek into the sordid political underbelly.
Dilip Singh (Raj Singh Chaudhary), a soft-spoken sort who comes to Rajasthan to study law, where people point out at his age (mid-30s) and say he ought to be teaching. We’re unsure of this character’s motive to study law at his age—he doesn’t speak of any ambition.
He’s sharing a room with Rananjay a self-confessed smoker, drinker, womaniser who roams the place in not much clothing. While looking for the matron of a hostel to shift into, Dilip encounters a room-full of men who give him the third degree. He is stripped and locked up in a room with a lady (Jesse Randhawa) who we later realize is a college professor.
Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon) the local uncrowned monarch takes Rananjay and Dilip under his cover and for the forthcoming university elections, puts up Rananjay as his party’s candidate. Others competing include the man who spearheaded the “ragging” against Dilip and a college student Kiran (Ayesha Mohan) whose every move is masterminded by her brother (Aditya Srivastav). Then on we see murders, bloodshed, and conniving tactics to get to the top seat.
As far as attachment to characters go, you’re unlikely to feel much for anyone, perhaps because it’s challenging to relate to their conflicts. Dilip’s journey from the spectacled pretty boy, to being involved in the heat of the elections is not that convincing. After all, he came here to study, and we don’t see him do that ever.
Dukey Bana’s character is supposed to be an enigmatic, magnetic leader (though of questionable instincts) spearheading a Rajputana movement that aims at empowering the Rajput royalty against the government. But here we see a man who gets riled easily, falls for a girl just like that, beats up his mistress, ignores his wife.
Again, the characterisation of all three women is vastly disappointing – one is a housewife waiting on her husband despite knowing he’s philandering; the other is an ambitious girl who’ll sleep her way to the top – a seductress in a khadi kurta, if you will; or the defeated professor, always whining, constantly dependant, even speaking in tiny, inaudible whispers.
Around this man Dukey Bana’s house are two people who he, out of character, tolerates – a singer Prithvi Bana (Piyush Mishra) we assume to be a family member who sings for the mujra, and his companion whom Dukey calls “ardha nari”, a man painted blue throughout one half of his body and painted as a woman on the other. This person prances around the house, in the middle of important meetings, and we sometimes see his face in alarming close ups for effect.
Anurag Kashyap switches to and fro time frames to tell the story and extracts flawless performances. Kashyap’s eye for spotting undiscovered talent deserves an award in itself: newcomer Raj Singh Chaudhary traverses the complex character graph of Dilip Singh in a stroke, making it look effortless.
Kay Kay Menon is all fire in his volatile speeches held in the dead of the night for his followers and members of the royalty. Deepak Dobriyal is fantastic as the faithful assistant. As Rananjay, Abhimanyu Singh is befittingly intimidating and roguish at the same time, Ayesha Mohan is marvelous as the schemer who we are yet to decide is culprit or victim; and as the brother who plots her every move, Aditya Srivastav gives a performance impossible to get over. Mahi Gill makes an impact in her short, but interestingly etched out role.
Like all Kashyap’s films the technical crew gives interesting work: Rajeev Rai’s cinematography, often bathed in red, is superb. Editing by Aarti Bajaj negotiates the different chapters of the story-telling, not all of them chronological, seamlessly.
However, the `Man of the Match’ seems to be Piyush Mishra who plays Prithvi Bana with nuance, has given the film a hugely trippy, mad and wonderful music compilation, written lyrics that are at once philosophical and sarcastic, and sung those songs too. Such that the music often overshadows the narrative, conveying more than the story’s turns or the character’s dialogue.
We all love Anurag Kashyap’s films; apart from the usual suspects, I even enjoyed No Smoking immensely. But here, the story leaves you somewhere underwhelmed.
Watch it if you’re in the mood for a reasonably gritty Kashyap film, perhaps not as forceful as a Black Friday or Dev D, but with great performances and music nevertheless.
Verdict: Three stars