Magic Reality

Updated: May 18 2003, 05:30am hrs
Each one of us has a film in us. For new director Tigmanshu Dhulia, that film has got to be Haasil. Seldom has a debut film excited me as much since John Mathew Mathans Sarfarosh. Set in the style of Satya and Company, Dhulia (who has also written the story and the dialogues for the film) takes a close look at student politics and their resultant tragedies with the keen eye of a sociologist and the eye for detail of an artist. The result is a study of the world that seethes below the hi-bye crowd, the sour ferment that leaves a more indelible mark on our nation than all the awards and laurels the yuppie achievers bring it.

The setting is Allahabad, and more specifically Allahabad University. Dhulia must be applauded for casting Irrfan, hitherto largely a character and television actor, in the protagonistss role of Ran Vijay Singh, the backward student leader. If a hero can become a villain in todays Bollywood, then a villain can surely become a hero, and Irrfan manages this with splendid ease as Manoj Bajpai could not before him.

Ran Vijay Singh and Gauri Shankar Pandey (Ashutosh Rana) are student leaders, the effects of whose feud stretch to a massacre in the formers village in eastern Uttar Pradesh and to political embarrassment for the latters uncle, also the state chief minister. One day, when hes being chased by Gauris men, Ran Vijay is helped by Anni (Jimmy Sheirgill), a student at the university and definitely what he terms part of the hi-bye crowd. Anni is in love with Niharika (Hrishitaa Bhatt), but the small town of Allahabad doesnt permit the easy flirtations metropolises take for granted. He is frustrated and out of sorts with his world. So, when Ran Vijay guns down Gauri Shankar and takes his place as student leader in the university, it does not take much for Anni to fall under Ran Vijays influence, especially when he provides him with a place to meet Niharika clandestinely.

A chance remark by Anni that he would have to find Ran Vijay a bride as he was a little backward in the matter of taking up with women leads to an ego clash, in which the student leader duplicitously seeks to have Anni stranded in Mumbai, and Anni struggles to claim Niharika for his own.

The climax of the film is set against the backdrop of the Maha Kumbh Mela. Dhulias story is an eye opener to the layers that form the backbone of India. The insipidity of calf love, the powerful opiate of religion and the near delirium of violence and bloodshed coexist, without any of them acknowledging the other and yet using each other for selfish ends. The films strongest point is its palpable realism, brought alive in the dialogues, the nonchalance that underlines the goriest act and the complete ordinariness of the goons. The colleges of interior India seems a worthy match for Mumbais underworld.

Where Dhulia fails is in presenting Niharika credibly. His vision of a middle class, small town girl, who has to write notes to her lover because she cannot meet him publicly, is torn asunder by Hrishitaa Bhatts sleeveless kurtas and pushed back to the neck dupattas.