Movie review: Ugly ; Cast: Rahul Bhat, Ronit Roy, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Vineet Singh, Girish Kulkarni, Surveen Chawla, Sidhant Kapoor; Director: Anurag Kashyap
Rating: ** (Two stars)
You wonder, sometimes, about Anurag Kashyap’s inner life: what is it that makes him veer so much towards the dark side? All his films, even in their upbeat parts, celebrate that part of ourselves which we prefer keeping in the shadow, hidden even from our own eyes. Because some things are too hard to watch.
‘Ugly’ takes that darkness to an extreme, even more so that his first, unreleased ‘Paanch’: a little girl goes missing, and what happens subsequently (and consequently) does not just flow from the fear and anguish that result from the disappearance, but also from anger and old resentment and twisted feelings and present torment.
There’s a parade of fury and ugliness in the film right from its first frame. We see a woman reach the end of her tether, and teeter back from the brink at the appearance of her young daughter. The girl is waiting for her father, her mother’s former husband : he turns up, they go off, and then she vanishes. Did she wander off on her own? Did someone snatch her?
There can be nothing more disturbing a hook than this: it leaves us anxious and worried, and we want for the little girl to be found, because we know the things that can happen to little girls who are lost. But almost immediately after, I was pushed back by the film’s insistence on dragging me through a distracting maze, which keeps looping back on itself.
Characters keep showing up, violence is unleashed, and we are left looking for the focal point. Yes, Kashyap’s point is to show up the ugliness that all humans have within them, that no one is innocent. But the plot starts to get a little too busy and begins to shoot off here and there.
There’s a fine cast and performances on display, meanwhile. Girish Kulkarni, well-known in Marathi cinema, plays a droll cop with superb timing. Tejaswini Kolhapure, who was also in ‘Paanch’, plays the little girl’s mother and does justice to her complex part, matching the darkness of the film. Rahul Bhat is good too, playing his twin strands: the girl’s father, and a struggling actor with over-reaching ambition. Sidhant Kapoor and Surveen Chawla and Vineet Singh, all stand out.
The other actor who has major screen time is Ronit Roy, playing the chief cop leading the investigation, as well as the man married to Tejaswini Kolhapure, as well as the guy who has an old beef with her former husband: he does the roiling sufficiently, but at full-tilt, without giving it a rest: the anger he is enveloped in goes straight to boiling point and stays there. He’s excellent but the relentlessness of him gets tiring. After a while, you want him to pause, and breathe.
And that goes for the film. Parts of it grab you, especially the interplay between the deeply unhappy Tejaswini Kolhapure and the unsmilingly vicious Ronit Roy: I wanted to know more about these people, and what makes them tick. But the film backs off from them, and stays a zig-zag between being a police procedural and a human drama that wants your jugular.
In all the to-ing and fro-ing, it starts feeling too long, and too much, without the requisite emotional pay-off. There are three potentially gripping films in here : one would have been enough.