Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 12/05/05 00:37:28

"Prakash Jha- The Bihar Chronicler!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Kidnapping is said to be the most profitable criminal act in the world, second only to drug-trafficking. Considering the fascination of filmmakers with the underworld, it comes as a surprise that not many films have tackled the issue. In Bollywood too, most of the films concerning the criminal world deal only with extortion, drugs, arms, etc. Furthermore, the Mumbai film industry would like us to believe that crime & criminals are phenomena restricted to the urban metropolis of Mumbai alone. Fact is, ganglands are much more prevalent in the rural states of northern India; and their preferred choice of crime is abduction for ransom rather than drugs and arms. But then, a movie about kidnapping and its political-legal-criminal nexus set in a rustic background with uncouth and ‘uncool’ gangsters would hardly be entertaining. Prakash Jha’s ‘Apaharan’ proves this assumption wrong.

Apaharan is a deftly weaved story about the moral corruption of an educated albeit unemployed youth and the rampantly increasing industry of kidnapping. Ajay Shastri(Ajay Devgan) is the cynical son to an idealistic father, Raghuvansh Shastri(Mohan Agashe). His frustrations are born out of the missed opportunities in his life owing to his father’s denial of relenting and accepting the prevalent dishonest social order. Ajay’s angst is fuelled into action though when he loses a chance to become a local inspector- this, after he arranges to pay Rs. Five lacs to a signing authority –only because his father is more intent upon exposing the shady means by which police officers are appointed. Ajay’s problems are only doubled when his financial sponsor employs goons to get his money back. Faced with the arduous task of returning the sum in 3 days, he and his buddies hatch a plan to kidnap a local administrative official. Being utter novices, they obviously fail. Ajay is arrested and put behind bars. But this is only the beginning of his troubles. In a wicked twist of fate, the official that he’d attempted to kidnap happens to be under the protection of the local minority leader cum architect behind the kidnappings in the state- Tabrez Alam(Nana Patekar). Gaya Singh(Yashpal Sharma), a trusted lieutenant of Tabrez who functions from within the jail, attacks Ajay. Humiliation, a tag of a criminal and his father’s abjuration of him as a son turn Ajay into a grey individual. Upon his release from prison he gets even with Gaya Singh and thereafter fearlessly meets Tabrez Alam, proposing to be a part of Tabrez’s gang. Attracted to Ajay’s confidence and brazen attitude, Tabrez lets him in and so begins Ajay’s ethical downfall.

Post-intermission, the film becomes politically heavy and may get a tad confusing for the uninitiated. But kudos to Jha and his team of writers(Sridhar Raghavan, Manoj Tyagi and Anjum Rajabali) in successfully tying together a story that has many layers and characters. The script is not satisfied with telling the story of one Ajay Shastri alone. So we have Anwar Khan(Mukesh Tiwari), an honest police officer constantly jibed at by Tabrez for acting against a fellow Muslim; Dinkar Pandey(Chetan Pandit), a scheming home-minister who changes colours like a chameleon; and Shukla(Ehsan Khan), a corrupt cop who shifts loyalties just as easily. The movie also deals with the politics of religion and is not afraid in presenting it in a straightforward manner. Tabrez uses his minority card and doesn’t blink an eye to justify his actions and motivate his men in the name of Islam. And although this may sound insensitive and propagandist, the movie deals with it in a very mature fashion, never for once crossing over the line into Muslim-bashing territory. Jha simply calls a spade, a spade.

Apaharan is a triumph in all the categories. Nobody doubts Jha’s competency as a director. He is in great form here, the only hiccups being the early reels which could’ve done with a little more subtlety, and a poorly crafted scene when Ajay Shastri watches his father being questioned by a mob of reporters on television. The art-direction(Smita-Salim) is of the highest quality. Inspite of the fact that the movie has been shot in Wai, Maharashtra, every frame screams Bihar. The minute attention to detail such as the number plates on the vehicles or the certificates on the walls is especially noteworthy. It may seem trivial, but most films make such simple mistakes. Arvind K.’s cinematography is appropriate, although he seems to have a penchant for shooting in the early morning light. The background score by Wayne Sharpe is wonderful, especially the theme that plays when Ajay’s character goes through a gamut of emotions and emerges a bit more sinister, a bit more resolved…a bit more doomed. After Sarkar and Black, this is the third best background score of the year. The only department that fails is the editing(Santosh Mandal). Although it must’ve not been an easy task to edit a movie as complex and layered as Apaharan, one simply cannot forgive the sudden shifting into narrative mode at a point post-interval and the inclusion of an item song. On second thoughts, I think Prakash Jha should take the blame for this!

On the acting front, Apaharan is a close-call between Ajay Devgan and Nana Patekar. For Ajay, this is his fourth consecutive home-run in the last four years. It was Rituparno Ghosh’s Raincoat last year, Gangaajal(also by Jha) the year before and Ramgopal Varma’s Company(Ajay’s best to date) in 2002. I commend any actor who can successfully cry on camera without looking fake or uncomfortable. Ajay cries on two occasions here and he does both of them convincingly, the first one more so because his pain is mingled with anger and resignation. Nana Patekar finds the perfect pitch to play Tabrez. Nana has always been a great actor but in the last few years he had become a caricature of himself, a phenomenon that most great actors seem to suffer from at some point in their career. However, he gave a superbly controlled performance in last year’s Ab Tak Chhappan and follows it this year with Apaharan. Infact, his and Mukesh Tiwari’s are performances that are a lesson in effective underplaying. Mohan Agashe is suitably straight while Yashpal Sharma, Murli Sharma and Chetan Pandit impress immensely in their parts. Bipasha Basu is the sole misfit, dull and dreary in an unimportant role.

Many critics have slammed ‘Apaharan’ for being too grim and dark a film for mainstream audiences. Au contraire, I found the film to be Jha’s most commercially engrossing venture. The scenes of kidnapping and Ajay beating up Gaya Singh are directed with very intentional mainstream chutzpah. Don’t let the reviews fool you. ‘Apaharan’ is factual yet interesting, gritty yet absorbing.

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