Last weekend, I saw two movies about kidnapping – Apharan and Ek Ajnabee. The first was set in Bihar and the second in Bangkok. Both were fictitious, although it was easier to believe that of the second flick.
I’ll begin with the first movie that I saw.
Apharan is based in Bihar around the time kidnappings of rich and famous people were on the rise. In fact, the politicians and the mafia were so thick into it that if you were remotely involved with either, politics or mafia, you could conduct an abduction almost legitimately. Circa this is the story of Ajay Devgan who wants to join the IPS. But due to circumstances, he crosses over to the other side of the law and becomes a kidnapper himself.
I watched this movie at Cinemagic, Andheri East. The movie hall is in a dusty, non-descript lane and is usually frequented by other office-goers with last minute plans. Those who come here come with the stout knowledge that they either won’t get tickets anywhere else or they won’t reach the other theatres on time.
If you took a sample of the patrons, you’d find that probably 3 out of 10 would be SAP professionals, and the other 7 would know that a SAP professional does not deal with sticky fluids of plants. So, it’s quite an IT savvy crowd. They speak English; some even say ‘dude’ (pronounced as ‘dood’). Not everyone is well-heeled but you need to look closely to observe that. Suffice to say that such a crowd, and I include myself here, would probably live out their lives in India and never go to Bihar.
So, it came as quite a surprise when I heard murmurs with distinct UP accents around me. Something quite definite was unfolding in the theatre while the movie was going on. From what I could catch, people were identifying with the movie’s plots and sub-plots and were thinking of home – wherever that home might be.
This was despite the disclaimer at the beginning of the film that references to anyone living or dead were purely incidental. But people were identifying alright – from the blasé to the bizarre. I’m a rather uninvolved person when it comes to politics, yet I could see the strains of certain human truths in the movie.
Like the instance when Tabrez Alam (Nana Patekar), a politician, wants a Muslim police officer transferred because he is coming in his way. Alam goes to the Head of the Police and asks for the officer’s transfer. The Head refuses on the grounds that ‘the minority won’t like it.’ Alam replies, ‘I am the minority,’ to which the Head of Police states, ‘not the kind that runs the country.’
In another moving scene, the Muslim officer has been slapped by Alam when he insists on checking his car. (The car, at this point, has a dead body and some weapons stashed in it.) The officer’s superior, who is also present at the scene, apologizes to Alam and helps him get away. The officer comes home to his wife, tired and beaten. He falls down sobbing and tells her, ‘I’m tired of paying my dues as a Muslim – always twice over.’
Then there’s another scene where Devgan is having lunch with friends. He’s now working for Alam and has become his right-hand man. In fact, he’s getting slightly reckless with the power vested in him. He has just sanctioned the kidnapping of an important person without his gang’s approval. This has irked some of the old-timers in the gang. One of them calls him up and asks him to take the onus of the kidnapping on himself. Devgan listens to the tirade, hangs up, and tells his friends blandly, ‘Phook phook ke lassi peeta hai.’ An excellent line, I thought.
And my favorite scene comes in the beginning. Ajay Devgan is a salesman who sells medicines to drug stores. This is his part-time job while he waits for his IPS results. One day, he’s trying to convince the store owner to pay him for some herbal medicines when he hears a gun shot outside. Devgan rushes out to see a man being kidnapped and put into a van. While the crowd in the market-place is running helter-skelter, Ajay leaps to the van, very foolishly, trying to slow it down. He’s getting dragged on the road and is bleeding now – yet he’s holding on.
Just a few minutes back, he was half-heartedly trying to do a job, before he got a chance to become what he wanted to be – a brave man. That particular transformation was what could have been ‘filmy’ but wasn’t. It was so convincing. In the rest of the movie, Devgan is routine – brooding, quiet, and running deep. But in this particular scene, you know why he’s such a good actor. In make-believe, he actually made believe.
For all its merits though, I don’t know if I would strongly recommend Apharan as a good movie. Sure, I’d tell anyone to watch the film because of the germ this flick has grown from. We all read about power and corruption and sometimes we imagine ourselves in a sticky situation. We ask, ‘What if?’ Apharan, I think, has arisen from such a ‘What if?’ and that’s what makes it interesting but…okay, there’s no getting away from the comparison, it wasn’t what I’d expected. Not after Gangajal.’
If I measured a good movie by its impact, I’d say ‘Gangajal’ was a meteor. I remember unclenching my fist only after the movie ended. I remember being shocked at my own reaction, when despite myself, I cheered Ayub Khan as he poured acid in the prisoners’ eyes. That movie corroded this sense of comfortable niceness that I have. It revealed a person who did see justice in ‘eye for an eye.’ Gangajal had made me hugely uncomfortable. And it’s one of those films I’ll, sort of, always be grateful for watching.
So, with almost the same cast and similar set-up, what really went wrong with Apharan? Somewhere the impact got muffled. It’s not because Apharan is fiction and Gangajal was based on a true incident. Purely from the directorial and acting standpoint, something was a bit off. It’s as if this movie was made with people aware that they were being watched. There’s a sense of self-consciousness in the film. Like when you’re on the dance floor and you notice a fantastic dancer who, sometimes, looks sideways to see if people are watching her. Of course, these indications are subtle – overtly loud music during a fight sequence or a rather lengthy dialog with one too many innuendoes calculated to get a laugh, too many profile shots of the main characters – things like that.
But I suppose that’s understandable. To say something well and to say it once requires a diligent restraint. And it’s tempting to sidestep it when you know you have people listening.
‘Ek Ajnabee’, on the other hand, has a remarkable marquee mien. It’s the dancer that gets up on stage in sequins and feather boas, waits for the lights to strobe, and begins the show only when the audience is adulating enough. The movie is as slick and violent as they come.
It’s shot in Bangkok with several tall men – Amitabh, Arjun Extremely Handsome Rampal, some guy whose daughter gets kidnapped, Kelly Dorjee. So, length of limbs is in abundance here.
This means that long legs will step out of sleek cars or be folded across tables.
Tall, lean silhouettes will face each other with wolverine finesse.
Long arms will be outstretched so that the elbow is not folded while shaking hands.
Ah. Tall men. Tall, tall men and then there is Amitabh Bachan who indicates so stylishly that height is really such a small part of being tall.
In the final scene of the film, we have Amitabh Bachan, Abhishek B, and Lara Dutta. Abhishek gets out of his car in a dapper suit and strides along the other two. Now, Abhishek is supposed to look suave and smooth and killer, see. But at the end of it, well, umm, you appreciate the sentiment and all…and look over to his father, realizing why there will be only one of him ever.
Also saw Neal n Nikki. Everyone, irrespective of gender, and everything, including the scenery has breasts.