The leitmotif that runs through Anurag Kashyap’s latest film is red—the colour of revolution, and passion; of love and bloody betrayal. ‘Gulal’ tells the story of an India struggling to come to terms with its contemporary identity and complicated histories. And Kashyap nearly pulls it off. It comes from a director who main-lines anger and this is his angriest film. It’s also his most ambitious film, and the combination is potent enough to give us a film which spills over with compelling characters (some of whom you’ve never met in Hindi cinema), superb set-pieces, stirring lyrics, and terrific acting.
But somewhere along the way, the director gets into montage mode, juggling with too many issues and too many people. If only Kashyap had managed to connect all his dots, this would have been a truly magnificent film. Dukey Bana (Kay Kay) is an amoral zamindar readying a personal army to further the cause of Rajput pride. He lives in the feudal past, with a wife on the sidelines, a mistress in the middle, and a bunch of fierce loyalists around him. His enemies are both within and without: a strange-acting Rajput lad (Abhimanyu Singh) who doesn’t want any part of his princely legacy, a rival potentate (Aditya Srivastava) who wants to usurp Dukey’s place in the Bana hierarchy, and a naïve, wet-behind-the-years ‘senior student’ (Raja Singh Chaudhary) who comes into a sleepy, fictional Rajasthan town, and becomes the unwilling catalyst for everything that happens. How ragging can destroy a life is one of the most powerful threads in ‘Gulal’.
A teacher and a student are stripped of their clothes, and their dignity, and locked up in a room by some louts, masquerading as students. ‘Law karne aaye hoge’ is not just an acerbic dialogue flung at Dilip: it’s a state of being for a section of an ever-floating student populace. The law faculties of a million universities, run by political satraps who use ageing, directionless so-called students to further their own causes, have countless such tales to tell. These are the badlands where anything can happen, and casual brutality and shattering violence, is just part of the game. Kashyap’s women are again striking, but are peripheral to this all-male, all macho-parade.
Aditya’s sister, played by debutante Ayesha Mohan, is even scarier than him, because she will use anything—slender body and sharp brains—to get what she wants. Mahie Gill, the stunning Paro of ‘Dev D’ does a couple of swingy `mujras’, and spends the rest of her time pouting at Dukey: because neither are fleshed out enough, the film could have happily gone its way without either of them. As it could have minus the heavily-metaphorical ‘ardh naareshawra’ figure which flits in and out of the storyline, without taking it anywhere. It’s the men who really power this film: Kay Kay, one of Kashyap’s faves, delivers a bravura performance. So does Abhimanyu Singh. And Deepak Dobriyal is fast making himself indispensable in films which believe in telling it like it is.
The music, the lyrics of which have been written by Piyush Singh, who should have been reined in when he’s playing Dukey’s soft-in-the-head brother in the film, is outstanding. Where the film scores big is in the way it ranges caste affiliations, student-and-slightly-dodgy-gender-politics, and the hunger to rule, and presents them as a throbbing, inextricable mix: this is real India, which so many of us do not even know exists. Where it lets its own material is in the way in which the threads are left hanging. But despite its failings, ‘Gulal’ demands to be watched: this is a film with power. Read more on Last.fm.
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