There are of course movies that attempt to saddle both the commercial and the art house, like Shiva (1989), which made such a strong impact on moviegoers that it was made in multiple languages, and even remade by its director in 2006 (albeit to disastrous results). Shiva is violent, underscoring the criminal and political underbelly of Indian universities, and works, despite the lead, Nagarjuna looking old enough to be a professor. There have been other movies since, including Haasil (2003) and Dil Dosti Etc (2007), but neither of these did much for me. And then there was Gulaal.
Like other university politics movies, there are multiple characters here with multiple back stories- and yet, each character is well etched, and before the end of the movie, you get a sense of what makes each one tick and why.
The movie opens with Kay Kay Menon, extolling the virtues of a self-governed Rajasthan state to a crowd of his followers in a secret hideout some- and while his ideologies are extremist and clearly criminal, Kay Kay's personal charisma drives the character and can lull you into clinging to his every word, as his followers do, among them Raja Chaudhay.
But we started in the middle it appears- the movie goes into flashback, recalling to us Raja Chaudhary's move to this University. He comes to town and decides to live in a bar with Abhimanyu Singh, a scion of old royalty. Raja's first attempt is to seek residence at the university hostel, but he is ragged there and badly, and thereafter resigns himself to living with Abhimanyu. The ragging scenes are pretty graphic- be forewarned.
Abimanyu introduces Raja to the local politico, Kay Kay.
But Ayesha ain't done yet- she seduces Raja, then Kay Kay in order to gain that precious university general secretary seat.
But Raja is in love- and he gets good and mad and decides to go on a shooting spree, before getting shot in the end himself. Ayesha and her brother get the social status they want- and don't seem to care very much how they got it.
And that's the movie- is it worth a watch? Definitely- each actor outdoes himself, even if the story isnt quite as satisfying in the end. Even now, I am ambivalent about it: there are both Highlights and Rants enough.
1- The music- especially the crazy mujra which is more of a commentary on American and international politics.
2- Kay Kay Menon- you will not empathise with him, but you will be compelled by him- he is that good.
3- Mahie Gill- is strong in her small role. She is struggling for survival, using any man avaialble to move up. She coerces and whines well- especially her plaintive "main Tabu jaisi lagti hoon na?" (I look like Tabu, dont I?)- which is true of course.
4- The use of the ardhnarishwar (a half man-half woman, from Hindu mythology) creature who slides in and out of the frame in Kay Kay's home- very surreal, and powerful symbolism. I enjoyed the interaction of the real with the unreal.
5- Raja Chaudhary isn't a brilliant actor, but he wrote this with Anurag, and has done a pretty decent job in the story telling.
6- Abhimanyu, Piyush, Aditya- these men have had far fewer applauds than they deserve. I definitely want to see more of their work.
7- I appreciate the fact that there was no unnecessary preaching. The director allows the viewer to make up their own mind regarding what they are seeing. That we are a product of our own decisions, good and bad, is underscored without beating us on the head with it.
1- My biggest rant is that I couldn't empathise with anyone in this movie- everyone gets their just desserts. Maybe I wasn't supposed to empathise with anyone, but that makes the movie harder to watch.
2- A lot has been written about Jesse Randhwa in the movie. I didn't see the brilliance though- she acts the same way in real life as well: the same walk, talk, the same drugs. And so it was more of a case of perfect casting, not perfect acting. Knowing her professionally prevented me from buying into the character, but I am being too critical as usual- she did what was needed.
3- The use of Gulaal (red powder used in Hindu ceremonies and in the festival of Holi, among other things) seems a bit forced- it could have been integrated better into the movie- but I am nitpicking now.
4- I'd have really liked a bit of a back story about WHY the ardhnarishwar character skulks about Kay Kay's house- who was he? It is obvious that Kay Kay's uncle Piyush is very fond of him- is he his friend/lover/child? Maybe it was explained and I missed it. It definitely bothers me that he wasn't explained enough. The symbolism may lie in the fact that politics may employ sexuality as a tool, but eventually, politics, like the ardhnarishwar is essentially asexual.