Release date: February 4, 2011
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Chitrangda Singh, Arunoday Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sushant Singh, Yashpal Sharma, Prashant Narayanan, Saurabh Shukla, Vipul Gupta
More on that after this précis of the story. At its core, Yeh Saali Zindagi is about the things men will do for love. Arun (Irrfan Khan) is smitten by nightclub singer Priti (Chitrangda Singh). He hasn’t revealed his feelings to her, and she falls for Shyam (Vipul Gupta), a businesman’s son who in turn is engaged to a minister’s daughter. Even as Shyam dumps his fiancée, Kuldeep (Arunoday Singh) is commissioned to kidnap both of them in a bid to get the minister’s help in letting Bade escape from prison. This is a final assignment for Kuldeep who is anxious to give up his life of crime for fear that his wife Shanti (Aditi Rao Hydari) will leave him. Unfortunately for him, he abducts Priti with Shyam by mistake, thus completely losing his leverage with the minister. But that simple twist of fate brings Arun into the picture. Arun wonders why he’s bothering to get involved since he knows Priti doesn’t love him, but he can’t help himself and uses his own link to the minister to extricate her from this quagmire.
Complicated? Well it needn’t have been. We’ve all seen and loved films that demanded every moment of our attention. Not too long back in Bollywood, I remember not daring to even glance away from the screen while watching Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey, so afraid was I that I’d miss a crucial turn in the story. And to be fair, I found large swathes of Yeh Saali Zindagi both engaging and amusing. But there was a needless effort to appear stylised and sophisticated that ended up making the film confusing: why, for instance, did the audience need to be introduced to EVERY SINGLE major and minor player with text pretentiously flashing on screen and an accompanying voiceover, so that each one was built up in our minds as though s/he would turn out to be extremely significant? The only purpose this served was to distract from the parallel tracks of Arun and Kuldeep’s respective romances which are clearly meant to be the focus of the film.
Equally inexplicable (and inexcusable) was the manner in which the pace was slowed down at places for a spot of self-indulgence. Watch the shooting of a significant character in the end with the accompanying slow mo shots to know what I mean.
At places, the film got so over-populated – with characters and complications – that it left me with too many questions. At his best in the past, Mishra has managed to bring a freshness to situations already made familiar to us either by historians (the Emergency in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi) or by their repeated appearance in cinema (love and the underworld in Is Raat ki Subah Nahin). In Yeh Saali Zindagi he returns to Is Raat territory with a sense of humour, then dilutes it with too many goings-on.
Still, there’s much to recommend in Yeh Saali Zindagi. The cast for instance. Irrfan remains a master of the understatement. I can’t say I was one of the people hailing Chitrangda Singh as “the next Smita Patil” when she made her debut in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. But she’s certainly an interesting actress whose stunning beauty comes across as being far more natural than so many of her contemporaries. The credits claim that this film introduces Arunoday Singh, perhaps because this is his first leading role. As an upmarket beefcake in Aisha last year, Singh looked like he could well be a bored socialite who’d strolled on to a director friend’s film set just to kill time. In Yeh Saali Zindagi he seems as much at home with the role of a downmarket goon desperately in love. If an actor can let go of his own personality so effectively in two films, he’s certainly someone to watch out for. The rest of the satellite characters too are well played.
A special word for the love-making scene between Kuldeep and Shanti. Sex in Hindi films – on the few occasions when we get to see it – is usually awkward or ridiculously coy or crude. For a change, we had Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan who were good in bed in Kurbaan in 2009. Vidya Balan and Arshad Warsi steamed up our screens in Ishqiya last year. And under the helmsmanship of Sudhir Mishra, in Yeh Saali Zindagi the bedroom finally comes of age in Hindi cinema, giving us a pair of crazed screen lovers whose passion we really feel.
The music complements the tone and varying moods of the film. Sachin Kumar Krishnan’s camera captures a Delhi of contrasts, from the squalid bylines of the old city to the spotlessness of Lutyens’ quarters and the tranquil suburbs that seem oblivious to the mayhem in their midst. I’m betting it was tempting for him to give us at least one “establishing shot” of India Gate, but thankfully he steers clear of the cliché.
It’s because of these pluses that I’d recommend Yeh Saali Zindagi in spite of all my misgivings about it. The biggest plus of them all are the knife-life dialogues written by Mishra and Manu Rishi. And who better to deliver such lines than that most under-rated of Khans, Irrfan? “Log sunenge to kya kahenge? Chuthiya aashiqui ke chakkar mein mar gaya aur laundiya bhi nahi mila.” Makes you want to forgive the film its many flaws.
Rating (out of five): **3/4